Sunday, June 01, 2014
Is It Ever Right For a Therapist to Cry?
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."