When it comes to psychotherapists, counselling psychologists and depression, we can believe they have some magical wand. Where does the truth lie?
Lead writer Andrea Blundell explores.
Psychologists and depression
Turns out that, much as we want therapists to be super humans who can save us from ourselves? They are (gasp!) just people like the rest of us.
So yes, psychotherapists and counselling psychologists can get depressed. And it can actually benefit you as the client, when you look at the big picture and know more about the way therapy works.
A 2015 survey of British psychotherapists and psychologists found that 46 per cent of those who responded had experienced depressed moods.
What is depression, anyway?
Depression means that our low moods and inability to feel ourselves or cope well has gone on for a month or more and is consistent or worsening.
Some depression seems easier to explain. This includes postpartum depression, depression following trauma or injury, and depression following a bereavement or difficult life change like redundancy. Other forms of depression seem to hit out of nowhere, and can be connected to things like childhood trauma we never dealt with.
[Wondering if you are depressed yourself? Take our free quiz, ‘Stressed, Depressed, or Both‘?].
In summary, life is full of challenges, changes, and surprises. It’s pretty hard to get through without at least a few bouts of depression, whether we want to call it grief, a midlife crisis, or just an extended ‘low period’.
The positive side of psychologists and depression
When a talk therapist has had depression they can properly understand exactly what you are going through. They know what it’s like to try to function when you are feeling really low. They also know how hard it can feel to put into action tools and tactics that work.
But they will also know what it feels like when those tools and tactics and the process of therapy itself actually work. They are inspired to help you because they know there is a way forward. All psychotherapists and most counselling psychologists in the UK have done therapy themselves, as part of their training and accreditation.
The reason why people become therapists in the first place?
In fact a major reason many people decide to be a talk therapist in the first place is because they experienced depression or other mental health issues. Their own healing journey is the driving factor to their desire to help other people.
Is it my fault? Am I making my therapist depressed?
No. This would be a cognitive distortion, what is known as ‘personalisation’. This is where you make everything about you despite any clear evidence.
A therapist has spent hundreds of hours training in having empathy without attachment. They see your struggles. But they also know that you have the inner resources to deal with them. They are not into sympathy, empathy’s negative cousin (learn the difference in our article on sympathy vs empathy).
The therapy profession and burnout
If a therapist gets depressed, it’s from their own life and issues, not yours.
And if their depression is related to their job it is often less about clients and more about typical workplace issues. This looks like being overworked, and losing sight of work-life balance.
The NHS is hardly known for their organisation and useful allocation of funds. And the ongoing issues within the NHS system has certainly affected the therapy profession in the UK.
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels
A 2019 study by the British Psychological Society reported that psychologists faced financial constraints that led to the stress of not being able to properly help clients. Widespread vacancies also meant they were taking on an extra workload. 30 per cent reported having to work more hours than they were contracted for, and more than 40 per cent agreed they felt exhausted at the end of each day.
But if my psychologist is depressed can they really help me?
It’s highly likely that you have already done many sessions with a therapist who was having a bad day or was even depressed. Therapists have all the tools available to function despite their moods.
If a talk therapist experiences depression they are also likely to reach for support from their peers, supervisor, or their own therapist. Yes, many therapists also attend therapy themselves.
My therapist is not themselves lately and I don’t know what to do
A good therapist knows their limits. If they are truly emotionally overwhelmed, they will find a replacement therapist for their client list, or reschedule appointments.
Of course, like in any profession, some therapists lose their way and can fall short of ethics and good practice. If you are finding your therapist does not seem present in sessions, speak up. Let your therapist know what you are experiencing, and give them a chance to respond. If it’s decided that they are no longer the right therapist for you, then this gives them a chance to refer you on to someone who is better suited to help.
If your therapist in any way breaks a professional boundary? Note that you are within your rights to report them to the professional body they are registered with, who will do a due investigation into the issue.
Want to work with a therapist you know you can trust? With years of experience, and a love of the job? We connect you with a team of London’s top therapists who come highly rated. Overseas, or not in London? Our booking platform offers only properly accredited and registered therapists, and you can read feedback from other clients while making your choice.
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