Why I want to be a therapist (again)

As a modern blogger - especially when "modern blogger" is, increasingly, an oxymoron - the analytics of blogging are hard to escape. How many views? Likes? Comments? Which posts perform the best? Which perform the worst?

The best-performing post on this blog, by about 1,000 times, is "Why I quit being a therapist." This isn't because it's a particularly good post. It's because this post answers an oft-Googled question. It's because I accidentally stumbled my way into search engine optimization. You see, among therapists, it's apparently very common to seek solace and affirmation for wanting to quit, especially in the form of other people's stories. If you search, "Should I quit being a therapist?" in Google, that post is the second result.

But here's the complicated part: In the past year, I've started thinking that maybe I should do therapy again. In fact, I've started submitting job applications and searching for supervisors. (The first 3+ years of any counselor's career are supervised by a more seasoned therapist.) And this makes my public denunciation of my career as a therapist a little inconvenient. Now, every time I submit an application or inquiry, I think Will they Google me? And then I think Will they find my post? You know, the one about how I don't want to be a therapist?

I've considered deleting the post. But honestly, that solution feels second-best at best. First of all, selfishly, I don't want to remove a key driver of traffic to my blog. Second, and less selfishly, I've heard that the post in question has actually helped some folks. And third - back to selfish again (it never takes me long) - deleting the post just wouldn't feel good. It doesn't feel good that, in order to get a job in 2021, I would have to obfuscate a piece of myself that was perfectly true and valid in 2019.

Over two years of blogging, I have reached absolute peace with the fact that any potential employer who Googles me will see that I my manage several mental illnesses, most damningly alcoholism. Integrating, rather than concealing, these aspects of my identity has been a relief. And now, when it comes to my history of ambivalence regarding therapy, I'd like to do something similar. That is, I'd like to own it. I'd like to honor the path I took to get here. It was thoughtful and windy, contradictory and uncertain. It was exactly the type of path I'd deem "healthy" or "brave" if undertaken by future counseling clients.

For those who haven't read that "quitting therapy" post, here's the long and short of it. I quit being a therapist because I did not like the responsibility of helping people to solve their problems. I just wanted to learn from clients, to listen to their stories. Not "fix" them.

And here's the part I didn't say, but that I now suspect in retrospect: I was also scared. I was scared of being ineffective. I was scared of being less effective than my therapist peers. I feared the fragility of the client-therapist relationship (clients can leave at any time) and the limitations of this career (I can't fix everything - not even most things). I cynically believed that most people never really change, and that none but the most exceptional therapists can inspire that change. I feared I could not be that exceptional therapist. In short, my fear about being a therapist was a reenactment of a basic fear about myself: I'm not significant. I don't matter.

Only in the last year have I begun to interrogate these beliefs. Four years of sponsoring people through twelve-step based recovery has shown me that, regardless of whether I am effective (and, to my credit, I often am), attempting to help people through psychological pain feels like the correct thing to do. (My own therapist would bristle at the word "correct"; please, bear with me.) Attempting to sit with others in their pain has never been, and will never be, a waste of time. I like myself more when I have spent an hour listening to someone, honoring their own concerns and pains with the same magnitude I offer my own. For clients, I believe there is something transformative about being on the receiving end of an earnest and empathetic listener.

Since I first quit being a therapist, I have had another, equally impactful experience. For 2 1/2 years, I worked a job that was relatively easy and sufficiently well-paying, but which ultimately did not feel meaningful. To manage this cognitive dissonance, I created distance between myself (who I am) and my work (how I spend my day). Near the end, I couldn't help but fixate on that quote from Annie Dillard: "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."

I am not naïve enough to think that a person's 9 to 5 job must also be one's life passion. That's a privilege afforded to only a few, and there are workarounds for the many. For example: Not long after I began the aforementioned unsatisfying job, I began this blog. Blogging provided an alternative outlet for radical authenticity, for helping others, for challenging myself. On top of that, blogging is hard, pays nothing, and is very meaningful. It was the perfect counterpoint to my job.

And yet: These days, I feel willing and able to pursue closer alignment between my self and my work. I feel ready to forgo a bit of ease and distance afforded by an easier job, if it means I can be more myself for more of the time.

As for my aversion to offering solutions: I still feel that. I am still afraid that I will succumb to pressure from clients to offer concrete direction and advice. I am still afraid that I will pretend to understand a client's problems before I even understand my client. I am still afraid that I will be too scared to be candid or to take risks with clients, for fear that they won't come back. I am still wary of how my basic fear - insignificance - will manifest when I'm working a job so close to my heart.

And: more than I am afraid, I am alive. When I think about my future as a therapist -- well, that's when I feel alive.