The loneliness of the long term therapist

November 5, 2006

There’s a paradox in clinical practice. I get to know people very well, but they can never be my friends. This bothered me at first, but it doesn’t so much any more. If there were any way of being friends, then the work we do together would become unbearable, and therefore impossible. It’s a sacrifice we mutually make to make it possible to do something useful. It’s a loss I’ve accepted.

That’s a quote from a new psychoanalytically informed blog Working Through (the author of which I met while in New York recently). I recognise the dilemma he’s talking about – less that clients can never be “friends” but more how difficult it can be to have a normal social life if you are a therapist. You can’t drop into the local pub on a Friday night and have a casual chat about your week’s work…Confidentiality is primary and those conversations are kept for Supervision. As a result most therapists I know only talk about the work with other therapists and this can make for a self referential system that is on one hand supportive and on the other unhealthy at the same time.
Having said that it was a real treat for me to attend the regional meeting of ISPSO in New York and to join psychodynamically orientated colleagues for a day and a half while we talked about the work in our own shorthand and in a way that allowed me to “breathe”. I find these oportunities essential punctuations in my working year that remind me about my motivation, orientation and interests. They allow me to go back into other systems and not feel as isolated. The loneliness of the long distance consultant is eased for another 12 months at least!