“Well, there is one in every class, so don’t be discouraged, Sarah!”
My head snapped up. I was sitting in graduate school, mere weeks away from starting a year-long internship program where I’d be practicing therapy in a private practice, a psychiatric hospital with adolescents, and a group home for kids in custody of the state. Our class had just taken intensive personality assessments the previous week, and we were receiving our results.
Apparently, I had scored painfully low in categories of compassion, warmth, and empathy. Pretty classic attributes we hope a therapist would embody, right? Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time I had doubted my decision to become a therapist based on my personality and the stereotype I believed a therapist should fit.
A few weeks after I had been accepted to graduate school to get my master’s in counseling, I freaked out. I was driving around Atlanta with one of my best friends, bemoaning the fact that I don’t look, think, or act like a “real therapist.” Therapists should wear flowing pastel skirts and have soft voices, right? Yet, I was once asked to leave a high school tennis match as a spectator because I was talking too loud, and my way of showing warmth and affection typically involves sarcasm and cackling.
I let all my anxious fears out to my friend:
What if no one connects with me?
What if none of my clients even like me?
What if I’m totally different from everyone else in grad school?
How in the world did I delude myself into thinking that a career in listening to people’s pain was a good fit for me?
My friend, Allie, simply looked at me and said, “Not everyone needs the same therapist … The people who will come across your path are the people who will click with you and connect with you because of all those characteristics that make you who you are.”
Every single one of us fights the battle to accept who we are—and to extend the same grace to those around us. Accepting the parts of me that make me who I am will be a lifelong process, I think. But being in relationships and a community that affirms and validates my worth makes all the difference. I don’t have to apologize for my loud laugh or hide my deep, deep love for all books when I feel safe and loved in a community.
Part of my personality is that I don’t immediately connect with people without looking them in the eye and making a deliberate choice to be compassionate. I have to daily choose to treat my clients, co-workers, and friends with respect and love. But to walk in the light of hope of recovery and healing, day after day, is the career I’ve chosen, and because that doesn’t come naturally to me, I have to first experience this kind of grace and acceptance with my friends and family before I can share it with other people.
All you can be is the person you were created to be. You don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to be perfect, and I won’t do myself, my friends, or my clients any good by pushing myself toward an invisible standard which in fact isn’t even true or attainable. So I’m going to quit striving for perfection, and instead strive for my best.
I am the best version of myself when I can laugh at the foolish things I say in a therapy session by accident because I was trying to look smart.
I am the best version of myself when I can apologize for when I have been insensitive toward the people I care about.
And I am the best version of myself when I build connection and relationship with my teenage clients as we crack up playing Jenga during group.
That is my prayer for you. That you would find a safe group of people who point out the things they love about who you are and encourage you not to hide them. That you would find a relationship with a friend—or a therapist—who will gently help you rest in the best version of yourself.
Perfect therapists don’t exist. Perfect students, perfect parents, perfect spouses and significant others, perfect employees—they don’t exist. No matter how hard we strive for unrelenting perfection in every part of our lives, we will not succeed. And believe it or not, that’s a good thing. Because it is in our moments of imperfection and insecurity that we can lean on others to remind us of our worth and dignity.
Sarah B. is a therapist, a listener, and an advocate. Raised in the Midwest and now living in the South, she’s made it her life’s work to point people to hope and healing.
Thank you for your blog. I just started working on my masters in counseling. Even though I have wanted to be a counselor for as long as I can remember, since starting grad school in August I have been questioning my decision. I just don’t seem to think the same way as the other people in my program it has caused me to question if I am in the right field. Your blog is a great reminder that there needs to be diversity in the counseling profession to match the diversity of clients. I am trusting that I am on the right path and that the people who need me as a therapist will be led to me. I have also recently started therapy for myself and I think this will only lead to further self discovery and acceptance. Thank you!
Where in the south are you located. I am trying to find a therapist for my daughter who is a 2nd year kindergarten teacher and is having some issues with anxiety.
Thank you for this. I’m in graduate school to be a therapist and there are days where I think that I don’t know what I was thinking going into this field. I have a hard time understanding myself, let alone being able to understand someone else. But I will strive to be the best I can be.
I would love to have you as a therapist
Thank you Sarah for being honest & open about choosing not to live up to the impossible “perfect” standard.
It takes a tremendous amount of courage to know that our very best is more than enough. It also helps to have a tribe of individuals who uplift, encourage & celebrate you for the person you are NOT the person you think you have to be.
I’m also a counselor, and sarcastic and not always the warm person I envisioned a therapist to be. I was different from my peers in grad school but for many reasons, and I’ve found that the differences are actually my strengths in therapy. Being REAL connects better than professional and distant.
I’ve been in treatment off & on for years & I’ve worked with many clinicians. I met my current therapist when she worked at a program. Because I was in the program several times, I not only worked with therapist a lot but I also have quite a few friends who worked with her as well. When I talk about the therapist around people who know her, I always get the same response – she was ok, but I didnt really like her – or – really? I could never work with her. Despite the “concensus ” about this therapist, I have always clicked with her & I have made a lot of sacrifices in order to see her. She is absolutely the PERFECT therapist for ME. And thats all that matters.
I am a licensed counselor in Texas, and I too thought that I would never be a “perfect” therapist. I am too warm, too personal, too involved… I might not be the embodiment of textbook therapists, but in my years in practice I have consoled parents after having a relative sexually abuse their children, I have helped women leave the nightmare of domestic violence, have supported teens trying to quit drugs, gangs and self hatred. Yes, I might be too out there to be a perfect therapist. But I have been perfect for the people I have supported and cheered on while they embark in new and different paths in life! There is no better feeling in the world than that!
Thank you for this. I am an undergraduate studying psychology and I needed every bit of this post.
Thank you so much Sarah for taking the time in sharing this with the world.
In all honesty, I’m scared to seek help from a therapist, because of the stereotypes. They scare me, and I know I would not feel safe or comfortable with them. The world needs more therapists like you. I feel like more people, teenagers especially, will be able to connect with you and feel more alive. They won’t feel like they’re doing something wrong in their life, or feel stupid even. Keep up what you’re doing, and keep being who you are.
Thanks for this – I too am a counselor who doesn’t fit inside any box. The stereotype of what a therapist is…is an ineffective person who has tons of compassion but can’t muster the courage to tell someone when they’re lying to themselves.
My clients value that I’m at all times real and I’m so grateful that I got past the pressure I used to put on myself. I tried to know everything and do everything and the truth is I was just scared. “Be who you are and say how you feel.” – Dr. Seuss