Choosing A Guide

Being a psychologist has been an interesting career.  Thirty-five years ago, when I was deciding these things, I figured that psychology would always hold my interest – after all, it’s impossible to be bored when my job is to attempt to understand lives. Recently, I’ve been thinking about an idea that isn’t peculiar to psychology – having a guide.  Once I left home to go to college, I’ve never had much in the way of guides and yet, being a therapist is part guide (part many other things as well). I know that after more than a million years of school, training, reading, thinking, and analyzing, I’m smart, but tons of people are smarter – many of them are my clients. So, can I help them?  Sure, because it isn’t about being smarter; it is about being a guide.

When Theodore Reik, a famous analyst was asked whether he felt intimidated treating a Nobel Prize winner, he said that he was not.  Reik said, “I had already faced myself,”  thereby allowing him to help his distinguished client to do the same. It wasn’t about being smart or smarter; it was about Reik having done the work in his own field; learning his craft which, in this case, was courageously understanding lives and emotions. 

I’m sure that piano teachers have helped students who were going to be more brilliant at the piano; same with art or math teachers.  We have all worked with people who were smarter or who were going to eventually pass us. Guides have to know the terrain; they don’t have to be perfect.

 From time to time, we all need guides – someone who knows how to navigate a tricky place better than we do. If you want a guide through the Painted Desert, you will chose a person who has studied that terrain (he or she might be useless on water but who cares!)  I don’t care if my internist or my hair stylist spend their hours thinking about the same weird psychological things that I ponder. I want them to be good at their jobs, not mine. I certainly have never asked the Jiffy Lube guys about their dreams and I’ve never even met (face to face) my fabulous web site designer but he has certainly guided me through this minefield.  The point is (yes, Virginia, there is a point), we ought to appreciate other peoples’ expertise, not be intimidated, not feel deficient. Reik was right when he noted that his offering to the Nobel Prize winning client who needed to begin a psychological journey was that Reik had already taken himself on that trip.

If you are a clinical supervisor, professor or early career therapist, you will find my new book “What Do I Say?” to be an essential addition to your professional library.

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