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Self-Care: The Gift of Personal Therapy

Whether an adult psychotherapist, child or family therapist, therapy is a demanding role that will at some point unearth our own vulnerabilities which will need to be explored.

The idea of personal therapy being mandatory for trainees continues to be debated in literature. Whilst many training providers offering adult or child counselling/psychotherapy courses stipulate that personal therapy is mandatory others do not.

Acknowledging that there is a lack of research regarding the impact of having personal therapy and the measurable effect on client outcomes, is it not vital for therapists to have the skills to know oneself at a deep and meaningful level, to be equipped to cope with the demands and complexities of the role?

Of course, there is an argument that mandatory personal therapy doesn’t necessarily encourage genuine openness and personal exploration when ‘coerced’ into being invested in one’s own emotional development. However, training gives an opportunity for trainees to begin the process of ‘gaining insight into the transference relationship, a deepening sense of empathy and an experience of being a client’ (Murphy et al., 2018).

Without doubt, there are reasons why therapists are drawn to this profession and end up working with certain client groups. Consciously and unconsciously, there is often a ‘pull’ to help, heal, or save another. Whilst admirable, the risk is that without personal therapy one will not be equipped to cope with the demands and complexities of the role.

As therapists, we need to have a strong ego to contain the distress and trauma of the client which is developed through having an awareness of our own history, triggers, and blind spots. No matter one’s stage of development, therapists too can struggle to cope with life’s challenges. Thoughts and feelings can become overwhelming and impact on our personal and professional well-being. It is easy to forget that we can be just as vulnerable as clients!

Personal therapy enables us to recognise our own limitations and vulnerabilities as we unearth and explore our motivations, needs, biases, personal conflicts and areas of emotional difficulties and strength (Landreth, 2012). ‘As we unravel personal blocks and delve into our unconscious, we begin to find a deeper connection to the authentic self which creates an authentic therapeutic alliance with our clients’ (O’Neill). It is important that we can tolerate a range of difficult emotions for ourselves if we are to tolerate uncomfortable or painful feelings conveyed by the client. ‘Your knowing helps the client’s knowing which prevents enmeshment, and over-reaction or under-reaction to their issues’ (O’Neill, 2022). Furthermore, personal therapy gives opportunity to ‘develop skills necessary to be able to absorb others emotional pain without becoming overwhelmed’ (McLeod, 2019), thus preventing professional burnout or compassion fatigue.

It should not be assumed that working with adult clients is the same as working with child clients as the need to connect with one’s inner child and qualities may differ slightly. Nevertheless, all therapists need to explore their own inner world to determine what ‘belongs to the therapist and what belongs to the client’ (Wheeler, 2002).

There is a strong argument that therapists are one of the most important ‘tools’ within the therapeutic toolbox. Therefore, is it not essential that we owe it to our clients to be our authentic self and align our presence, responses, and actions to create an authentic relationship with them. As therapists, an honest representation of the self is an important part of our professional development given that ‘patterns of behaviour and ways of relating are likely to be repeated in the consulting room’ (Barnett, 2007) which perhaps can only be through personal therapy.

(Author: Karen O’Neill)

Published and Copyrighted by PIP Solutions: 1st July 2022

Reference List

Barnett, M. (2007) What brings you here? An exploration of the unconscious motivations of those who choose to train and work as psychotherapists and counsellors. Psychodynamic Practice, 13 (3) August, pp. 257-274

Landreth, G. (2012) Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship. 3rd ed. London: Routledge

Murphy, D., Irfan, N., Barnett, H., Castledine, E. and Enescu, L. (2018) A systematic review and meta-synthesis of qualitative research into mandatory personal psychotherapy during training. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 18 (2) June, pp. 199-214

O’Neill, K. (2022, August 1st) Self Care: The Gift of Personal Therapy [Blog post] Publisher: PIP Solutions Training Ltd. Available

Wheeler, S. (2002) Nature or nurture: are therapists born or trained? Psychodynamic Practice, 8 (4) November, pp. 427-441

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