When a Therapist Has a Rough Day, Week, Month



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Generally I count myself extremely fortunate. I get to do work where I feel competent. As a mom, wife, friend, therapist – sometimes I do well, sometimes I make mistakes but most times I feel just plain competent. And it feels so good.

When my mood takes a dip in the depression pool, the signs are usually something like this:

> I lose my sense of humor.
> It takes way too much energy to concentrate.
> I lose confidence in my competence.

The first two I can often fix with a good night’s sleep and getting back on the treadmill. After a few days my energy is back and I can start to laugh at myself again. The last one takes more work.

About a year ago I took a workshop, Advancing Your CBT Skills, lead by Dr. John Ludgate. It was one of the best workshops I ever attended and it wasn’t just because Dr. Ludgate had a charming British Isles accent, of course not.  He shared his training, education and experience as a therapist and supervisor in a smart, compassionate manner. I’m a sucker for smart and compassionate.



In CBT, as you know, we follow the basic concept that our thoughts directly influence how we feel. How we think is in turn influenced by our core beliefs, which can be dysfunctional, working against us.

The little, but significant, insight I gained at Dr. Ludgate’s workshp was that therapists can have dysfunctional beliefs, too. Not just personal beliefs that can get in anyone’s way (we all know about those and have gone to years of therapy to address them), but professional dysfunctional beliefs. Core beliefs like:

I have to be successful all my clients all of the time.

or…

I always have good judgment as a professional.

or…

I must have good sessions with all of my clients.

or, my personal favorite…

As a therapist, I should have no emotional problems myself and should feel guilty and ashamed if I do. I should not have to ask for advice or support either professionally or personally.

Boy, did I see myself in those dysfunctional therapist beliefs. I’ll bet most of those at the workshop did, too. As a species, therapists tend to tip the perfectionist scale off the charts.

Yesterday I re-read those dysfunctional thoughts. Then countered them with more reasoned thinking. As I did I felt my competence seep back like sap rising in a maple tree in the spring. To accept those statements, to allow those dysfunctional thoughts to have their depressing way with me, would be denying my humanity which I share with my patients. Much better to admit that this therapist can make mistakes, have a bad week (or month) and still manage to bounce back.

Photo courtesy of patries71 via Flickr

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