On Quitting The Practice of Psychotherapy

On Quitting The Practice of Psychotherapy

by Michael Sussman

Former psychotherapist Michael Sussman discusses the perils of psychotherapy practice and the wisdom of knowing when to quit.

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Workplace Wounds

My name is Michael Sussman and I’m a recovering psychotherapist.

By this I don’t mean that I am a therapist who attends Alcoholics Anonymous, but rather that I’m in recovery from being a therapist.

Ironically, working as a therapist aggravated the very same wounds that first drew me to the field.

I made a decent living as a clinician, and took great satisfaction in helping people in distress. Over time, however, the strains of practice overwhelmed my own coping capacities and I was forced to close up shop. Ironically, it appears that working as a therapist aggravated the very same wounds that first drew me to the field.

Like many practitioners, my early family experiences groomed me for the role of psychotherapist. As a typical middle child, I felt unsure of my place in the family and hungered for acceptance. I dealt with these insecurities by becoming mother’s little helper and confidante. Outwardly, I did all I could to help her care for my younger brother. But underlying feelings of jealousy and malice toward the intruder drove me to torment my brother on the sly. This, and my failure to somehow heal my parents’ troubled marriage, left me with deep reservoirs of guilt and remorse. As I’d later learn, such feelings—along with intense needs to atone and make amends—supply a powerful impetus toward pursuing a career in the helping professions.
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© New Therapist 2013
Michael  SussmanMichael Sussman, Psy.D., is the author of A Curious Calling: Unconscious Motivations for Practicing Psychotherapy and the fantasy novel, Crashing Eden. He also edited the collection of essays A Perilous Calling: The Hazards of Psychotherapy Practice.
Thank you so much for this article. So many clinicians stay in the profession due to finances, guilt and/or an inability to see themselves in other professional roles. After 23 years in social services, and five years in psychotherapy, I too, am done. While I salvaged most of myself by becoming a supervisor and/or doing macro-level (non-direct services) work, I am getting to the point where I want nothing more to do with clients. Instead, I will soon be teaching others to do this work! And yes, I will infuse my curricula with self-care, burn-out prevention and sell students on finding their own therapist/mentor early on in the process and holding onto them for dear life. Thanks again!
Thank you for this breath of fresh air. The same things that make us great therapists can make us vulnerable to vicarious traumatization and compassion fatigue. We MUST practice self care and have the integrity, courage, and sense of intrinsic worth to leave the field when our authentic selves let us know that we need to do so.
Anonymous, CA
Thank you so much for saying the unsaid and bringing these important issues out into the light of day. I'm a former professional counselor and have had a hard time finding resources on life after a career in counseling. It was a relief to stumble upon your article.
I admire your honesty. In my graduate training, especially when receiving clinical supervision, I always thought my supervisors and other clinicians had their acts together. Now with the trend of clinicians self disclosing personal struggles on their websites and in their therapy sessions, perhaps that will change. I was shocked to find out that the founder of DBT had been in treatment for borderline PD herself.
Very interesting article. I too gave up a promising career in psychology for these very reasons. It was a terribly difficult decision but was made with great deliberation. I think only a limited number of people are very good therapists, and have the ability to remain resilient. I think most therapists overrate their effectiveness (read/listen to Scott D Miller on the subject), and the future of therapy is perhaps not as promising as it once was.
Linden Stefaniak has put into words my own reaction to Sussman's article: it seems that at no point in his struggles did he seek his own in-depth psychotherapy. I would not be in this profession were it not for my own treatment--my analyst was my therapist but also my mentor and role model. And, needless to say, I spent a great deal of therapy time talking about my difficulties with patients. Without my own treatment, I couldn't possibly have survived some extremely rocky times with patients. We cannot do this work without having as deep an understanding of ourselves as possible--nobody goes into this profession because they had a happy childhood. I'd like to think Sussman might have been able to remain in practice if he had had good psychodynamic treatment.
I went to grad school with several fellow students whom with regret probably should not have gotten in. One fellow student who desperately wanted to be in the helping field and that I completed my practicum with I believed was actually dangerous to her clients. Is agree that admissions communities need to hold up to the ethics of our field and be more cautious during the admission process. I also think that potential clinicians need to be made aware of the pitfalls of therapy.
This is an interesting article. I'd like to ask where personal therapy comes into this.Did the author have personal therapy while undergoing his training, or later, and would it have helped the author decide if this was the right profession for him , or if he had personal therapy, did it not influence his choice?
Linden stefaniak
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