Sunday, June 01, 2014

Is It Ever Right For a Therapist to Cry?

Therapy

During my morning surf for psychology stories, I came across this one at the BBC asking "Is it ever right for a therapist to cry?"

I wondered as I sipped my English Breakfast Tea (a perfect coincidence) why this was a worthy subject the BBC felt needed covering. Surely, people know that therapists cry. Especially if a patient's narrative is moving, upsetting or emotionally tragic. Right? The article, though, reported that some patients were surprised that a therapist might tear up in a session, finding the response off-putting and even unprofessional.

The BBC article brought into view a recent study by San Diego psychologist Amy Blume-Marcovici, PsyD, who wrote that approximately 75% of the psychologists surveyed cried at least once while with a patient. Of these psychologists, 30% had cried within the past four weeks. This data didn't surprise me, being a trained psychoanalyst. Empathic attunement and countertransference are but a few of the psychoanalytic principles I've spent hundreds of hours studying as a training analyst, experiencing as a practicing therapist and writing about as an author.

A lot of multitasking goes on in therapy. As a therapist, you listen deeply with your patients, index your own thoughts and feelings as they talk, register what threads to grab to explore further, and dwell in the experience of it all as it unfolds in real-time. Sometimes, a patient's narrative moves you. Sometimes it takes your breath away. Other narratives may upset you, make you laugh or raise a sense of worry, just to name a few. Whatever the emotional response, therapists are trained to deal with them in productive ways for the patient being treated. Sometimes therapists may share them, sometimes not. But when they do, it's with the intention of sharing a genuine experience to empathize, connect and validate.

Tearing up while bearing witness to a patient's unimaginable loss or a painful memory is not a rare event for me. Because I specialize in depression and trauma, I often work with individuals who have endured unimaginable events. As my patients and I work in sessions toward recovery,  I consider the range of ALL my emotional responses to be an integral part of the therapeutic process. And so does research. 

While many think it's unprofessional that a therapist cries, being emotionally open is often just what a patient needs from a therapist.

So, the answer to the question of is it right for a therapist to cry, is a resounding, "Yes."

11 comments:

toni said...

Thanks so much for your genuine, heart felt post! Real recovery happens with real feelings:)

Dr. Deb said...

Being a therapist requires a lot of training. In fact, psychoanalytic training requires the MOST training for therapists - where a student therapist undergoes his r her own analysis as a patient as well as spending hundreds of hours in training and supervision before being certified.

Being real, authentic and learning how to use these feelings in therapy can be very helpful.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and stopping by.

PTC said...

I think I would feel honored if my therapist cried if I was telling her something really sad. I remember talking to her about the horrific massacre in Newtown and how hard that was for me, being from the surrounding area. She looked like she teared up a bit. I guess that wasn't a great example because that was an event that affected most people and being that she has small children, it would affect her too. I think many people around the country cried after that event. I know she can really relate when i talk about my aging cat (she has an aging dog). I know she gets it.

Dr. Deb said...

Sounds like you have a great therapist, one who is open and empathic.

Thanks for sharing!

Dawn said...

Hmmm, this is very interesting. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. I don't ever cry in therapy (this is a whole other issue in itself), so I'm not sure how I would feel if my therapist did.

Definitely thought provoking and now I will go read the links you provided, because this is very interesting to me. :)

PTC said...

Ya, she kind of rocks.

Dr. Deb said...

I can understand the not crying in therapy thing. Some people are not comfortable doing that. And some people are not criers in their personal lives. So, I get it.

PTC said...

I've never cried in therapy. I cried on the phone with my T the day after I had to put my cat to sleep, but that's the only time. I'm not a crier in life though either, so that might explain it.

Dr. Deb said...

There's no hard and fast rules about crying. Some people aren't criers, while others are. And there are all kinds of gradations in between. The idea of an empathic therapist, one who may feel realistically and authentically, is what's most important. I love the dialogue that this news article and my subsequent post has drawn here.

S'onnie said...

Years ago when I first attempted to see a counsellor/psychologist she would cry in almost every session and it was actually really off putting as I rarely cry and I ended up stopping seeing her because I felt so uncomfortable. It took another 15 years before I had another go at seeing a counsellor...

S'onnie said...
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