By definition, the work therapists do requires our clients to be vulnerable in ways that they probably never experience otherwise in their lives — most clients know this well! What we are all perhaps less familiar with is the ways in which our role requires vulnerability of the therapist as well.
In his quintessential work, On Being a Therapist, Dr. Jeffrey Kottler reports that some researchers have wondered whether “therapists are masochists and gluttons for punishment. What else could possibly explain our willingness to spend so much time exploring the darkest recesses of human experiences? What other occupation has built into it the frustration of feeling helpless, stupid, and lost as a necessary part of the work?”
I often think that I do my best work when I am most vulnerable with my clients — not just telling them about my own struggles (though that’s great if needed), but being willing to acknowledge that I don’t have all the answers they’re looking for, and to actually be in that difficult, lonely, lost and confusing place with them. This is often where the real magic of therapy happens — when all of us, counselors and clients alike, can be vulnerable together and find strength and healing in our solidarity.
I’d been mulling all of this over recently, and then I got an email with a meditation from Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest I am an ardent student of that was recently featured on Oprah’s Super Soul Sundays. I wanted to share some of it with you. I hope you enjoy it!
Did you ever imagine that what we call “vulnerability” might just be the key to ongoing growth? In my experience, healthily vulnerable people use every occasion to expand, change, and grow. Yet it is a risky position to live undefended, in a kind of constant openness to the other—because it means others could sometimes actually wound us. Indeed, vulnera comes from the Latin for “to wound.” But only if we take this risk do we also allow the opposite possibility: the other might also gift us, free us, and even love us.
If and when we can live an honestly vulnerable life…there will always be a centrifugal force flowing through, out, and beyond us…[we must learn to be] vulnerable to life and love itself and [resist] all that destroys the Life Flow…And we are never “there” yet. We are always just in the river. Don’t try to push the river or make the river happen; it is already happening, and you cannot stop it. All you can do is recognize it, enjoy it, and ever more fully allow it to carry you.
As John O’Donohue put it:
I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.
Ryan Thomas Neace, MA, LPC, NCC, CCMHC, is the founder of Change, Inc., the premier counseling and wellness center of South City, St. Louis, MO. Contact Change, Inc. for counseling at 314-669-6242, or firstname.lastname@example.org.