The right timing is everything, and meeting the right professional at the right time can be a lifesaver. We've all been clients of someone - either a GP, dentist, coach, healer, astrologer, doctor, or massage therapist. Have you ever been a radiant client? Did you get what you needed?
Let's start like this. Maybe you know a lot of people in therapy. Or perhaps you only know a few, or maybe you don't know anyone. You've heard some things about treatment or had some experiences yourself! If you're considering therapy, you've probably wondered what's supposed to happen in psychotherapy. And I think the honest answer, covering everything and nothing simultaneously, is: it depends.
It depends on the following:
what problem we go into therapy with,
what we want from treatment at the conscious level,
what we need from therapy at the unconscious level,
and our therapist's approach, attitude, and personality
Psychotherapy is work; it isn't a wellness treatment, even though we often wish it were. To do the job in psychotherapy, we need grit, dedication, and commitment, especially when things get complicated, which happens almost inevitably. Moreover, no one engages in psychotherapy unless under emotional and mental pressure. We, humans, move when we have to; otherwise, we conserve energy. Regarding personal growth, we often move only in response to something difficult - loss, grief, anger, panic.
The therapy room is designed to transform "negativity." Sometimes people think their spouse, child, best friend, astrologer, business coach, human design consultant, etc., will help them slay their private dragons. That's not their job. There's a big difference between what they do and psychotherapy. Deep inner work, psychotherapy at its best, isn't the same as valuable advice from someone else. The advice can even be helpful, but if it doesn't fit you vibrationally and you can't take it and implement it into your life, it just doesn't work.
Depth psychology-based psychotherapy is holistic healing, and true healing is about expanding consciousness through the transformation of negativity; this is always a process and always will be. It's not only about learning something more or something new about yourself. It's work.
In depth psychotherapy, people learn how to free themselves from dense, complicated, constricted energies, and integrate their polarities on a completely new, soulful level.
We move toward a lighter, brighter, more expansive state of consciousness.
In psychotherapy, we travel energetically from the fearful spaces of not-self to the places where our divine essence, our truth, is available to feel and live.
Our authenticity, our truth, comes on demand; it happens on the journey through darkness, bitterness, denial, loss, and contempt. Bypassing the shadow doesn't work, even though we all optimistically try to do it all the time. Experience shows every time we meet our dragons, an expansion of consciousness happens. Every time we shed blood, symbolically, or a tear or a flood of tears, we free ourselves a little more.
Giving up more and more of the pressure to live up to our own and others' idealized standards, we begin to feel that love and joy are unlimited and constantly growing. Eventually, we start to sense that no matter how life gets hard, we can deal with it. With the help of good psychotherapy, sooner or later, we realize that we are ok as we are. We don't have to pretend. We're loving and lovable. We can ask for more. We can reach out and get what we need. We can compete. We can dare to be the best. We're not afraid of being ordinary and imperfect because we know that we're beautiful in our individuality - and so are others.
We begin to draw life from the profound organic truth that emanates from our bodies.
We can conceive of ourselves and life as a game, an experiment, and an experience. Life then requires increasingly less effort and is much more enjoyable. We attain a sacred, loving detachment from ourselves, others, and the world, while simultaneously being connected to and loving the truth that we are.
I love my work. Helping women get empowered, pushing the boundaries of traditional psychotherapy, and merging it with energy, psychology, and spiritual work is a skill, art, and science. There's always challenge, always growth, never perfection, and certainly no shortcuts.
I've experienced many good things in over 25 years of study, work, and training. Years of traumatic fears and anxieties turned into strength and confidence. Quitting self-destructive behaviors, like self-harm. No more fear of flying or going to the dentist. No more binge eating. Getting in front of the public to speak again. Ending a relationship with a narcissistic partner. Writing the book. Coming to peace with multiple sclerosis. Come to terms with grief after hard losses.
Most of the work is about turning despair into purpose, turning self-hatred into radiant love - genuine soul alchemy.
When a client grows, everything shines, I think, and everything feels so good. Of course, I believe in positive change, love, and new possibilities. Life is full of options, or at least it can be. But then, we all know this, it sucks too. There's light, yet there's darkness, and that's the way it is.
In all the years I've been learning, studying, teaching, and practicing, I've encountered not only good things but also bad things - as a client, as a student, and as a colleague. I've seen or heard of situations that shouldn't occur in the world of therapy. Words have been said in therapy settings that no one can take back. Promising interventions, lousy timing. Ignorance and carelessness. And some severe boundary issues. Even re-traumatisation. Emotional blindness. Ugly stuff.
It's human to turn away and try not to think about all this. But it should never be forgotten when something goes wrong and affects people deeply. Misconduct and abuse can be forgiven and transformed, but it should never be forgotten. It is the historical memory that prevents horror from happening all over again.
The beauty of the human psyche and consciousness is that we can transform bitterness and horror into something helpful, just as we can transform fear into love. After all, this happens in a sound healing experience and is what all clients should experience in psychotherapy.
I've learned some basics about good psychotherapists from nightmarish experiences and many good ones. I first wrote this post in 2015, and now it is 2022, and what I wrote about psychotherapists then still applies today. Psychotherapy is a profession, and like any other profession, there are many good therapists, some awful ones, and some outstanding ones.
I think it's pretty important who you choose and who you let affect you. Because as Bruce Lipton explains in detail in his book Biology of Belief, it's the environment. So it pays to be more than aware and carefully weigh who becomes our spiritual teacher, boss, lover, trusted friend, doctor, coach, or.... psychotherapist. These are all people in roles that can greatly impact our lives, and yes, it pays off to be picky about who we choose.
So here are five essential attitudes I've observed over the years in meeting various good psychotherapists and watching some not-so-professional ones. As you'll see, I'm not talking about their academic knowledge, degrees, or diverse training. I take that for granted. The fundamental quality of psychotherapists is their relationships with clients or trainees. Here is my personal, 100% biased observation:
Good therapists are human as humanly possible
Good therapists care
Good therapists practice excellent boundaries
Good therapists are taking good self-care
Good therapists practices tax ethics
Now, let's roast these characteristics one by one!
1. Good therapists don't pretend they are perfect
There's no Santa Claus, and therapists are human beings. They don't come from heavenly realms or extraterrestrials, even if some want to give this impression. In any case, they don't deserve to be idealized.
Excellent psychotherapists have probably experienced challenging life stories that have led them to heal their wounds and become very aware of how other people feel and what they do. In their personal lives, they feel, hear, see, think, laugh, cry, have sex, party, romp, use toilets, and F-words. They're heterosexual, bi-sexual, homosexual, married, and polyamorous. They experience emotional challenges, financial worries, family conflicts, divorces, rebellious children, no children, and spiritual issues. They experience loss, craziness, and health issues. They're mortal, and they know it. All this makes them close, natural, and direct. You can feel, see and smell their humanity. There's no posturing, ignorance, drama or arrogance, suspicious delays in responding to your emails, harsh words with or without apologies, no blaming, no shirking of responsibility or any such crap.
With a good psychotherapist, you've a certain sense of comfort, validation, openness, ease, and security.
And you feel that with them everything is stable, today and tomorrow and that nothing horrible can happen when with them. Do you know why?
2. Good therapists don't fake they care for you
Technically, the depth of loving feelings has nothing to do with romantic attraction but with the capacity to love, which is closely related to the ability to mourn and grieve. Excellent therapists genuinely care about their patients, and their loving attitude is palpable. You can feel it in how they respond to you, show you respect, and are humble. Caring doesn't mean they have to be vegans or carnivores. Or social activists and climate change activists. Or that they live in poverty or have a seven-figure portfolio. Or that they never yell or get angry about certain things.
It means that they're sensitive to you, and that basically has nothing to do with you paying them for their time and their skills.
They'd be kind to you even if you were a stranger on a plane to Juneau, Alaska. You can tell by how they generally talk, walk, and express themselves about people and the world that they're usually loving and caring. You can feel it, see it, smell it.
3. Good therapists don't flirt or have sex with their clients
Boundaries are synonymous with safety. Safety is critical for growth to take place.
Proper energetic boundaries aren't witchcraft. Appropriate boundaries are necessary in this vast, big world full of crazy possibilities. Having appropriate boundaries means staying in your power and connected to yourself and your spirit, and it helps you communicate with others as realistically as possible. The projection of your images onto them is small, and you can perceive people and the world as they're as best you can.
Psychotherapists can accompany their clients into the depths of the psyche and vastness of the soul, which they themselves have experienced.
Good psychotherapists have done enough personal work. They'd been clients themselves and had cleared and healed many of their wounds and traumas from the past. That's why good psychotherapists can sometimes be very young. How they work has only partly to do with their life experiences. Mostly it's to do with how deeply they've suffered and made their way out.
The best psychotherapists are often wounded healers. They've paid their dues and know what it means to grow through struggle and pain. Their extended personal inner work is the only possible protection from the most horrific and shadowy aspects of the psychotherapy profession - emotional, financial, and sexual abuse within the context of psychotherapy (yes, this is entirely wrong and, unfortunately, can happen).
Psychotherapeutic work is sacred. Clients should always be protected, and psychotherapists should always be aware of their position of power. They're responsible for boundaries on a different level than the client, and that's it.
No sex, no love affairs. No business, no double roles with clients unless enough time has passed since the end of the therapy process - and even then, only with evident intentions, and preferably not. You can like your therapist; usually, you do, but it's okay with them if you don't. They're not there to woo or seduce you. Nor do they need groupies or any other kind of adoration.
With a good psychotherapist, you feel like there are boundaries. They're friendly, but they say no, and you can count on that. They have a private life, and they share their humanity with you. But sharing their lives without good therapeutic reason is never an issue in your therapy session.
When you're with them, you may find it hard to freely say what you're feeling and observing because that's what you're just relearning, but you know they'll see your efforts, invite you into deeper conversations, and always respect what you say. You'll always be encouraged to say what you're feeling and thinking. They can take your truth it because they feel safe themselves.
Good psychotherapists know how to start and close relationships. They're friendly, and lively, approachable. They make it possible for their clients to leave. So with excellent psychotherapist therapy is not a never-ending story.
4. Good therapists are not typically available 24/7
Do you therapist who seems to be available 24/7? They don't take time off, vacation, ever? That's easy to see, as are other characteristics in this category of self-care: if you work in person, you can literally see and smell some of them, or if you work online, observe them. Of course, I'm not talking about Miss America here. Or about designer clothes. I'm talking about something much more fundamental. For example, the posture of psychotherapists, chronic fatigue, and cleanliness. What do they smell like? What does the therapy room smell like? Again, I assume that the necessary vitality of the therapist, their whole energetic state, is related to how they take care of their body, mind, and spirit. Frankly speaking, psychotherapy is a demanding profession. Some people think that psychotherapy consists of sitting on a comfortable sofa and listening to one client after another while barely saying anything. This is a wild misconception that's its roots in the psychoanalytic couch from early 20th century Vienna.
Your psychotherapist cannot give time, attention, and love if their cup isn't complete. We all need time for ourselves, and in helping professions, this need is even greater. Times of quiet and retreat are essential for psychotherapists to rejuvenate, get in touch with themselves, and grow.
And as for self-care, it should be self-evident, but as experience shows, it must be mentioned quite clearly: no use of mind-altering substances or any addictions.
5. Good therapists don't avoid paying taxes
To be honest, money is taboo, and sexuality and death are essential aspects of psychotherapeutic work. So a therapist's relationship with cash shows a deeper dynamic in him/her.
It depends on what part of the world you live in, but here in Europe, we have a VAT system, a tax paid at every stage of the production of goods or services and by the final customer. Sometimes customers - clients - ask not to have to pay the VAT, and it goes like this: "Ms. Psychotherapist, can we bypass the bill? You know that this VAT is just my cost."
I think one of the reasons most people come to therapy is because they don't feel connected. They don't feel or know that everything is connected to everything else.
They lack a sense of belonging to themselves, their soul and the Higher Power, their families, nature, and the community.
I understand that clients don't know precisely why it's essential for all of us to pay taxes in the first place. It's usually part of their inner dynamic and the deeper meaning of life, of belonging to this life. Yet, I have difficulty understanding my colleagues who comply with it.
There's a lack of connectedness and an awareness that we're all going through this together, and I've no idea how psychotherapists can help people move forward when they have problems with the basic understanding of the complexity of society and our interconnectedness.
And maybe you, like me, don't like politics, and perhaps you, like me, are very individualistic, but the fact is that some services and infrastructures still work in our communities and societies. They work because we all make them possible through the economic system, even though I think the system could always be better and should be regularly improved to truly serve all of us, which unfortunately is just not the case.
In a nutshell
Excellent is eminently good. As with every profession, we have excellent therapists. I've met a few, and in my own experience, they were highly human, accessible, natural, and honest. They are respectful and show a high level of responsibility and ethics. No addictions, sex or flirting, no business with clients - all of which goes without saying.
**Tina Božič is a psychologist and psychotherapist in private practice, a women's issues professional, practicing holistic, energy-based psychotherapy.