Confession: the first time I went to therapy, I’d been a therapist for more than five years.
I asked a friend for a recommendation. He gave me the name of a therapist. I conveniently lost the number. Several weeks later, I asked him for it again, and he gave it to me again. It collected dust for a few more weeks. Then, one day, when the suffering within me finally outweighed the resistance within me, I made the call.
No one likes to schedule a first therapy session.
It’s hard enough to spill your mess in front of a perfect stranger. It’s hard enough to present your pain to someone you’ve never met. It’s hard enough to reveal your hidden parts to someone you have not yet begun to trust. But, ironically, it’s particularly hard in therapy, not because you don’t know anything about this therapist person, but because you think you know at least one thing:
You think they’re different than you.
They’re a therapist, so they’ve got it all together. They’ve figured it out. They’ve arrived. Whether by good fortune or good training or some combination of the two, they are on a whole different level of health and happiness. They may not be superhuman, but as you pick up the phone, you assume they are at least a little better human than you.
This, is baloney.
The authority of a therapist does not come from some big difference; it comes from just a little bit of distance.
A therapist with true authority is someone who’s gone on a journey into their own inner world. Into their own mess. Into their own pain. Into their own hiddenness. They’ve ventured all the way into their own humanity and, along the way, they’ve discovered a few essential things about what it means to heal:
It’s scary to unhide what we’ve hidden, even from ourselves. It hurts to dig through our mess and our brokenness and our disappointments and our sorrow. There are dark, dark stretches along the interior road that begins with a phone call and ends at the heart of who we are. But, at the heart of each of us, is a light—a flicker, perhaps, a guttering flame, an ember waiting on oxygen, but a light nonetheless. Rediscovering it, and fanning it back to life, doesn’t happen overnight. But it can be done. Patiently. Steadily. And eventually, joyously.
A therapist isn’t on a higher path; they are simply a stone’s throw ahead of you on your path—this human path we are all walking.
This is why therapists with true authority—those who aren’t interested in superiority and power—are constantly trying to give their authority away. Their deepest desire for their relationship with you is to close the gap. To call you forward, to where they stand. They want you to join them in the light. They want you to join them right in the middle of the very good news about why you are here.
You are here, simply, to be more fully human, to be more fully you, just like the rest of us.
Even those of us with a diploma hanging on the wall.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.