It’s an open secret among mental health professionals that many of us have entered the field due to our own personal issues. It may be because we have experienced for ourselves the incredible transformation brought about through the healing power of counseling, or it may be because we have unresolved issues that can only be faced indirectly by helping others. Whatever the reason, it’s important to “check yourself before you wreck yourself,” as Bethanny Frankel says, or rather, before you wreck others.
The best counselors are those who have been in therapy. Not because they are irrevocably broken, but because they have been through the process. They know what it is like to sit in front of a complete stranger and talk about your most intimate and painful issues. They believe in the process because they have seen how it can work.
On the other hand, what doesn’t work quite as well is counselors with current issues. I have observed addicts go into addictions counseling, bereaved partners suddenly interested in grief counseling, and married people who no longer love their partners becoming marriage counselors or sex therapists. I’m not saying these people don’t want to be helpful. I’m saying that because they haven’t addressed their own issues, they are not in a good position to help others. The risk that they might project their own feelings about their own difficulties onto their clients is too great.
Why am I telling all of you this? If you are considering a career in the mental health services, take a long honest look at yourself. Are you choosing the career because it’s truly a calling, or are you choosing it as a way to address your own issues?
For many reasons, those of us in the counselor education role strongly recommend individual therapy at some point during your academic career. The usual reason is to get a better understanding of just how difficult it is to initiate the counseling process, as I’ve already mentioned. And that’s reason enough. However, counseling can also be invaluable in helping you to uncover insights into your own motivations. Further, any issues that are uncovered can be treated during the counseling process.
Because you are the main “tool” you will use to work with clients, it is absolutely essential that you are in good working order. This includes sound psychological health.
As an interesting side note, a quick google and google scholar search for “mentally ill mental health counselors” came up with nil. Instead, the search results consisted of services that mental health counselors provide. Therefore, it seems to me we must start to raise awareness about this important topic.
Yours in the Joy of Knowledge,