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A Therapists Journey of Learning and Understanding

After being a psychotherapist for over 20 years, I’ve discovered a thing or two. My clients have been my greatest teachers.

One of the things I love the most about being a therapist is that I am not the expert on anyone else’s life. I get to suggest options, insights and psycho-education but at the end of the day; the client is the expert on his or her own life. That’s so very powerful!

People often tell me “I don’t know how you do what you do! I would be so depressed – listening to people’s problems all day.” The truth of the matter is that I love what I do! Being a therapist is so much more than listening to people’s problems; it’s being given the opportunity to listen/bear witness to another person’s story; it’s validating that person’s experience and perspective on the events recalled. Being a therapist means I get to see people’s eyes soften as they feel heard; I get to see their whole body language change as they realize their own resiliency; I get to see them transform their relationship with themselves into self-affirming works of compassion; I get to watch couples rise from the ashes of hopelessness and embrace a marriage/relationship they never thought was possible and I get to see people find meaning in their pain.

My whole job is a verb – it’s ever changing and moving and that gets me out of bed every morning. My clients inspire me to be better...and to relax into the truth that we are all in this life together. Everything changes and life gets a whole lot easier when we have some company and guidance along the way.

Over time I’ve learned...

1. Each person is the expert on their life.

2. I am not you and you are not me.

3. People have free choice and will ultimately exercise that right according to their level of self and other awareness.

4. Growth is a two way street; I grow as you grow.

5. You are responsible for your life, your happiness or your decisions.

6. I am responsible for giving clients options, suggestions, insights and validation.

7. Unlearning is just as important as learning.

8. Life is a verb and it’s meant to be lived

9. Happiness is not a destination and is not permanent; neither is pain.

10. Life doesn’t happen to us – it’s an experience and it’s up to each person to determine what he or she is going to do with the chapters in their life.

11. People know what is best for them; but sometimes need help removing the barriers that keep them from doing what’s best for them.

12. Truth is not a universal fact; every person has their own truth and it’s valid.

13. When a client is able to tell their story in their way without interruption; a foundation of trust is built which lays the groundwork for all other therapy work.

14. Context is crucial

15. There is a difference between sympathy and empathy

16. Empathy is the foundation of couple’s work

17. Saying things out loud is powerful

18. People talk when they feel heard

19. Experiences may be similar but perception is individual

20. Unintential harm feels the same as intentional harm

21. When a person tells another person “you’re behavior hurt me”; the other person doesn’t have the right to say it didn’t.

22. People can change at any point in life

23. The point of therapy is to adjust our behaviors not change who we are.

24. It’s ok to not have all of the answers

25. The in between times suck and waiting is hard

26. Healthy people are evolving people

27. A person’s behavior is a reflection of who they are at that particular moment.

28. Bad choices are not character flaws

29. Change is scary

30. Grief sucks and it affects every aspect of our lives; it changes over time and we learn to adapt accordingly

31. Some things can’t be fixed they can only be carried; what matters is how we carry them.

32. Everything transforms and every experience is necessary.

33. Life is a classroom – all we have to do is go to class and do the homework.

34. People are way more resilient than they realize

35. People will change when they want to and not a moment before

36. Pain is a motivating factor

37. Between stimulus and response there is space for choice.

38. Reality is subjective

39. People will forget what I say; but they never forget how I treat them

40. People grow when they are truly heard, validated and given healthy options

41. People are usually doing the best they know how

42. What happened to us is not our responsibility; healing is 100 percent our responsibility

43. Therapy is hard work, but the payoff is we stop the bleeding and we stop bleeding on people who are trying to love us.

44. A person’s relationship with themselves sets the foundation for every other relationship in their lives.

45. People are at their best when they are vulnerable

46. The buck can stop here! Beliefs and messages get passed down from one generation to the next often without intent or awareness. In therapy we learn that we can choose what to keep as our legacy.

47. Each person has unique characteristics ie: “Super Powers” that make them an irreplaceable human being.

I’ve compiled this list to keep myself excited about what I do and I can’t wait to see what gets added to the list as time goes on!

Take care,

Norma McCarthy, LPC

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