Yes, there are definitely some negatives to being a marriage and family therapist. There is burnout, working odd hours, dealing with crises, stuck cases, stress, vicarious trauma, and of course the one directional nature of the therapy relationship. Therapists give emotional time and energy to clients, but do not receive it back.
One habit that helps me press on, when I am feeling particularly tired or overwhelmed, is to take notice of how being trained as a marriage and family therapist has enriched my life. I want to take a moment to highlight a few of the unexpected blessings that I have received because of my chosen profession. I should also note my husband is a marriage and family therapist.
As marriage and family therapists, we are trained to view the world in terms of pattern. We try to see the deeper or bigger picture issues that might be going on in a situation. We tend to focus on process over details. This is an incredibly useful skill. We can apply this stance to problems with our own family, our work relationships, and even our community.
We all have little cycles of behavior, healthy and unhealthy, that we tend to gravitate towards. It is human nature. When you start seeing someone as stuck in a negative pattern, it becomes less about them having faulty character or being a bad person. She is just doing the best she can in her present circumstances.
Greater Appreciation of Life & Relationships
Every once in awhile, my husband has a particularly difficult session with a family or walks with a client through his heartbreaking story. Usually that same day, I get a text or a brief phone call. “I love you so much.” “I am so lucky to be married to you.” “I love our kids.” “I am so thankful.”
When you spend much of your time helping those who are hurting, it provides you with a new level of gratitude both for your life and for your relationships.
It is an honor and privilege to be a part of the therapeutic process with people. It is not that we are any better at “relationship” than someone else. We know personally and professionally how much work is involved in maintaining a marriage and recovering from hard times. We also know how quickly and unfairly it can be taken away.
I am definitely a better parent than I would have been if I had not become a marriage and family therapist. My training and experience has helped me to be more intentional with what I teach my children, especially through my own behavior.
Yes, I have made many mistakes with my kids, but (even if I do occasionally lose my temper over spilled milk) I apologize. Not only is this simply the right thing to do, but it models an appropriate forgiveness process. Apologizing lets my children know that it is okay to make mistakes and shows them they are not expected to be perfect either.
Kids are keenly aware of any impossible standards you might set for yourself. They will adopt them and apply them to themselves even if you are verbally teaching them the opposite. I remind myself of this on a daily basis.
I am sure that I could name many more unique advantages to being a marriage and family therapist, but that is enough for one post. So, to all the therapy professionals out there, how has your training or therapy practice enhanced your life? I would love to hear your story.
*Courtney Stivers, PhD, earned her doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, and she is licensed as Marriage and Family Therapist and Professional Counselor in Arkansas. Additionally, she is an adjunct professor for Liberty University and has a passion for teaching family systems theory and professional issues.