We’ve been asked quite a few times lately about what our mission is with our podcast and conference. When we first started out, our mission was to validate the experiences of the modern therapist and it continues to be to this day. To say, “Yes, grad school doesn’t prepare you for productivity standards”, and “Documenting sessions is a lot harder than the really easy case examples in all of your study materials”. We set out to embrace that therapists can have an identity outside of their chair, can have hobbies, a family, and even be flawed. That there is a way to do all of that while being based in good clinical theory and following the laws and ethics of your jurisdiction.
The gaps in our training are missing this piece: validation. Sure, we can have the exceptional professor or supervisor who cares in just the right way, but these shouldn’t be the exceptions, they should be the norm. In Ben Caldwell’s “Saving Psychotherapy”, he discusses that some therapists are better than others based on the results of their clients. We’ll add to that by challenging that some professors are better than others in training therapists, and some supervisors are, too. And just like Caldwell describes the basis that better therapist outcomes come from doing things that clients find helpful, supervisors and professors can very much do the same.
We discussed supervision being based on Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) being one way to help clinicians deal with the emotional impacts on the therapist at the Therapy Reimagined 2018 Conference and in our podcast episode “Addressing the Burnout Machine”. Since that time we’ve seen not only an improvement in our supervisees and students approach to their work, but also a struggle from our ethics codes that further set therapists up to become trapped by the emotional difficulties in adjusting to clients’ lives. Each ethical code describes that therapeutic relationships should only continue as long as they benefit the client, which forces the clinician to wonder if the client has become dependent on them. However, there is little space to reflect on this question, especially when professors and supervisors pose that any countertransference is bad.
As one first year student quipped, “I didn’t realize that being a therapist would be so…personal.” And this student is absolutely correct. Supervisors and professors must hold a line in not fostering dependence on themselves, but they must be willing to acknowledge the emotional stake that clinicians in training face with their clients, their work/life balance issues, their lower rates of pay, and struggles with studying for licensing tests. We acknowledge that this is a skill that is not taught as a regular part of most basic supervision courses. Which proves my point, it takes those who are willing to go above and beyond to do something that has a seemingly large impact on those in training.
This soft skill, validate your mentee’s experience. Even if it comes in teaching or correcting their actions, validating what they are facing in their learning process has a bigger impact than whichever intervention you are using.