Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What you really want to know about a psychotherapist

One might think that the most common question asked of a psychotherapist might be, “what was your wildest case?” If so I might answer with the story of the woman who enjoyed putting cream of wheat in her hair or the angry five year old who attacked a police officer.

Another question someone might ask of a therapist is “do you ever get really bored with your client’s problems?” If so I would answer that I’ve never been bored, I’ve had other reactions but I find people and how they deal with their problems fascinating and I’ve never been bored.

Photo Credit: Eamon Curry
No, the most common question I hear from friends about my job as a psychotherapist is, “how do you deal with hearing everybody’s problems?”

It’s a great question and an important one. It’s a question therapists are often asked when they are applying for a job which will likely be high stress. In that setting the question is changed to, “what do you do for self care?”

When I first started my career as a therapist I would say something really healthy and wholesome like, “I eat well and I exercise and sometimes I meditate.” There is some truth to that. I do try generally to eat well and I do exercise a bit, though certainly not enough, and I probably meditate once or twice per month even though I wish I did it more.

My honest answer to this common question is, “I don’t really know”. It depends on the day and how I’m feeling physically and mentally.

I’ve had more and less healthy coping mechanisms in my life but in general I do something that makes me feel good and when I’m being more healthy I engage in something I find beautiful and/or fun.

The less healthy stress relievers in my life have generally been food oriented. There was a time that on my way driving home from work I would stop at the grocery store and buy a jar of pickles and finish them by the time I got home about 20 minutes later. You can imagine my doctor was not particularly happy about this. I can proudly say that I haven’t done that in a long time but I do drink soda sometimes or buy a candy bar. Less healthy stuff also includes watching movies and playing video games. These are not inherently bad for me but I count them in the unhealthy category because I sometimes feel kind of grouchy afterward.

In the healthy category I include exercising but more as a prophylactic. It is somewhat rare that I will have a tough day and go for a walk or run to chill out afterward. However, I have noticed that I am a better therapist (and husband and father) in general when exercise is a normal part of my life. I feel the same way about sleep. Sometimes I listen to loud music and play the drums. Yes, this therapist is a drummer (sometimes I even wear a long hair wig so I can make believe I play for an early 80’s band). Even the healthy category includes eating but it’s something more nutritious than a jar of pickles. My wife makes many delicious foods and among my favorites are Israeli salad with tons of lemon juice and garlic salt (my mouth is watering already), and she also makes a wonderful hot & sour soup which is nothing short of brilliant.

So there you have it, you’ve been wondering how I could possibly handle listening to people’s pain and suffering all day and now you have a little more insight in to how it all works.

If you have more questions for a therapist send me an email and I will publish your question and answer anonymously so no one will know you asked it. I’ll do that right after I finish eating my pickles and watching Das Boot.


  1. Very entertaining and helpful. Even though I'm not a therapist I have to work to not take on others' problems when they are sharing or venting. It can be very draining. It sounds like you really enjoy what you do and I think that's very important in your field.

    1. Thanks for the comment Petula. I do enjoy being a psychotherapist.