What makes a Therapist?
The capacity to listen and empathize is requisite of several professionals, that alone cannot be enough to make a therapist. Perhaps the proper theoretical training, the endless pursuit of unraveling the human personality. Five years of gluttony over books left me feeling just as unprepared to be a therapist as a fresh kid out of school. But wait, the layers don’t end there. What if it is experience with real clients, training by clinicians, and supervision from specialists that’s the making of a therapist? Two years at NIMHANS should have sufficed. Over 2500 hours of therapy to clients, treating a gamut of mental illness and psychological suffering, supervision and training in the institute of national importance, and when I got out, I was a hairbreadth short of feeling exactly the same way I did seven years ago.
I was aware of all the knowledge I’ve accumulated, they stood in front of me like growing hills. A hill of empathy, the closest and largest hill so far, a hill of personality theories, a hill of formulations, and a hill of therapy. I could see them, I could visit them, one at a time, reach new heights on them even, but the process was very disconnected and often confusing. I’d be stranded on a hill, not knowing why I couldn’t go further. It didn’t feel enough to have the skills and the experience, the landscape was still barren.
At Therapeute, during a reading group discussion, a founder was talking about their experience with the book, and said that it was a difficult read. And then she said, “I reflected on why it was hard for me, why the content made me defensive”, and that changed everything. A simple question of why. As therapists, we are taught never to ask why. But we should, to ourselves, why are we bored in a session, why are we anxious, why are we struggling with rapport with a client. Just why, and then some. Therapeute gave the space for safe reflections. The founders recognize that reflection is what makes the process meaningful and fulfilling, and have made it the core of their practice. Reflective practice is fostered and demonstrated by everyone, and it was at therapeute that my hills became islands. Reflective practice is like water, flowing and connecting all knowledge to the therapist, and the therapist’s inner world. There can be no therapy without the exploration of the psyche of the therapist, the tool and medium of the process. Without reflection, the process is disconnected and gives no fertile ground for the growth of the therapist. The waters fill up the gaps in understanding, brings the inner world of the therapist together with the client’s, and fosters growth. Reflective practice makes all the difference. I still have a long way to go to being the therapist ideal, and now, I am aware of the becoming.
Ranjani is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Therapeute. She is part of the reading groups and peer supervision groups.