Everyone has a shadow. What is a shadow?

It’s the part of ourselves that we don’t want to own.

It’s the part of ourselves that we are not aware of.

Therapists have them too.

Of course.

We choose our work for complicated reasons.

To speak in generalities:

One might join the police force because you desire to serve and to protect.

One might also join the police force because using force to get what you want helps you feel strong.

There are many other possible reasons too. And none are mutually exclusive.

One might become a doctor because you want to help people heal.

One might also become a doctor because you want people to think you are successful.

There are many other possible reasons too. And none are mutually exclusive.

One might become a therapist because you want to help people.

One might become a therapist because it is creative and challenging work.

Why else might one become a therapist?

Because you love suffering. If suffering is all you know - it’s a job that is familiar.

Why else might one become a therapist?


There is nothing like a stream of people through your door thinking you know how to live well and help them with their worst private pain to bolster any false sense I might have of having life figured out.

An unrealistic sense of one’s own capabilities on the part of the therapist is very dangerous in therapy. It creates dependent clients. Clients who can only progress so far.

Grandiosity covers insecurity. It’s like puffed up air over nothing.

The impact of grandiosity can be violent.

This is a hard post to write. Because I want the world to see psychotherapy positively.

I’ve spent the past two years writing about the possibilities of this practice.

It’s a huge part of my life’s work.

And if I don’t recognize the existence of failings of the practice and its practitioners I perpetuate the grandiosity of the profession. So here we are. A brief admission that therapy can go wrong. There’s a lot more to say.

What does this all mean for you the client?


The intersection of shadows or, the intersection of unconscious material, between client and therapist is one of the major factors makes therapy productive.

A therapist who does their own work, engages in regular supervision and is generally able to work with themselves can use themselves and their own struggles in service of you. They can understand you better as a result of what they’ve been through. And they can understand what it means to grow and to heal. Just because your therapist has problems is not to say that they are not a good therapist. A therapist without personal problems would be useless. Besides, no human exists without personal problems. The question is how the therapist sees themselves and works with their own problems.

Coming to understand your therapist’s humanity is part of therapy. Usually this becomes a prominent theme later in the therapy.


Choose your therapist carefully. They’re not all good.

The intersection of unconscious material is one thing that makes a therapist good for you - the right fit.

It is also important that your therapist is engaged in regular work on themselves - healing work, restorative work, work that asks them to look at themselves.

How will you know if you have a good therapist? Ultimately this is up to you.

I believe in referrals from friends who have had good experiences.

I also believe that when you sit across from your therapist and look in her eyes you should trust her. Trust her that she is up for hearing what is happening from you - whatever it is. Trust her that she is thinking about you and herself and the process of therapy. Trust her that she is working hard for you. Trust her that she holds a lot of possibility for you - that she deeply believes in you and the reality of the changes you want to make.

You won’t always feel positively about your therapist - this is part of the process - but underneath it all you know she is trying her best and will meet you in conversation wherever you’re at.

It’s not the practice of therapy itself that helps. It is you and your therapist in a room. Unique you and your unique therapist creating something between you every session.

There is a lot more to say on this subject. About stuck therapies and therapies gone wrong. About people who aren’t helped. About people who come to therapy to do something other than to be helped. About therapists who don’t do the right thing.

We’re a flawed profession like any other.

We try our best. We struggle with ourselves. Sometimes we’re too wounded to get it right.

We’re just like everyone else.