Recently, I was reading an article where the author referred to themselves as “the angry therapist.” The concept he shared was one of both resiliency and vulnerability. He relayed that it’s ok to admit when we are also struggling. But, when it comes to having appropriate boundaries with clients, there is a fine line that we don’t want to cross.
Historically, therapists were encouraged to withhold as much personal information from their clients as possible. We are there to hold space for another person. To actively and empathically listen. Keep it professional. Maintain boundaries. That is how it should be.
Yet, in this world of remote sessions, multimedia platforms and an alarming rate of increasing mental health challenges, how do we do that? How do we mask our annoyance when Zoom freezes, or our cat throws up next to us, or we are simply too overwhelmed to be fully present for another person? How do we keep our hobbies, achievements or family life separate from our professional identity?
Maybe it is ok to have a little bit of overlap. For as much as we may try to present ourselves in a certain light, sometimes that light is fading. How do we tell clients that our offices are closing, or our hours are changing, or that we simply do not have time in our schedules to meet them when they need it most? We rally to teach the importance of self-compassion to others, but do we have room for it in our own lives? And what does self-compassion look like anyway?
I’ve never been a fan of bubble baths as a form of “self-care.” Honestly, my OCD brain would make it difficult to actually relax without first scouring my ancient tub. And, do I really want to stew in my own filth? That seems so far from relaxing. For me, self care is more subtle than that. Since I already possess a fairly loud internal dialogue with all of my varied ego states, I capitalize on that. They speak to each other frequently. They don’t always make sense. And that’s ok.
So if my child is home from school and sick, or if the cat is manicially scratching at my make-shift office door, I go with it. What choice do I have? What choice do any of us have right now? Since we often can’t change our external situations, we can be kinder to ourselves as we work on changing our internal chatter. Sometimes the mere fact that we are struggling to work in the midst of chaos is simply absurd. And absurdity can be funny. And humor can be healing.
Maybe it’s ok to admit to our client that we need to pause to let the crazy cat in the room. And then, be prepared to pause again when they demand to be let back out five minutes later. Maybe it’s ok to schedule more breaks in between sessions, so that we can be fully present for another client. And maybe it’s ok to reach out to our therapist or supervisor or friends and admit to them that we are also struggling.
We would encourage our clients to do the same if they were feeling overwhelmed.
Recently, a friend of mine messaged me to tell me that I was welcome to text her anytime if I was having a bad day. She said that she might not be able to send a lengthy response, but that it might be helpful to simply be able to send her a text if I was feeling overwhelmed. “It’s helpful to feel like you are being heard.” she said. So, sometimes I do just that. I send out a quick phrase to vent my frustration with the day. Sometimes just admitting that it’s a struggle and seeing that someone else understands can make it feel less overwhelming. We strive to offer that to our clients. Don’t we deserve the same?