In graduate school, they teach you about cautious empathy. Sympathy. Being able to understand your client and their pain, but also having one foot back in the office, maintaining your objectivity. But depending on your orientation, that can be hard.
As an existential therapist, I genuinely sit with my client’s pain. I experience it as fully as I can. I try to understand their perspective. It helps me view the situation through their reality, but also causes me to feel the hurt that exists there.
For me, carrying my clients’ pain is probably the hardest part of my job. I can listen. I can help the client identify problems, and sort through what has kept them from resolving them. But empathizing with them as we go, that is the part that’s taxing.
I may cry in a session with my client. I may hold back (if I feel like my crying would make them feel guilty). But my clients’ pain hurts me. I often go home and cry. Some days I feel almost numb from how much pain I carry with me. Yet little of it is my own. It is the pain of each client I care about, root for, worry over, and suffer with.
When I read the thoughts/worries of clients in general, often one major theme is that their therapist doesn’t really care. We see the theme in media: the client sharing their deepest pains while a therapist doodles on a notebook. And maybe for some therapists that’s true. Maybe some can block it out.
But I can say with all honesty that I deeply feel the pain of each client. As they suffer, I suffer. I ponder over their cases when they are not there. I care about each one deeply. I wouldn’t feel right working with someone if I didn’t.
Sometimes I wonder if this will eventually take too much of an emotional toll over time, but at least for right now, it’s the only was I know how to be truly genuine in therapy.