There was a point in my 15 year career as a marriage and family therapist when I thought my shit didn’t stink.
My calendar was booked out for weeks, I had a hospital practice and influential private practice referral sources, and I made a lot of money. I scored high on the licensure exam, my masters thesis was on record as an example for younger students on how it is done, and I was the unanimous staff vote for the top counseling student of the year. I started on a fast track to success, or so it seemed back then.
It may indeed be true that pride comes before a fall.
Despite my subsequent long and painful fall from grace due to my divorce and decade-long addiction to crystal meth which left me penniless and homeless and full of self-hatred and regret for all the relational fallout I had caused, I clawed my way back to sobriety.
Since then, I’ve found that the more of life’s experiences I consume, the more prideful and delusional I had been about how good a therapist I’d believed I once was.
It’s taken a lot more than just time and spending more years clean and sober than I’d spent in drug and sex addiction. While I now work in an entirely different profession, once a therapist, always a therapist, the skills of which transcend most others and become useful when parlayed into the vast self-discovery required in the process of becoming and staying sober.
But sobriety is more than getting and staying off drugs. That’s called being “clean.” Sobriety, once set in motion, is the never-ending process of self-discovery about what makes you tick and why you tick the way that you do. You see the world differently and years of mental health training and practice help you to learn disgusting things about yourself. Once embraced, that never-ending process is what KEEPS you sober for years to come. Thanks to sobriety, I’ve recently discovered that as a therapist, my shit stunk to high heaven.
These years, I read articles and listen to podcasts about mental and spiritual health, self-preservation, and insights from practicing professionals whose work is inspirational at the very least. Therapy has come a long way since I was schooled and to a trained eye, the truly insightful and skilled practitioners are as obvious as diamonds in a coal mine.
If I can swing the expense and find a gem of a therapist, I plan to re-enter the field as an eager client with so much more to learn about myself. Bad therapy can sour the experience and expense of counseling, but good therapy conducted by skilled practitioners is worth every session.
In retrospect, I wasn’t such a bad therapist. I was pretty damn good compared to some of my graduate classmates who eventually put their names on counseling center doors around town to begin their careers. I’d seen them work first-hand in our training and wondered how they would ever become gainfully employed in this profession.
But from my view these days, it seems poor practice standards aren’t tolerated either in school or by clients and therapeutic skills and interventions are much improved perhaps because more therapists themselves have sought therapy and continue unabated on a course of learning. And perhaps best of all, they accepted early on that their shit stinks just as bad as everyone else’s.
If you can, seek out a good therapist. Ask which books they’ve read, what continuing education courses they have attended, what spiritual orientation they practice. Ask them if they are good therapists and how they arrived at that conclusion. Ask them what they believe they do best in their practice and what they don’t treat in their practice and why.
You may just discover the right fit with someone able to help you discover how to fish yourself out of the toilet of misbeliefs and set you on a better path. And hopefully, ours will cross in the process.