The Role of the Therapist
By: Sebastian Vasilescu, LMFT
What is the role of the therapist in the therapy room? Is it healer? Is it liberator? Or unbeknown to the therapist, is it oppressor? As psychotherapists there is power and privilege we carry into the room with us, no matter how slight the difference in power may be, it is present in our interactions with clients. Self-of-therapist work, seen as an exploration of a therapists own history and experience; attending to our own axiologies (values and value systems), beliefs, ideals, ideologies, biases, stereotypes, traumas, and family of origin is a necessary precursor to justly being able to attend to our clients struggles. Without such self-of-therapist work we are vulnerable to becoming another conformist therapist, one that pathologizes clients and simply does symptom work. Morally and ethically betraying those who have entrusted us to help them and in so doing, commercializing psychotherapy as we begin to “fix” client after client in order for them to return to being “well-adjusted, productive members of society.” Perpetuating the ideology of what is considered normal and becoming collaborators of the oppressive and unjust forces many clients face.
Therefore, as a psychotherapist one must carry an appropriately critical lens and a social justice perspective not only to the therapy room but to society as well. We cannot liberate, empower, or heal others if we do not liberate, empower, or heal ourselves. I believe as therapist we must attend to issues related to diversity and power and privilegeas they relate to age, culture, environment, ethnicity, gender, health/ ability, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation, spirituality, and socioeconomic status. I believe a therapist should be comfortable and available to discuss any of these topics that a client may bring into sessions. Serving as a guide for clients to not have to face such struggles alone and appropriately challenging clients; helping foster an inner security through which clients become agents of change in their own lives often times “breaking the chain” of patterns passed on from generation to generation. “What the world does to you, if it does it long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do it to yourself” – James Baldwin. As a result, the struggle clients now face is that it is hard to become yourself because you have to divorce yourself from the standards of society. This is where I believe the role of the therapist begins, a therapist now becomes a guide to help clients discover their world in hopes of breaking from the culture that has “produced” them and discover the culture (family of origin and multigenerational patterns) that has really “produced” them. In essence a therapists role is to both give the world and liberate clients from it.
I feel a necessary caution is that a therapist should not substitute one romanticism for another. Such romanticisms often presented as “positive psychology,” are commercial categories and only give our clients something to consume without changing dysfunctional patterns and liberating themselves from the shackles of the struggles they came to therapy with. As therapists if we have liberated ourselves, it is our duty to help liberate others. If we have power, it is our responsibility to help empower others. The role of the therapist is also to address burn out and self care tips that include a focus on capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy. These are the systems causing stress, not your lack of a facial and expensive new pillow. I think it is fitting to end with this quote by Dr. Cornel West that fully encompasses the role of the therapist, “That ain’t having hoping, that’s being a hope! Courageously baring witness, regardless of what the circumstances is, because you’re choosing to be a person of integrity to the best of your ability before the worms get your body!” We can be a hope, until our clients realize they are the hope!
Written by: Sebastian Vasilescu, M.A.