On Being the Shrink

I don't talk about my job very much. As a therapist, I have to keep everything that happens in session confidential. When most people have a bad day at the office, they can vent about it to their spouse or friends. When I have a bad day at work, I have to keep it to myself.

Today I had a poignant conversation with another therapist about some stuff that I obviously can't discuss. But the gist of it is, sometimes it can be really discouraging to see how damaging parents can be to their children. It astounds me how profound a traumatic childhood can shape a person's life. Even more disheartening is how the small things can impact us. A distracted, perfectionistic, critical or addicted parent . . . even in a seemingly happy household, kids can sustain damage that follows them into adulthood.

Sometimes, though, the trauma is so far-reaching that a person's hard-wiring is changed. Such a person may struggle for the rest of their lives with depression, or anxiety, or addiction, or self-loathing, or thoughts of ending their life. They may be attracted to people who continue to hurt them in ways that are familiar. And no matter how much work we do in therapy, this faulty hard-wiring is very difficult to change. As a beginning therapist, I used to think that anyone could change. That with enough counsel, anyone can gain insight that will lead to behavior change, that would lead to a kinder, happier life. After years of experience, now I'm not so sure. Coming to that realization, as a therapist, is kind of like losing your religion. Most of us go into the field of pyschology out of a deep need to help others. It's hard when we are not able to do that. It's hard to watch people struggle. Somtimes it's hard to listen to pain, and join in that pain, in the midst of my own brokeness.
Most of the time, I like being a therapist. I have seen many people find freedom through counseling. But sometimes, that doesn't happen. Those days are discouraging. Today was one of those days.


  1. Hi Kristen-

    I love hearing your thoughts on your job. I want to be you when I grow up -- uh, but I think I might be older than you ...so, what I mean is --- I plan to pick your brain until it bleeds finding out all about your life, I am totally intrigued by people and why we do what we do and I hope to be able to help people the way you are someday.

  2. I promise I won't constantly comment.
    But that said,
    my heart hurt when I read this. I was a social worker for seven years (before the SAHM gig). My clients - chronically mentally ill - everything from schizophrenia to depression and anxiety and addiction.
    I started out kind of pollyanna- like, and left feeling exactly how you describe in this post.
    Sure, I helped a lot of people head toward a better path for their lives. But there were probably just as many who were far too damaged (hard-wiring) to see much hope. I suppose there is hope, but some may never dig that deep or happen to find it.
    Even so, I know from being in "the field," you do good work. Kudos, lady!


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