Very soon, I will be semi-retiring from IT to become a therapist. I’m often asked why I’m leaving a lucrative field where I’m heavily recruited daily for more work so that I may enter the field of psychotherapy. The answers are complex. No matter how much I write, much will be left unsaid, but I will try to answer the question of “why I became a psychotherapist” in this post.
Hamman (2001) writes that there are five wounds that those who become therapists try to heal. The first is a capacity to believe. According to Hamman, this isn’t a belief in God, per se, but a capacity of belief that allows one to bring one’s entire being into life. In other words, it’s something internal rather than external. I relate this concept to my own nihilistic struggles as the result of chronic developmental trauma and its effects and my fight to continue to be present. I also relate it to some of my philosophical conclusions that if I can conjure something within myself then it exists. In other words, if I truly love, truly have faith, truly am honest, truly am empathetic, then since I am part of the universe, then the universe must also have within it love, faith, honesty, empathy. I don’t have to find these qualities anywhere but within myself to prove that these are qualities that are contained within existence. In other words, I can force upon the universe to exhibit the qualities I want to believe in when I manifest them within myself. Being a therapist better helps me to conjure the qualities that counter the nihilism that is all-too-willing to take me.
The capacity to imagine means that the therapist can penetrate beyond the physical, subjective world into that place not yet manifest. In Daoism, this would be the Dao, the formless void where all forms come from, the mother of all. Hamman describes how D.W. Winnicot describes three worlds, the autistic, the illusionistic, and the realistic. Health is found in the illusionistic world. This is the realm the psychotherapist seeks to explore. Unlike the uncontrolled fantasy and omniscient thinking in the autistic world, and the logical, hard, undeniable facts of the realistic world, the world of illusion explores controlled fantasy, inspiration, and symbols. Being a therapist means I can live more in the world of safety I create as a writer and musician, and live far less in the painfully sterile world of Information Technology.
The capacity for concern, according to Hamman, means reconciling the guilt of being a creature that both loves and hates, creates and destroys. As a wounded healer, I’m very aware of my shadow, the source of much of my creative energy in writing and music. By being a therapist, I will more actively work to integrate my shadow into my consciousness, my writing, my music, and my work with clients. By integrating my shadow myself, I can better help my clients to stop rejecting parts of themselves. If I block myself from going to these places, I’m limiting my ability to be a guide for others. Only when I accept my capacity for violence, destruction, weakness, self-preservation, and so on, can I face and hold the shadow of the Other. Orange (2011), when quoting Emmanuel Levinas, claims the face of the Other says one thing: “You shall not kill me.” When we don’t integrate our shadow, we limit our capacity for concern, and as a result, we categorize our clients, keep them at a distance, and “kill them.”
Fourth, as a therapist, I will work on the capacity to be alone. Hamman describes this as the ability to contain ambivalent emotions within oneself—to be a container. Being attuned to my own emotions while containing the emotions of the client will certainly be an epic achievement of maturation. Hamman points out that the capacity to hold erotic feelings is vitally important when seeing clients long-term when there is sexual transference and countertransference. Duly noted. This pursuit of emotional maturity inspires me to spend as much time working with clients in this capacity as I can without burning-out. If I’m emotionally drained, no matter my level of experience, I feel like it will be much easier to slip into states of emotional attachment with client feelings and needs rather than manifesting the capacity to be alone. As a result, I feel like I want to be diverse in my career choices once I begin practicing. I hear of many full-time therapists with 30 clients a week and I wonder how well they can be doing. I don’t want to over burden myself with client hours for the sake of income, when I can perhaps balance my income needs with some continuing efforts as a software consultant, writer, musician, cat-hugger, etc.
The final capacity that Hamman describes as motivation for those who become therapists is the capacity of object usage. Without reading this section of the paper, I imagine that the ultimate capacity of object usage is to use oneself. And, in fact, after having read this section, Hamman describes Winnicott’s views on object usage as being pivotal in establishing the feeling of being real, of being able to enter relationships with clients and objects. If the psychotherapist doesn’t develop the capacity of object usage “the therapist may use the defenses of splitting, projection, and projective identification to manipulate relationships, whether they are personal, professional, or spiritual.” It’s easy for me to see how much I’ve fumbled through relationships as a result of not having fully developed this capacity. I can project into the future and recognize immense developmental gains by exercising this capacity on my journey as a psychotherapist.
By developing these capacities, the therapist attempts to manifest realness. “Realness is not possible without the capacity to believe, the formation of a creative imagination, experiencing reparation in one’s own person and in one’s key relationships where one does not try to manipulate the other person,” writes Hamman. This is something I truly want. This search for realness is my selfish reason for becoming a psychotherapist.
I will never forget the fact that what people need the most can be found in what I learned in basic counseling skills class. People have feelings and needs and it’s my job to explore them with the client in a safe space, where I hold their emotions. I will walk this unique journey with each client, not muddying the path with maps that only worked in a certain territory, a territory that I’m not currently in with the client. As much as our Western society wants to control and predict everything, life is still uncontrollable and unpredictable. When life is experienced as uncontrollable and unpredictable by us all, doesn’t it just hurt clients even more when we promise them all of that will change once we get through the manual or when the model says we are finished? Life is circular and rhythmic. I believe my therapy should also be circular and rhythmic. It’s my job to be soft and centered with the client and to stay in touch with these rhythms coming from the client. If I do that, and do no harm, I just might succeed as I continue to grow as a psychotherapist a become more and more real each day.
Hamman, J. J. (2001). The search to be real: why psychotherapists become therapists. Journal Of Religion And Health, 40(3), 343-357.
Orange, D. M. (2011). The Suffering Stranger. New York, NY: Routledge.