I admire anyone who puts hard work in.

“Go hard or go home”, a male client said this to me today.

I was struck my this. I’d never heard this expression before, and I love it! He told me that this was an expression many who attend the gym use, and he used this approach to his personal therapy.

To get stuck in and make it work for him. He certainly did, and I take my hat off to him. He made it work. He came in with an issue, and through exploration looked deeply at what was sitting behind his suffering. Why did this issue arise? Was it familiar? Where did it begin? And through honest exploration and investigation, he became aware of his patterns in life that had formed long before the issue arose.

The issue was a symptom of an underlying cause. He’s now armed with the only gift therapy can give him – awareness. He has insight and knowledge that makes him better equipped to empower himself in his future. I’m filled with admiration for what he has done through his openness and honesty. It takes courage to look at the suffering that’s hidden within us. Real courage.

He understands that his emotional well being is a life long commitment to his self growth, development, and expansion. He’s on a journey now to becoming the best version of himself. He realizes that his emotional well being is as vital a part of him staying well as his physical regime.

He doesn’t need to be in therapy for the rest of his life, nor should he be, he has his beautiful life to live, but he’ll use his therapy when he’s ready to expand his awareness further, without the fear and resistance to therapy he initially felt when he presented. He won’t hesitate again in reaching out when it comes to looking after his emotional well being. He knows he’s as responsible for his mental health as he is for his physical health.

When I asked him how he’d come to this place he said it was because the process was normalized in the therapy room. He realized that it was perfectly normal and emotionally healthy to seek support when it’s needed.

I practice as a therapist because I believe in the gift of therapy. I remove the stigma attached to therapy for my clients by allowing them hear that I too engage in the process of therapy when I need support. It helps a client greatly not to see the therapist as the “expert” in that room. And if they do, it’s vital for the therapist to ensure that they remove themselves from that pedestal.

We’re like the rest of the human race, we too as therapists need to be supported in our lives. It is our job to ensure our emotional well being and to normalize the process of therapy. I don’t believe there’s a therapist practicing who just came to this profession. We were hurt, vulnerable, looking for answers in our own lives, found the gift of therapy for ourselves, and decided to train and give back. As Carl Jung says “only the wounded physician heals”.

go har or go home norah finn therapistPersonal therapy works. It’s a workout for the mind, but like any good workout, it requires us to consistently stay in shape. People have a perception that as therapists we don’t have difficulties.

This is not the case. It’s not a requirement of our job that we never have a problem again, that’s just unrealistic, however, it is a requirement of our job to acknowledge when we’re in difficulty or where we could be blocked and get the necessary support.

Personal therapy is an on-going commitment to our emotional well being. We’re not immune from life’s difficulties because we’re therapists. And we’re not exempt from therapy because we did an academic training in psychotherapy.

Growing in our work requires us to grow within self. Our growth as therapists needs to be as much a part of our journey as it is for our clients. I think back to my early days as a therapist, I’ve grown as a therapist, because I’ve grown on a personal level.

We wouldn’t expect a doctor to never get sick. An athlete to never feel unfit. A teacher to never need to learn more. A manager to never need to be managed. Nor could we expect a therapist to never feel sad or in need of emotional support themselves at times. It’s what we do when we need support that’s important.

Anyone working in a therapeutic way with others needs to be “walking the walk” and not just “talking the talk”. Our clients need to know that we’re as committed to our own well being as we are to theirs. We need to be ensuring that the message they get is that there is no shame in reaching out for help, that we do too when we need it.

It appears to be acceptable to talk about physical, educational, organizational, difficulties, but when it comes to emotional difficulties, there’s still a stigma attached. We need to work together to remove this stigma.

If I were attending therapy I’d want to know what that therapist did for their own emotional workout. Just as I’d ask a fitness instructor how they kept physically fit. Our clients have a right to know that we believe and interact in the process of therapy and growth also. Wearing an “expert” hat doesn’t serve ourselves or our clients well.

In my experience, people who are very well attend therapy. They’ve reached an emotional crisis in their lives and seek support. That’s a mentally healthy choice in my opinion. But it’s like anything we’re trying to achieve, it’s wiser to get in shape before the crisis arrives.

Therapy is about looking at our lives, why and how we operate as we do, looking at how we view ourselves in this world, at what we want to achieve and what blocks are there that are stopping us from living our lives fully and freely.

Do I need therapy? How do I relate and interact with others in this world? Are my relationships healthy and functional? Have I a kind and functional relationship with myself? Am I living my life in a responsible way? Is a person in my life who loves me worried about me right now? Where am I engaging in addictive patterns in my life? Have I poor personal boundaries? These are some of the questions we could ask ourselves when deciding if we could do with the support of a therapist.

I had a lovely chat with this client this morning about the stigma in our world around therapy. The message out there that it would be better not to open “that can of worms”. If the sigma could be removed from attending therapy, we may find answers before the crisis comes?

Maybe as therapists WE need to break this stigma? We all need support. It is necessary to our well being to be supported in times of emotional difficulties. And it’s necessary for us as therapists to constantly evaluate our own well being.

There’s something spine chilling about a therapist who feels that a couple of years in therapy during training is enough to guarantee our emotional well being for the rest of our lives. We need to be committed to a life long journey of personal growth and expansion. When we take good care of ourselves and have good boundaries, we promote and establish this in the therapy room. Who we are personally is who we become professionally.

So why don’t people seek emotional support? Why the stigma? If as therapists/supervisors we are the gate keepers of this profession, should we be congruent and transparent in our own expression? When it comes to our own personal growth we also need to apply this young mans motto “Go hard or go home”? I’m very grateful to this client, as I am to all my clients. I too have learned deeply about myself in the gift of therapy that we share together.

Had it not been for this client today sharing that sentiment and our conversation about the stigma out there in our world about therapy, I wouldn’t be writing this blog now. If your reading this and getting some support through this, it’s my client that’s giving you this message. I have a deep sense with this man that he’s going to inspire others by the honest and congruent way in which he expresses himself. He’s making a difference already.

Personal Therapy is my passion. I feel blessed to wake up every day and have as much passion and energy for my work as I did 20 yrs ago, in fact, probably even more. Because I’ve taken my “expert” hat off. Perhaps the doing of that is what has kept me in my work still feeling passionately about it. It’s tiring work been an expert. Am I well trained and know my field, yes, and my clients need to feel that level of confidence in me for them to feel safe.

If I were going to a surgeon I’d want to know she/he had trained too. However, that certification wouldn’t make them a good surgeon. Her/his continued dedication to ongoing practice and experience would be my deciding factor on if I allowed them to perform surgery on me. I wouldn’t ask to check their hands, I take it She/He would continually monitor to ensure they had a steady hand when they picked up that scalpel. That too is required in my profession.

To do my work well, I need to evaluate my own emotional well being and development. To be on a continued journey of personal growth, just like my client. Otherwise I say “I’m done now”, “all healed”, “perfectly perfect”.

I am no expert on anyone’s life. No therapist is. No person who works in any of the therapeutic/healing modalities is. if you’re engaged in a therapeutic process with someone who insists on being the expert on your life, I can only offer one piece of advice – RUN. We all have our answers within us. And we will find those answers. I trust that. Through therapy I found my answers and it was so liberating and empowering. If I were to be an expert, I’d stop my client from receiving that gift of empowerment. How dare I disempower another in that way. Healing from subjugation may be the very thing that needs to be healed in your blueprint. You need it healed, not repeated.

Let’s take the stigma off therapy. There’s too many people out there struggling alone. We’re all in this world together. No one greater or less than the other. Having difficulties in our lives is as normal a part of life as breathing. And no woman/man is an island.

We all need to be heard, seen, valued, and at times we all need to have our thinking challenged. We all need to take care of our mental health. It’s often the biggest smile that’s hiding the deepest pain. If we don’t face and heal our pain, talk about the things that make us run, we’ll find some other way to anesthetize ourselves from our suffering. Our pain came long before any addiction. In fact, it drove the addiction.

Our culture is full of mind numbing substances, it always was, and if we don’t numb our suffering with drugs, we’ll numbing it out some other way. It generally shows up in how we behave and respond in this world. And pretending we’re ok when we’re crying or angry inside, is an addiction to suffering alone.

A defense mechanism we developed to avoid us the discomfort of humbling ourselves by allowing ourselves be vulnerable in the presence of another. It’s as hard to give that up as it is for any addict to put down that substance, in fact, sometimes even harder. Recognizing and admitting that we need support, then seeking it through reaching out, is half the battle itself. We all have a part to play in removing the stigma attached to taking care of our mental health. It’s perfectly normal to need and seek support.

I’ve found it a breath of fresh air to witness emotional wellness been incorporated into the workplace over the last number of years. I’ve had the privilege to work alongside some amazing organizations, big and small, whose owners/managers lead their organizations in promoting mental health in the workplace.

They know that the people who drive their business/organizations, are there organization, and they care about them. It’s amazing to hear some of these owners/managers own personal stories. They believe in promoting emotional wellness in the workplace because they pursued that journey for themselves and reaped the benefits. They are doing amazing work in supporting mental health in the workplace. They’re playing a huge and vital role in breaking the stigma and taboos in our culture around mental health issues. They know all too well that a workplace is only as strong as the people who drive it. They are lead managers who model the model of wellness through their own inspirational commitment to change.

“Go hard or go home” allows us to “stay soft and stay present”. For and within ourselves, and for those around us. If you’re struggling, give yourself the gift of therapy. It’s a mentally healthy choice to seek support. Staying well in this world is about committing to doing what we need to do to stay well. Taking care of ourselves, mind, body, and soul.

There’s no shame in feeling in a difficult place and telling those around you that you’re suffering. In fact, they may be so inspired at your courage to be honest that they’ll drop their smile and share their pain too. Loneliness is holding it all inside. And wherever you are today, no matter how lonely you may be feeling, just remember that you’re not alone.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Reach out, start talking. No shame. You’re definitely not alone.

Love, Norah Finn.
Alethea Counseling, Psychotherapy, Supervision, and Training Services.