What is Your Story?
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” ―
We have spent this month talking about the importance of our profession, the tremendous impact that we have on those we touch, and how we are impacted internally. The concepts of burnout, imposter syndrome, and self-care were reviewed (even though we can all recite them in our sleep already!).
Today is the last blog in October, so I decided to finish this series talking about authenticity: as a therapist, but also as a human. Human first, therapist second.
My very wise, very humble, and very much older (okay, 22 months…but still) brother who works in digital marketing asked me a very direct question this week: Why is ‘authentic living’ all over your website? Most people do not talk like that or even get that.
Ouch. I have spent thousands of dollars on coaches, SEO, and webinars to evolve into the therapist or brand I am today. My thoughts on my return on that investment and what I would do differently (if anything…) are the subject for another blog! But you know that feeling! A ton of work, a ton of energy, a ton of hope, and unrealistic expectations of what will come of the final product. Or perhaps I am the only one with not so realistic expectations of the outcome of my work! Anyway, his statement left a sting, but it also provided me with valuable feedback to dive into this concept of ‘authentic living.’
What do I mean by the term authentic living? That means living within my core values, which is the foundation of who I am. It means making decisions and choices through the lens of those values, standing my ground because of those values, and even how I practice as a clinician. My core values are who I am, tend to be unspoken but define any actions that I take.
To me, authentic living means laughing at myself and not fearing others possibly judging me for my quirks. I ate some cauliflower pizza for lunch with a chaser of three bites of pumpkin cheesecake ice cream. Okay, let’s be real here, do not try that at home. Like ever. My client, right after my failed creative culinary experience, asked me why I looked semi-green. So, I told her. And we laughed for the first five minutes, then transitioned the discussion to the concept of failure and what that means to each of us. Do we feel shame for a failed attempt? (I am referring to more than a culinary attempt here, even though I may qualify for The Worst Cooks in America these days!) Does shame show up in the therapy space when you give your client guidance that you know full well you do not follow?
If you answer “no” to that question, please send me an email so we can chat. I seriously would love to know your secret for turning off that humanness when you are in therapist mode. Even as rockstar therapists who compartmentalize in a way that could earn us an Olympic gold medal – the shame still tends to creep in.
Shame that they are divorced. Shame that they have a fractured relationship with their only child who dropped out of a prestigious university. Shame that their family of origin is dysfunctional, with significant boundaries needing to be in place to maintain sanity. Shame that they feel inadequate some days as a therapist. And the list goes on and on.
Or maybe that is just my story.
We all have a story to tell that makes us who we are today. Often, I am asked what I regret most in my life. My answer never waivers: I regret nothing. I am who I am today because of every event that happened to this point. Change one aspect of that story, and I am not the same person, with the same level of empathy, in the same career with the same amazing people I have in my circle.
I made the best decision that I could with the information that I had in front of me at the time. Or I made a horrible decision. Regardless, I would not change who I am today as a result. Let me be clear; there are things that I would love to change about myself. Many things. But what I would not change are the choices that brought me to where I am today.
Boundaries in therapy are crucial for our survival, not to mention ethical and professional. But where does it say in any code of ethics that we have to be superhuman without a real life? A real life with sadness, broken hearts, pure joy, and undeniable pain. How we manage the human side of life allows us to manage how that impacts our work with clients. I always tell my grad students that I am super comfortable, sharing 10% of my life with clients. It is the 10% that makes me feel like a real person and not a robot when working with clients. I can tend to find some aspect of my life to normalize the feelings of most clients. If I cannot find something in my life, there is always a current event that can be connected!
When I was in graduate school, I was asked if I was entering the field to “fix myself.” I am pretty sure that I spent the first two decades of my career accepting that statement as factual truth. Let me stress; I was never broken and never needed to be fixed. Cracked? Absolutely. But remember my opinion in an earlier blog, marble is only exquisite and expensive because of the cracks.
Therapists either act like their life is all together or are very vocal about being burned out. Very vocal. Check out some social media groups. My philosophy is that we practice as I did for the first two decades of my career in a land of rainbows and butterflies. Then we hit a wall, crash and enter the land of crispy.
What if we could develop a middle ground in which we are human first and therapist second? Plot spoiler: you can. We all can. It is not about sharing details with your clients or take a billboard out on your latest culinary failure. It means that we can maintain professional and ethical boundaries but still laugh and cry with our clients. We can have empathy and not sympathy. We can offer concrete interventions from a place of ‘been there done that and have the t-shirt’ land. We can use our growth opportunities to be a better therapist. If we can change the paradigm we can view our life choices through, we can let go of the shame lens we have been hiding behind.
My initial focus on this blog was to explain what ‘authentic living’ meant to me. The short answer is that it means being okay with who I am – the good, the bad, and the ugly – living my life, practicing as a clinician, and interacting with my people in a way that honors that instead of hiding it.
It took me almost 25 years of practicing to get to the point that I feel like my voice is truly the voice that embraces me. Those years were filled with missed opportunities, wasted consultant money, failed business attempts, and many many many mistakes.
But those years made me who I am today. I am committed to calling you out, holding you accountable, being your greatest cheerleader, laugh, cry, and hold the space for you to be able to find your unique, amazing voice as a clinician as well.
Find Your Authentic Therapist Voice and Begin Therapy for Therapists:
Let me help you decrease your crispy quotient and fight therapist burnout. I provide online therapy in Ohio, Tennessee, Florida, California, and Pennsylvania. I’m proud to offer online therapy for helping professionals, online therapy for busy professionals, and Therapy for Therapists™. I specialize in treating imposter syndrome, burnout, and anxiety using The Daring Way™ and offer online workshops to clients who want to overcome shame. Contact me today and let’s be rockstar clinicians together!
You got this – I am here to help if you need me. We can be rockstars together.