Just Like Their Clients, Therapists Must Do Their Own Work of Healing and Recovery
Professionals in the Mental health and social work field are not immune to the challenges their clients are currently facing. Applying research informed practices in and out of the office is a vital part of qualifying to give expert care and treatment. The following review of the book, “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, provides a tried and true resource that can help you do the work.
By Diane Morris, CSW
People often wonder if therapists ever deal with the same struggles their clients face. The answer is “Yes!.” It is common for therapists to be drawn to the field because they have personally navigated any number of struggles including trauma, depression, anxiety, divorce, addiction, and relationship issues (just to name a few). The important factor is that they have done and continue to do their own work with recovery, healing, and development of management skills.
How can I expect a client to do the work required to make changes if I am not willing to face and embrace my own imperfections? Part of this work includes recognizing my weaknesses, triggers, and counter-transference. Doing my own work means being able to share my story with others whom I trust. The result of this work is the kind of authenticity and empathy which can only come from having an inside perspective of shame and vulnerability. We give a client true freedom when we help them learn to stop pretending that everything is okay when it isn’t, and help them understand that it’s okay that everything is not okay. My role as a therapist is to create an environment where the person can be free to explore their own motivations for change.
Tapping into research informed resources has helped me in my own journey of self reflection and growth. Dr. Brené Brown is an expert in the field of social work who has spent decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy (brenebrown.com). Being able to say, “I am enough,” despite your challenges or shortcomings, is a process and a life-long journey. In her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection,” Brown reveals the core beliefs of wholehearted living: Life can not be loved until an individual loves themselves, and one is more capable of loving themselves when they accept they are enough. We receive gifts of courage, compassion, and connection when we embrace our imperfections. These gifts are what lead to a wholehearted life.
Practicing courage, compassion, and connection on a daily basis requires that we recognize the factors that get in the way. Throughout the book, Brown “does more than just give good ideas.” She integrates her understanding of shame and fear to give practical strategies for making life changes. Brown insists that, “Owning our own story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love, and belonging, and joy- the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
The practical strategies for cultivating a wholehearted life include ten guideposts aimed at “letting go” of negative thinking and behaviors. Instead of trying to fit in with how we think others want us to behave, we need to embrace ourselves entirely. In other words, these guideposts help us recognize things that get in the way of being authentic and satisfied. When we replace them with positive action, we uncover the power to embrace our potential. As a master observer of patterns and relationships, Brown has refined the skill of learning from other’s experiences. Brown not only shares with us her own insights through each guidepost, but points us to others who are applying whole-hearted principles.
Being a social worker has changed me. It has changed my ability to relate to others from a place of authenticity and vulnerability. What I love about developing authenticity in the way that Brown presents is the opportunity to give others the skills to get real with who they are and who they would like to become. This is what keeps me in the therapy office. This is the joy and honor of listening to life stories, helping individuals embrace and cultivate their own gifts of imperfection, and watching in awe as they work to become the best version of themselves.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, Ph.D., LMSW. Hazelton Publishing, 2010.
For a glimpse on what Brene Brown can offer, start with the following videos: