“You see a therapist?!?”

I think this question is posed for several reasons. But, if I practiced mind reading, which I never recommend doing, this is what I think is really behind this question:

Only really crazy people have to see a therapist!

But you’re a therapist, shouldn’t you have this all figured out?

Chin up! Can’t you just figure it out for yourself?

You must not be strong enough to deal.


I struggle and I am a therapist.

I am a therapist, and yet I am also a perfectly imperfect human myself.

I have faith there will be a day when we all have a therapist we work with sporadically throughout our lives. Because life is hard and people are complicated. And to have someone outside of your friends and family to help you through it all, is nothing less than priceless.

I also have faith there will be a day that people aren’t shocked that I regularly see a therapist (patients, friends, family and strangers alike). Because life is hard and people are complicated, especially when you are the one helping others through all that life is hard and people are complicated stuff.

Be braveI am also a therapist who lives my life afraid and brave every second of every day. I live my life honoring my authentic truth. I live this way because it is how I have found my own recovery. I live this way because I have done the hard work, choosing it every day, of my recovery. I live this way because I simply cannot not live this way.

I also live this way because I see how much my clients are empowered to change their own lives as I show them my work.

It was drilled into my head in graduate school that as counselor we DO NOT GIVE ADVICE! It didn’t take long of me working in this field, in the real world of limited time and resources, managed health care and difficult life circumstances, that I knew this philosophy just wasn’t going to work for the people I help or for me and the kind of therapist I wanted to be. I will not answer all your troubles, I will not do the work for you, and I cannot save you if you are not ready to save yourself. But I can assure you, I will walk alongside you modeling what it is like to fight for your own recovery. I will pull you forward, at times, urging you to have faith that it will get better. And, there will be those times I push you forward because it is simply what you need right then to take the best next stop forward.

I also learned in graduate school, as is the philosophy of many in my field, that our clients know nothing about us, that we are blank slates. Early in my career, before I really had to fight for my own recovery, I practiced more on this side of impersonal connection. However, I found that I was working way harder than my clients. I also found I struggled with boundaries because I was fighting so much harder than the client to save their own life. Only after fighting for my own recovery was I able to both share and model my fight for my clients. Self disclosure will always be a hotly debated topic in mental health, as it needs be. As, it needs to be used ONLY when it will move the client forward in their own work. Therapists, myself included, must be careful to not dump our own shit onto our clients. Constantly keep tabs on why we are sharing our own battles with our clients to make sure it is for them and not us.

My own transparency along with the public forum of writing a blog has meant my clients may know a lot about my life and struggles, sometimes even before their first session. I am sure this will make some in my field cringe, graduate professors included. However, it is without a doubt, that I can say this has done nothing but make me a better therapist and better able to help others through their struggles. Not only does this provide constant teaching moments for clients in empathy and authenticity but they know they are truly seen and known when they come to see me for their sessions. They know they are talking to someone who has fought this epic war of recovery. They know they are talking to someone who is not perfect, who also struggles with self-compassion towards that perfection but who, most importantly, owns their story.  I have been asked by my own treatment team what it has been like for my clients to know more about my life, especially as this is something I make sure to have supervision on. Honestly, it is something that is difficult to put into words as it feels like something bigger than us; it is recovery, it is connection, it is ever upward.

raysMarianne Williamson captures this perfectly, “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

So I will write about my life, both in this blog and in the book Ever Upward. I will share with my clients parts of my own story when I think it will be helpful in their recovery. I will model the daily fight and choices of recovery.

I will help.

I will walk alongside.

I will pull forward.

And, I will push.

I will help by being me. I will help by owning my story; ugly, shameful, scary, imperfect parts and all. Because it is only within this ownership that my ever upward is found and I can really help.


51 thoughts on “The Authentic Therapist

  1. Mandi says:

    Love this. I feel like everyone should see a therapist on a regular basis. If I had the time or the money, I would definitely see one monthly. There is something about talking to someone who doesn’t know everything about you, who isn’t biased. Thanks for sharing!


    1. Mandi, thank you for the read and comment!


  2. Jane says:

    Thank-you. Thank-you so much for being open and vulnerable. But even more for choosing to heal. I stumbled onto your blog a few weeks ago and every time I read a post it inspires me to choose to heal, to own my shame and to keep going on my journey.
    My husband & I have not been able to have our own children and that has been a very dark journey for me. I am endeavoring to live fully the life I do have and make the best of every moment.


    1. Jane, thank you for reading and your kind words. I’m so glad you’ve found some light and some of, hopefully, yourself in my writing. I know all too well that dark journey, with work, love, light and a whole bunch of other stuff I probably haven’t even figured out myself yet, it does get better. Sending ever upward light and love, Justine


  3. Hi Justine, I’m so glad you are going your own way. As someone in recovery, I can vouch for the power of identification. It may be the most healing and freeing element of recovery, actually. Those simple words, “me too” can unlock layers of shame like no other. Your clients are lucky to have you!


    1. Thank you so much for your read, comment and your own me too!


  4. ellynhopes says:

    Therapist need therapy too! Old reference people are like diamonds! What makes a diamond real is it’s flaws! A perfect diamond shape without flaws is glass. Diamonds are real!


    1. So true! Thank you so much for this reminder!! Justine


  5. I absolutely loved everything about this post. I am new to the mental health field and work as a Child and Adolescent Therapist; recently I’ve realized that the coping skills I talk to teenagers about are just as much for me as it is for them! Looking forward to learning more about your journey. I hope you won’t always have empty arms.


    1. Thank you so much for the read and comment. The more I am in the field the more I realize that people are truly helped through the connection and compassion which I can only share if I do this work myself and also own up to it too. Welcome to this amazing field, it is amazing! Thanks again for stopping by! Justine


Be Brave, ask a question, leave a comment or provide feedback!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: