June 23, 2011

The Therapy Dividend

"I urge every student entering the [therapy] field not only to seek out personal therapy but to do so more than once during their career - different life stages evoke different issues to be explored. The emergence of personal discomfort is an opportunity for greater self-exploration that will ultimately make us better therapists." - Yalom

As the above segment from Yalom's Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy states, it is absolutely critical that all aspiring therapists seek out personal treatment, if for no other reason than to better prepare ourselves to work with our clients. In my opinion, it seems a bit irresponsible not to take the time to explore our personal biases, motivations, and belief systems that we might indadvertedly project onto our clients (a concept called countertransference). Additionally, bearing witness to such emotionally draining experiences on a consistent basis provides an even greater reason to seek out support. Interestingly enough, MSW programs do not require their students to undergo personal therapy, whereas several other training programs require their students to do so, including MFT programs.

To be honest, I did not always feel that it was essential for future mental health professionals to undergo treatment. At the start of my MSW program, several classmates touted the benefits of attending personal therapy at UCLA's Counseling and Psychological Services. Many described the benefits of knowing what it is like to be "on the other side of the couch." Even with such positive feedback, I resisted signing up for counseling. I kept arguing to myself that the experience was not really necessary, simply because I did not have a specific issue that I wanted to explore. However, it was one question that was asked of me in all three of my second year placement interviews that motivated me to finally seek treatment. Each interviewer asked me whether I was in personal therapy. I regrettably had to answer "no," and tried to explain that although I was not in counseling, I do recognize the personal and professional benefit of undergoing a parallel experience with our clients, and understand that all therapists need to receive proper emotional support. 

Looking back, I feel completely foolish that I did understand the personal, professional, and academic benefits of undergoing treatment. Not to mention, I am offered ten free sessions through my UCLA student insurance. While I have only been to a few sessions, I can honestly say that the experience has been an extremely positive one. Without getting into too much detail, my sessions have allowed me to start to identify my personal distortions that fuel how I think, gain insight into my motivations, and start to understand why I make certain decisions and exert specific behaviors.

For any prospective students, or those about to enter their first year in a therapy training program, I highly encourage you get yourself into treatment as soon as possible. You will reap the benefits in more ways than you know. For a list of low-cost, sliding scale therapy options, please refer to Mental Health America.

Photo Credit: David Buffington

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