We’re all too familiar with the wounded healer. Therapists, politicians, gurus…. the shadow side is always (un)surprising.

No one becomes a therapist because their life is easy or free of pain.

We are interested in pain for a reason.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s a good thing often. It’s not a bad thing because a therapist who didn’t understand pain could not connect with their clients. So it’s really important that we therapists know struggles from the inside.

A question that has plagued me for years is this: How can we present ourselves as therapists? If we are human and broken, how do we know when we are “ready” or “able” to work with others?

It’s a paradox often because the more work we do on ourselves the more we know our disturbance from the inside. Which makes us safer, better healers.

The person who thinks they are just fine. Who doesn’t struggle with themselves. This is the person who should not be a therapist.

Then there’s the question of why we want to do this?

Is it our familiar role in the family to take care? Do we want to help people? What does it mean to help people? Do we want to feel important? Do we want to feel some kind of control? How much of our work is feeding a grandiosity that is dangerous?

This is so common. Therapists, pastors, healers - we don’t always make the best parents…. when you are surrounded by people who rely on you and think you are wise it can be terrible for your ability to relate in a vulnerable way to others.

The biggest problem I see is when we don’t step back of our own accord.

Our colleges and training programs can only do so much discerning.

We have to make our own determination. And if we make that determination with us in mind rather than our clients in mind we may repeat the abuse that so many come to heal.

What I mean is - we have to take the welfare of our clients into account when deciding if we can work.

Said differently, if we don’t do our own work we can’t heal others.

So if we… Think we have discovered a brand new way of working that will change the profession. Think we are one of the best clinicians around. Have a drug or alcohol addiction. Are acting violently in our home or elsewhere. Are actively suicidal. Regularly disparage our clients internally. Having nothing left to give at the end of the day. Engage in sexual behaviour with a client. Allow positive projections to flourish and reject negative ones out of hand. Haven’t cried in a long time.

If any of these things are true...

It is time for us to step back and tend to ourselves.

It may be time to reduce or pause our practice.

I’m not usually categorical in this blog.

But we can’t ask our clients to do what we refuse to do ourselves.

And we have an obligation to our clients to work if we can work and not work if we can’t work.

The question for me is this - can I hold what is happening in my office? Can I bear the feelings coming my way? Not that it’s easy or I always get it right but is there enough of me available such that I feel the pain of the work and allow myself to be changed by it?

That means I’m not in control.

That means the seemingly best therapies can flip on a dime.

Because the work is not about me.

It doesn’t belong to me.

My argument in this piece isn’t airtight. It’s a complicated world and a complicated job.

But the heart of my argument is that we keep our hearts open.

And when we can’t we step aside.

So many of us therapy clients have parents who were overwhelmed by the responsibility of parenting.

So many of us therapy clients wish our parents had access to more help when they were raising us.

As therapists, we have the opportunity to get the help our clients (and perhaps us too) wish their parents had gotten.

In doing this we do the work of healing that both therapist and client are longing for.