Therapist, Heal Thyself: When the Therapist Returns to Therapy

A client once asked me if I had ever been in therapy before. "Never trust a therapist who hasn...


A client once asked me if I had ever been in therapy before. "Never trust a therapist who hasn't" I responded.

Therapists, like everyone else, struggle with anxiety, depression, parenting, challenging work environments, and relationship issues. We're not immune to the stress of daily life or the challenges from our own childhood. For me the past few weeks have been challenging as I'm in the middle of change and I find myself anxious and emotionally exhausted.

During the past couple of months I batted around the idea of returning to therapy but always came back to feeling that I could manage these transitions. And that was true. I was journaling, talking to my husband and friends and felt supported and encouraged. I was managing change just fine, until I wasn't. Finally after two weeks of high anxiety I decided to return to therapy.




I was a little nervous sending off that e-mail to the therapist. I gave her a brief rundown of what was going on and asked for an appointment. "What if she was on vacation? What would I do if she was too busy to fit me in? What if she couldn't see me until the end of the summer? I finally decided that I need help and what if I can't get it RIGHT NOW?" I thought to myself.

Fortunately she had availability and I made an appointment within 10 days. Just securing the appointment dropped my anxiety several notches. In the following days I felt like myself again. I was calmer, able to focus, and I generally felt lighter. And for a moment I considered cancelling the appointment. Actually, for many moments. After all I don't feel that anxious anymore. Maybe I'll save my money, cancel the appointment, and enjoy the rest of my summer.

It was a very appealing thought. But I also know that the fears and anxieties will resurface. Perhaps not for several months or even years but I know that there is something else there, something old and familiar that I do when facing major transitions. And this "something" hurts me and the people I love. So I am keeping the appointment to uncover this something and get on with it.

A client once told me that she looked at our website for six years before calling us for therapy services. I understand why it took her so long to walk through our doors. It's scary and uncomfortable to talk a professional about your thoughts, emotions, and struggles of life. Even as a therapist and someone who truly believes in the benefits of therapy, I experienced my own desire to retreat, to stay quiet and private, and to manage it on my own. In the short-term it's much easier and safer to deal with the aches and pains that you're used to rather than get help to make the pain go away.

My therapy appointment is next week. As I return to the couch as a client I'm a little scared and apprehensive. But I'm also excited to see how I'll change and grow in my personal life and in my career. In the coming weeks and months I'll share my journey as a therapist being a client in therapy.

I recently started reading Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In and she asks the question, "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" This blog post is what I would do.

The Session

I went to my therapy session armed with a notebook and pen. I expected to leave the session full of emotion and recommendations and I didn't want to miss a thing. Driving to her office I felt a mixture of nervousness, excitement, and anticipation. I knew what I wanted to talk about and it felt like such a relief to be on the path forward. At the same time I was still nervous and wasn't really sure where the conversation would take me.

She asked a question and I felt an opening. I started to see the forest through the trees and felt such validation. As a therapist it is easy for me to see and help others navigate their own forests. But standing in the middle of my own is a different thing. I left her office with feeling at ease and hopeful. It was truly a freeing feeling.

I told a friend that I wished I could be done after one session. How ironic is it that a therapist is trying to rush through therapy?! But I know that is not possible. Instead I know and accept that this is a process and it will take time to unravel what needs to be uncovered. One of my colorful graduate school professors said, "it's another f@#%ing growth opportunity" meaning it won't always feel good but the end result will be magnificent.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


Tonya Ladipo is a Philadelphia, PA based licensed therapist. Learn more here.

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