On being a Psychotherapist

I started my journey in this profession over 20 years ago. I was working in sales management in a high stimulation – high stress environment.  I worked hard and played hard and enjoyed it. I received counselling after my divorce and was interested in knowing a bit more about it. I had always had an interest in people.  I like to understand what motivates them to be who they are, and what provokes the choices they make.

As soon as I started the training I was hooked. I realised that the skills and knowledge I was learning would be useful to me in every area of my life, as a manager, parent, friend, partner, and colleague. As well as that, it was really interesting, stimulating and fun to learn – a very different experience for me than being at school.

Now 20 years on, not only have I seen a range of clients: individuals, couples and groups, but I have supervised many other therapists in the area and run a training centre teaching others to be therapists.

On a practical level I love the flexibility of being a therapist.  I choose how many clients I take on, when I work and when I don’t. I can make my own decisions on how long and how regular I take holidays. To be an effective therapist we need to take care of our own needs – that means making sure we balance work with time off. In terms of payment, I earn a good hourly rate – at the moment I charge £50 for a 50 minute session – this works well for me. It’s not like a 9-5 job where you will see clients all day, but when I am working I like to know I am being paid a good rate. I still work hard but have lots of time off as well.

Often people ask ‘how do you deal with hearing peoples’ pain? Sometimes it is painful. As a therapist, I am the tool that I use – my thoughts, my feelings my reactions. My aim is to empathise with my clients as much as I can, to understand their world from their perspective. It is when people feel really heard, really met in their experience that people often make the changes that they want. We now know that seven minutes of empathy changes the structure of the human brain… seven minutes – that is amazing!

I would say that to hear the depth of someone’s pain, their sadness, anger, shame, fear and joy is truly an honour. To be the person that another human being decides to trust enough to tell you their innermost thoughts, and feelings is quite beautiful. It is painful sometimes and as I mentioned – I do need to take care of myself, but it is a constructive pain – a little like childbirth maybe. The client is not just there, wallowing in their pain, but are with you in the room because they know things can be different and they are motivated to do something about it. You learn how to be completely there, with the client, for a session – but how to switch off from it as well.

I have seen hundreds of clients over the past twenty years; I have supervised many other therapists and am now training others to do the same thing. We now have a much better understanding of why therapy works. Over the past twenty years our understanding of neuroscience has increased enormously and from that we can see that the brain actually changes in the process.

Of course not every piece of work is successful. I am dealing with human beings and am human myself, I make mistakes, and sometimes clients decide it’s not for them. However, overall my experience is that people achieve what they want to achieve and often more than they could have imagined. Clients leave therapy with an increased sense of self-esteem, with skills and knowledge to deal with life in a new way that serves them well.

To facilitate someone in turning their life around from whatever they are unhappy about, to becoming who they want to be, experiencing a rich fulfilling life, in my opinion is a great way to earn a living

Last weekend I was teaching my fourth year Psychotherapy trainees – they have two weekends to go before the end of their training. Four years might sound like a long time when you start out, but it has flashed past. The training is part time (10 weekends per year) so people can fit it around their existing commitments. It was lovely to look at this group of people who have grown and developed both as individuals, and as practitioners – and see them going out into the world and launching a new career for themselves.

Leilani Mitchell

These are my random ramblings today; tomorrow I may change my mind

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