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Should Therapists Be
in Therapy?
Part III

Part I
Part II

Natalia J. Garland

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Some professionals live and work within a culture of therapy. Their lifestyle is immersed in and enriched by providing therapy to others and participating in therapy themselves. These therapists are very comfortable openly discussing their own progress in therapy with their colleagues. The phrase, "my therapist says.....," is common and non-stigmatized. The question of whether therapists should be in therapy would likely meet with an enthusiastic yes.

Although the culture of therapy can probably be overdone, it is nevertheless the most ideal of therapeutic situations. When people are motivated to resolve emotional issues and are willing to invest a significant amount of time and money into this endeavor, it is comparable to the devotion of artists and the religious. It is a personal journey, a quest for wholeness, a pursuit of happiness.

There is another workplace culture of a very different type: the culture of high conformity. Some workplaces are very homogeneous in composition. If you happen to fit into the recipe, you can probably do your work unencumbered and find some pleasant moments of socialization. You might not even be aware of the sameness among staff. However, if you do not fit, you will probably be confronted with some painful realities.

A workplace of negative high conformity might find one or more of the following qualities and characteristics very threatening to office equilibrium:

  • Being yourself.
  • Telling the truth.
  • Noticing mistakes.
  • Having a different opinion.
  • Asking questions.

The list could go on, but you probably get the idea. In these negative situations, some workplaces are not unlike dysfunctional families. It is the tragic result of personal deficiencies being acted out in the workplace. Unfortunately, non-conforming therapists can be targeted for dismissal. This can happen quickly or it can be a long and complicated process depending on the psychological make-up of the therapist, their level of dedication to the job, and the available alternatives.

How does this tie in with the focus of this essay? Non-conforming therapists might be viewed as troublemakers and mandated to therapy. The mandate might follow an incident of any of the above listed characteristics. Such a mandate is a disciplinary action. It also seems to give an underlying message to conform or pay the price for authenticity. From the supervisor's point of view, however, the mandate will be justified under something similar to Section 2.09 of the N.A.S.W. Code of Ethics.

Therapists working under these conditions have some serious choices to make. First of all, it is lamentable that things reached such an extreme state. An aware therapist might have quit such a job long before the situation deteriorated so badly. There must have been signposts of predestination along the way. Notwithstanding, dedication to patients and love of the work itself can sometimes obscure the downward spiral of office dynamics and personal status.

On the brighter side, therapists who choose to keep their job and comply with the therapy mandate may discover a twist of fate. Honest participation in therapy could prove to be an empowering experience for them. Such therapists may actually get the help they need to navigate office dynamics and thereby continue providing services to their clientele. The mandate, which was intended to be disciplinary, can result in real help. It is the attitude of the mandated therapist and the quality of the therapist's therapist that can promote a good therapeutic alliance.

Allow me to close this essay with an except from Shakespeare with which everyone is probably familiar.

To be, or not to be,--that is the question:--
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

Beneath the question of whether therapists should be in therapy is a deeper meaning that can be transposed from Shakespeare. It is a question of existence and essence, taking responsibility for self, living meaningfully and expressively, and finding ways to cope with whatever outrageous fortune we encounter at home and at work. (Written 04/19/04: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2004 Natalia J. Garland