How To Practice Gratitude for a Being a Psychotherapist

gratitude for being a psychotherapist

It is quite rare (or at least I assume so) that a client calls or emails you well after they’ve discontinued treatment to tell you how well they are doing or to thank you for the work you did together.

I recently received one of those emails from a former client. Ah, it felt so good. The gratitude for being a psychotherapist flowed easily.

This post centers on the relatively uncommon “thank-you notes” from former clients and how to practice gratitude for being a psychotherapist in the here and now.

Do Our Former Clients Appreciate All Our Hard Work? 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t often receive those out-of-the-blue thank you notes or glowing anecdotal reviews from former clients.  You know, the type of feedback that really lets you know how former clients’ lives have been somehow transformed or helped significantly.

I often wonder about the well-being of the clients with whom I no longer work.

We don’t hear from them, and we wonder from time to time how they are faring. Have they moved forward in a way that brings them less unnecessary suffering? Do they utilize the insights they gained or the skills they cultivated? Have they perhaps taken a turn for the worse?

Lest we be overly caught up and identified with clients we no longer even see, we might re-focus on the clients with whom we currently work.

Focusing on the Here and Now

Let’s start with the here and now. We can attend to those for whom we strive to help get back on their feet after a bitter divorce or develop some coping skills for debilitating anxiety or trauma.

If we realize the stark reality that they will be in our lives (and we will be in theirs) for a relatively short period of time, we might honor this truth.

We might bow a depth of gratitude for whatever time we can spend in their lives. We can focus our attention on whatever help we can offer them and on whatever they will ultimately take away from their time with us.

Barriers to Gratitude

But, there are often barriers to cultivating these feelings of appreciation. There are many potential roadblocks, but here are just a few.

The professional role we have adopted can be quite a powerful force. If we believe, for instance, that we are our clients’ savior, fixer, or lifeline, then we may be unwittingly making it more difficult to allow more gratitude in. When it really comes down to it, no one, even a dearly beloved spouse or parent, can ever truly fulfill those roles all of the time.

If we operate more from a clinical science perspective, we might feel that the “treatment” is not working. We may then blame ourselves for not being adequate implementers of “the evidence-based way” to help. Or we may blame the client for not adhering to what we so strongly believe or what is “proven” will help.

If we believe deeply that the relationship is the therapy, then a strained therapeutic relationship may produce similar feelings of incompetence. We may feel a visceral sense of “nothing to really be grateful for.”

Of course there are always endless subtleties in therapeutic practice, and so I’m painting a more all or nothing picture just to draw out a point.

But let’s flip the script for a moment.

How to Practice Gratitude For Being A Psychotherapist

There may be other ways of approaching the therapeutic endeavor that can facilitate the quality and practice of gratitude with greater ease and flow

  • We may perceive ourselves as our clients’ guides, facilitators, coaches, validators, and so on. This may alleviate the pressure we may feel to solve everything that comes our way.
  • No matter what our website says about our skills or how many 5 star HealthGrades reviews we have garnered, we too are human. We deserve to allow ourselves to practice gratitude even if our clients don’t appear to be improving as we (or they) would have hoped.
  • Even if we objectively haven’t helped a given client nearly as much as we would have hoped, we may practice gratitude for the healthy realization that the therapeutic match just wasn’t optimal. And then we can hopefully refer that client to someone or something more optimal. This too we can be thankful for.

So, in this highly nuanced art and science of psychotherapy, it can be positively assumed that there is always something (no matter how miniscule) that we can turn toward with appreciation.

After Termination

After we terminate (a term, by the way, I have never really favored), we might never really know how we’ve affected our clients or influenced their lives for the better (or worse). In fact, when I received the email from that particular client, he was thanking me for something I had since forgotten we had spoken about.

The juice of what I uttered to my client that day several years ago apparently needed to percolate, then boil, then overflow to catch his full attention. Then he took action and made changes to greatly enhance his own life.

So although we might feel and actually be un-thanked for the work we do day in and day out, we might rest assured that somehow, sometime, somewhere down the road our clients have internalized something of meaning and value. It’s up to us to remind ourselves of this on a daily basis, for now and for some imagined future.

To help build this resource and quality of thankfulness, here is a great site with some other goodies for getting unstuck in all the sticky challenges of life.

I’d love to hear your stories about gratitude for being a psychotherapist – the thankfulness both from clients and from within yourselves. And please do respect privacy and confidentiality of your clients. 🙂 

As always, be well and be here,

Matt

About the Author

Dr. Matt Hersh is a practicing clinical psychologist, mindfulness meditation teacher, blogger, and socially conscious entrepreneur. He works directly with children, teens, emerging adults, and adults struggling with anxiety and stress. He is also founder of TheThrivingTherapist.org, a website dedicated to mental health professionals' self-care, wellness, and burnout prevention.

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