Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Should You Be Emotionally Reckless?

Recently Jason Mihalko encouraged the young therapist to not be afraid to love. Tamara Suttle talked about naming and claiming fear in your practice for what it was. Jessica Grogean wrote about how listening wasn't enough...therapists need to reach inside and find greater empathy. And Ann Stonebraker touted the importance of depending on a community of flying monkeys

There seems to be a theme of late in the therapy community about tapping into your emotions to have success as a therapist. Whether it's conquering a fear, accepting that you feel love for your clients, learning to be dependent on the larger society of therapists and professionals, or internalizing a client's experience, the message I receive is that in order to be a successful counselor, you must constantly challenge your own emotional depths. 

But that idea goes against what we are often taught as practitioners, doesn't it? From the beginning of our education, brick by brick, we learn to build up a wall against too much emotional interaction with others. It can be expressed in multiple phrases:

"Professional boundaries."

"Leaving work at the office."

"Tough love."

I will be one of the first to say that I am not yet ready to abandon those principles. Unfortunately, if we do leave them behind entirely, there are those who will abuse and take advantage of others. But perhaps it's a bit like first knowing the rules so you can learn how break them safely. Maybe we need to go through that stage of overcompensation - building that wall sky-high - so that eventually, we can thoughtfully remove a brick or two where appropriate. Allow for some cracks in the foundation, so that our humanity can mix with our professionalism. 

What do you think? Is it too dangerous to allow your emotions some leeway in your practice? 

And, as beginning counselors, how do you think is the safest way (for you and for clients) to break the rules? 

In one week, I will kick off the Mind Your Own Business Virtual Conference with, "9 Ways You Are Sabotaging Your Private Practice and How To Stop." Sign up to find out how to attend free!