The sanctimonious therapist and how to avoid her

There is a counsellor somewhere who lives a trouble free life. Never argues with her partner, gets unreasonably cranky with her kids or is guilty of harbouring petty grudges. In fact this person is more guru than counsellor. she has never put a foot wrong in her enlightened, immaculate, unimpeachable life. Mainly, of course, because she doesn’t exist. But the idea of the untroubled, slightly sanctimonious, therapist does. And I believe it’s a big barrier to people accessing therapy.

In a bid to persuade that no counsellor is perfect, I wondered about compiling a long list of all my faults and personal failings. But the truth is, there wouldn’t be enough time or space for it. I have made so many mistakes I could fill a multitude of pages. But this doesn’t mean that I’m not a capable counsellor, or that someone with a blemish free record would automatically be better.

What does a good counsellor do?

A good counsellor will give you the time and space you need. She will be attentive, non judgemental and make you feel safe and respected. If she’s especially good, she’ll ask insightful questions, which may enable you to grow in self-awareness and insight. What she won’t do is give advice. Nor will she tell you what she would do if the roles were reversed. She will not appear in anyway sanctimonious, superior or condescending. As though she has reached enlightenment, and you are merely starting out on the path. So many people will tell you that their way is best. That they have a quick fix method for forgiveness. That they too struggled until they did X,Y and Z, and now look at them! Aren’t they gorgeous/serene/wise. But a decent therapist won’t. They will walk alongside you, as an equal until you find your own way. And if you are unlucky enough to have found the sanctimonious therapist, then it’s probably best to lose them as soon as you can.

Speaking about his new book, And how does that make you Feel? counsellor Josh Fletcher, AKA The Anxiety Geek, says one of the reasons he was motivated to write it was because, “I wanted to make people see therapists as human that way you’re more likely to go to therapy. A lot of people think there’s an omnipotent know-it-all waiting for them with, jarring power dynamics.”

And on that note, this very human, very unenlightened counsellor is going to be taking a break over the Easter holiday and getting some sun on her skin. I’ll be back in three weeks and raring to go. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve ever experienced a sanctimonious therapist.

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