"I'm a therapist." That's the party-mannered answer to "what do you do?" Sometimes I get a bug-eyed response as they slink away. Sometimes I see the slight look of fear sweep across their face as they find someone else to chat up. Still others have asked "are you analyzing me right now?" Sometimes they are persistent that I must be analyzing people all of the time. I wasn’t and I don’t...until you said that, actually. Now I might be wondering if you are a narcissist. I'm kidding. Maybe. The truth is, I’m not working all of the time.
It is true that I do hear lots of stories, none of which I can tell you because what a client tells me is confidential. But I'm not being intriguing when I say that I can't really talk about client stuff. And I'm not trying to get you interested in the details, I promise. I am but a keeper of secrets--unless, of course, the secrets mean you are a danger to yourself or others. Those are not secrets I keep. Those are secrets that are shared with the right people who can help ensure safety. Nope, I won’t be able to tell you about the last time that happened, either (which isn’t very often).
Yes, you can tell me about your uncle/cousin/kid/aunt/neighbor/cat and the weird/funny/bizarre/mean thing that they did. I can't really tell you what is wrong with them based on the info shared since I've never met them and I don't catalog and diagnose what is wrong with people on the fly. There really isn't a "if screaming raging person, then this is what's wrong with them" scenario in the psychology world. That said, though, I really like stories about people. I'm naturally curious and want to understand as much as possible about human nature, what makes people do things, make the choices they do, form relationships, pursue interests, etc. So, I soak up these character exposés as they provide as much insight into the people telling the stories as whom they are about.
I absolutely understand that people are curious about what goes on in therapy. If you've never been in therapy and the only reference you have is what you see on television, I get that too. I'll tell you what goes on in therapy. People come into my office, they sit on my couch or chair and they tell me their stories. Women share stories about emotional difficulties, couples talk about their disagreements and disappointments, teenagers talk about problems with their parents and peers (and sometimes sit silently for long periods) and parents express worry about their children. They talk about loved ones who have died, job difficulties and life struggles. It is all fair game.
Clients may sometimes talk about other people first, until they are more comfortable. Eventually, they tell me the stories that are hard to tell and sometimes they cry. They talk about heartbreak, difficult relationships, things that they don't understand, things that are too ugly to tell other people, things that they are embarrassed about, humiliated by, or wish they could change about others or themselves. They tell me about loss, sadness and loneliness. They talk about feeling nervous, anxious, the inability to sleep or find peace. They talk about what they need to talk about. And what do I do?
I help them make changes when they are ready and able, and if they aren't, I support them by listening. We work out ways to challenge the negative thoughts, end destructive patterns and seek peace within their life. I don’t solve people’s problems. Mostly, I help them find their own solutions: the ones that they didn’t know they had. My kids think I’m a professional problem-solver. Not exactly…but I am Steph Meyers: Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor.