Define “Good Enough” Therapist

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

The above story was first given to me when I completed my graduate work by someone how had been in the field for many years.  At the time I was in unicorn and rainbow land thinking that I could manage anything, balance anything and was ready to save to the world.  Ok, maybe not save the world but really thought in my core that burnout was not going to impact me, that I would never question my skills as a therapist, and I would never seriously consider a career change.

Then reality hit and reality hit hard.  Earlier than I thought in my career in a way that I did not expect.  Which is typically what happens to all of us at one point or another.  Add in a significantly divided country on many issues, a pandemic and increased stress holding emotional space for clients.   I am hearing from many of my clients who are therapists that they are questioning their ability to have an impact in this climate.   They are questioning whether they can keep up this pace, at this level, in this climate.

So, I decided it was time to talk about my fabulous therapist peers for the month.  Not a therapist?  It will still be helpful for you since we all have areas that we feel “not good enough” in.

I am not good enough.

We all have a voice inside of us that is like a radio sports commentator.   Take a minute and get the image in your brain.  One of my clients listens to Cleveland Indians baseball games while mowing her grass.  She says that hearing the play by play allows her to create the image in her brain of what is happening on the field.  The commentator describes every movement, every umpire call on the field and even the reactions of the players.  There is typically limited dead space on the air since if it is quite the station may lose listeners.  So they keep talking, keep describing in detail and keep offering their opinion of what is occurring.

We have the same voice in our head that is a commentator to every detail of our lives.  The voice can come from childhood messages, perceived failures or perfectionist tendencies.   When we spend all day, every day stepping into the world of our clients, empowering them to make healthy choices and allowing them to not feel alone our inner voice has a field day.

One of clients who is a therapist started calling that voice “Ed”.  Not in a creepy weird way, but in a way to allow her to differentiate what she was thinking and why.  “Ed” would tell her that she should change careers since she was giving advice to clients that she could not follow herself.  “Ed” would remind her that she only has worth when she is helping people.  “Ed” would leave her emotionally drained at the end of the day that she would be convinced that clients would leave her if they really knew how her life was a hot mess.

My client was a rockstar therapist.  She was able to show up, empower clients and hold emotional space for them in an ethical manner.  She just didn’t believe that she was “good enough” to continue in the field and was going to close her thriving private practice.

Her inner commentary was negative, rooted in a skewed core belief from childhood and she was isolating from her peers due to fears that they would judge her.   Once she was able to identify and work through the underlying issues, she chose to remain in her private practice and altered what her work/life balance looked like.  Is the commentary completely gone?  Absolutely not.  However, she is aware of her truth vs her fears but more importantly her why.

Why did you get in the field in the first place?  Only you can answer that question and we all come to the field for so many different reasons.  You can read about my reasons in Melissa’s Story.     Figuring out your “why” helps remind you that you are more than “good enough” to be in the field.

I have always wondered why we feel the need to be perfect to be a therapist.   Think about it – you have felt that way, haven’t you?  Or maybe you currently feel that way!   You don’t have the be perfect to be the perfect therapist.  The way you deal with your imperfections may be exactly what will make you a rockstar clinician.  Clients are imperfect and so are you.  Getting a graduate degree and all the letters behind your name does not mean that your life suddenly falls into place.

My passion is to dispel the shame and guilt that comes with feeling not good enough as a clinician because your life isn’t all together.  Join to club!   I am a card-carrying member and probably always will be.  Life is meant to be messy and emotional and challenging.  But it is also meant to be an adventure and fun and filled with purpose.

Raise your hand.  Ask for help. I respect all the letters behind your name and will partner with you to get you back to having the unicorn and rainbow land experience we had when we graduated.  Ok – maybe we shouldn’t get that crazy, but I know it can be better than what you are feeling right now.

You got this – I am here to help if you ask.  We can be rockstars together – one starfish at a time.


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