There are many health professionals out there who struggle with their own mental illnesses. Usually, we don`t hear about it, with some exceptions that helps fight stigma and give hope to others who want to become what they dream of themselves. But it is a two-edged sword, and therapists with their own issues must address those issues if they want to help others in a good way.
A good example is Kay Jamison, a psychologist with bipolar disorder. Another is Theresa Theopano. She has used medication and sought help for her problems, and been open about it while also wanting to help others with similar problems. What she noticed, is that when she confessed she was using medication and had mental health issues, other people working with mental health, opened up and told her about their struggles, too. She writes:
I have learned from my work with the NYC Queer Mental Health Initiative, an all-volunteer LGBT peer support network, that it is entirely possible to hold space for clients while being authentic about our own lived experiences, and without “othering” the people sitting across from us (or next to us) talking about their problems. I am wary of feeling pressured to compromise my authenticity for the sake of maintaining someone else’s definition of professionalism–a loaded concept whose overtones of racism, classism, and sexism are so eloquently described in this article.
Another memoir is from the lesbian psychotherapist Chana Wilson, that contains an exquisite level of detail about Wilson’s own difficult past growing up and coming out amid an extremely complicated family dynamic. The extensively published and accomplished psychologist Marsha Linehan developed Dialetical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) as a treatment for borderline personality disorder–which she revealed that she herself experiences.
Another example is the father of psychotherapy, Sigmund Freud:
This is taken from an article in “Psychology today”
In 1899 Sigmund Freud got a new telephone number: 14362. He was 43 at the time, and he was profoundly disturbed by the digits in the new number. He believed they signified that he would die at age 61 (note the one and six surrounding the 43) or, at best, at age 62 (the last two digits in the number). He clung, painfully, to this bizarre belief for many years. Presumably he was forced to revise his estimate on his 63rd birthday, but he was haunted by other superstitions until the day he died—by assisted suicide, no less—at the ripe old age of 83.
That’s just for starters. Freud also had frequent blackouts. He refused to quit smoking even after 30 operations to correct the extensive damage he suffered from cancer of the jaw. He was a self-proclaimed neurotic. He suffered from a mild form of agoraphobia. And, for a time, he had a serious cocaine problem.
A number of surveys, conducted by Guy and others, reveal some worrisome statistics about therapists’ lives and well-being. At least three out of four therapists have experienced major distress within the past three years, the principal cause being relationship problems. More than 60 percent may have suffered a clinically significant depression at some point in their lives, and nearly half admitted that in the weeks following a personal crisis they’re unable to deliver quality care. As for psychiatrists, a 1997 study by Michael Klag, M.D., found that the divorce rate for psychiatrists who graduated from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine between 1948 and 1964 was 51 percent—higher than that of the general population of that era, and substantially higher than the rate in any other branch of medicine
The article from psychology today, points to the fact that many health professionals have their own issues. And even if sometimes that means that their ability to show empathy is greater, it is troublesome if they don`t work on their issues and give proper treatment. It is wrong if the therapist can`t be there for the clients when they suffer themselves. Since I`ve worked with trauma, and did so for two years, I started to struggle with containing everything I heard, and when I got into a relationship that was traumatic for me, I had to take a break. At the time, I didn`t want to see it, but luckily I had people around me who helped me see that I needed to take care of myself first, before I tried helping others. I am really happy I did so, because continuing without realizing that the feelings I had might cloud my judgment when I talked with people who reminded me of myself.
To other health professionals out there, I would highly recommend a book called “help for the helper ” by Rotschild. But it might not be enough to just read, sometimes therapy or supervision is necessary if you are on deep water. I know my problems might resurface, and that I must take that seriously. As a client, if you feel that your therapist struggles, you are in your right to address that or even search for a new therapist if it doesn`t work out for you.