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  • Writer's pictureSam Alvis

Clients: Find a Therapist Who Practices What They Preach

My late mother, a teacher of all sorts, left me with a handful of aphorisms that continue to inform how I go about life. She loved her work and her students, teaching them about literature, art, photography, but mainly about life itself. Not only did she both honor and challenge her students as their teacher, but she also honored them by remembering that she was a fellow student. She once told me:

“I would never ask my students to do something that I myself wouldn’t be willing to do.”

What a powerful statement. She would actually complete every homework assignment before assigning it to her students. This was done with two purposes in mind:

  1. To see if the assignment was actually feasible and if her own instructions made sense.

  2. To know how long it would take to complete, what it was like to experience the process of completing the assignment...aka to build empathy.

Rather than wielding her authority, expertise, and experience over her students, she brought herself to their level and sincerely sought to understand the assignment- and the world- from their perspective.

Now, why am I talking about this, you might ask?

I bring this up because if you’re looking to find a therapist, are currently involved with a therapist, or are questioning if you’ve found the right therapeutic fit, here’s a word of guidance:

Find a therapist who would never ask you to do something that they themselves wouldn’t be willing to do.

Like many other professions, it can be easy for therapists to hide behind their position, credentials, or training. And although it is certainly important that your therapist has the proper qualifications, I would argue that their personhood and willingness to be vulnerable is one of the most important qualifications you could look for.

Now, I’m not trying to argue that therapists need to have perfectly mastered their own mental health or healing before being able to provide support and care for their clients. PSA: Therapists are people too. We aren’t perfect. We’re in process and progress just like you. So if you’re expecting perfection out of your therapist or counselor, you will be sorely disappointed. However, a trustworthy therapist with integrity will and should seek to grow in their own healing journey and to embrace the same risk of vulnerability that they ask their clients to.

Why is this important? How does this impact you, you might ask? While I feel like I could try an entire novel about the importance of this, I’ll boil it down to 3 points:

  • It keeps therapists connected to their own humanity- and to yours. This helps to ward off a “sterile” and cold relationship where the therapist hides so intensely behind their professionalism or training that they lose sight of the relational nature of therapy.

  • It fosters a sense of patience, compassion, and empathy, as they are constantly connected to and reminded of their own ways that they are in pain, need connection, and hope to change.

  • It keeps therapy a safe place. Knowing how risky their own change and healing journey has been encourages therapists to gently introduce challenging changes in treatment, rather than bulldozing through “processing” because that’s what their 2-day training on a certain technique taught them to do.

So, how do you know that your therapist isn't “asking you to do something that they’d never do?” What sorts of things should you look for when considering if they “practice what they preach”? While being a client themselves is a tangible way to know that your therapist has “done their own work,” there are many other ways to discern if they’re practicing with integrity.

(Side note: you technically could ask your therapist if they’re also in therapy themselves, but there are ethical and personal boundaries that might incline your therapist to not provide an answer. I myself have been in therapy for a while, will most likely continue to be, and would not hesitate to disclose this information to my clients; however, other therapists might have their own reasons for not wanting to share that information). So, for a less invasive way to inquire, consider the following prompts:

  • Do your sessions feel more about their meeting their own agenda than meeting your needs? Do sessions tend to revolve around addressing goals, objectives and your behavior? Do you feel like they’re impatient with your “progress” and are more interested in moving you into a different space than sitting with you in the space you’re in?

  • Do they often minimize, negative, or use toxic positivity in response to your feelings? Does it feel like they are uncomfortable with your honest experience and feelings or quickly shift out of a painful emotional place?

  • Do they seem more attached to their theory, technique, or intervention than to you as a person and human being? Does it feel like there isn’t space or time to explore the things you want to explore, because it somehow “isn’t relevant” or doesn’t “fit the therapeutic modality” they’re using?

Again, the intention behind wanting to encourage therapists to practice what they preach isn’t to “hold them accountable” or “call them out”, but rather to invite them in their own healing to be better able to hold space for themselves and for you as a client.

You deserve to have a therapist like my sweet mother was to her students, one who feels it is of utmost importance to understand what the experience and process is like from your perspective.

If you’d like to learn more about what the counseling journey entails or if we’d be a good therapeutic fit, click here to contact me and schedule a free initial consultation.


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