Many of us are good listeners and have it in our hearts to help other people. We like to figure out how individuals think and help them improve their quality of life. But should all of us be therapists? Probably not. Being a therapist is hard, so unless you are really up for the challenges you face, you might want to rethink this career path.
Here are 5 reasons you should NOT become a therapist:
You haven’t worked through your own stuff.
Many of us come to the field after our own traumas or mental health concerns, looking to help others the way we were helped (or in the way we WISHED we had been helped). Many of us are works in progress and continue in our own healing journey. So, if you aren’t sufficiently far along in your work, you cannot take that work on with clients. Working this stuff out on your clients is harmful and unethical. It can make it worse for your clients than not entering therapy at all. Now – you don’t have to be “healed” or “perfect” to be a therapist. You just have to be able to avoid bleeding your own pain and misery all over your clients. Continuing your own therapy and consultation can be key to making sure you’re adequately prepared to walk into the therapy room. Just know – If you’re not willing to do your own work, this isn’t the work for you.
You don’t want to work for yourself OR anyone else.
Therapy is an art, a science, and a true calling. But it is also a job. There may be a few therapists who don’t have to make money in this profession, but the vast majority of us are seeking this out as our paid career. That being said, if you’re not ready to set fees, collect money, or meet productivity – this is not the profession for you. These are not optional or just annoyances that your supervisor is haranguing you about. The money for your livelihood fully depends on you collecting fees or billing hours or both. There is not a magical place where money grows and is delivered to you because you’re a good therapist. You cannot make a living as a therapist if you can’t get the money part taken care of. It is integral to doing the work, not irrelevant.
You don’t want to “sell” therapy.
Now – I’m not saying that you need to be salesy, but it is important that you understand the benefits of therapy and help people to opt-in to the services they need. For private practitioners, this can actually be full-on marketing. For people working for others or within an organization, this looks like client retention and treatment planning. Clients don’t always know what therapy is or what they need. If you are not willing to suggest specific treatment options or encourage them to have more therapy, you are not ready to become a therapist. I understand that we have to balance our power differential (i.e., we should not be pressuring or compelling our clients), but we need to be able to come forward as the trusted expert to encourage on-going treatment.
You take too much or too little responsibility.
It can be very tempting to feel like you are the one person that can “save” your client. It can also be easy to blame a client for not doing the work because they are “resistant.” Neither of these are true AND they can be super harmful to your client and to your therapeutic relationship. You are neither savior nor passive participant, so if you believe either of these things, don’t sit down in the therapist’s chair. Taking the “just-right” amount of responsibility is crucial in the current therapy environment. Clients have more options, so being able to adequately explain your role (and your capabilities to help with change) are super important. If clients think you’re going to fix them OR believe that you are not helping them – they will leave. Make sure that you have the self-reflection to identify your role, as well as the insight and context to identify when things are out of your hands.
You’re only in it for the money OR out of the goodness of your heart.
Therapy is hard. So, if you are coming into it just for money, it will not sustain you. There is a whole other conversation about why therapists should be paid more and how the system is broken, so let’s suffice it to say that there are fewer therapists getting gigantic paychecks than we’d like. So, if you’re not into being a therapist and are just hoping for a big pay day, the return on investment is just not there.
On the flipside, if you’re only doing it because it’s your calling – unless you figure out the money stuff (see above) – that will also not be sustainable. When you are so focused on the passion you have for your work, it is more likely that you will sacrifice yourself for your clients. This is a fast-track to burnout and compassion fatigue. Unless you can put boundaries on your work and step back from your passion once in a while, being a therapist will consume you and spit you out.
Therapy is a truly meaningful career. If you’re ready to balance your practical needs and your passion, jump in. But if you’re not ready to work hard and take ownership of your career – step away.