Advice for Young Therapists: A Long View By Tom Medlar, LMHC on 5/21/24 - 8:08 AM

I am in my 70’s and still working full time as a psychotherapist. Psychotherapy has been my career, and never simply a job. It represents who I am and has never simply been a way of making money.

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The world in general is always confounding, and the field of psychotherapy can be perplexing as well. There are so many schools of thought, treatment approaches, new ways of practicing therapy, and the potential of radically new types of intervention on the cultural horizon. I have become increasingly interested in how beginning clinicians feel that they fit in, and where and how they develop their personal and professional skills.

A Veteran Therapists Offers Wisdom to a New Generation

As I approach the late phase of my career, I feel a desire to share viewpoints and learned lessons with beginning therapists, regardless of their age. As a veteran therapist, I think it is important to pass the baton, and share key concepts that might clear some of the potentially confusing path forward.

As a therapist, I have strived to help my clients strengthen and broaden the range and the quality of their personal relationships and their active involvement in the world. Too often in therapy, the arrow of attention points inward on the individual, assisting them to forge their own way through the challenges of life. While that is often a right and necessary focus, it is not a complete view of the role, or the potential, of therapy.

I have learned to help clients focus that arrow outward towards relationships, skill acquisition, the assuming of roles, and building up the clients’ productivity and sense of purpose. It has never been solely important for me to help the client be better within, but also better with others, and better able to effectively contribute themselves to the wider world.

In writing this, I hope that early-career therapists participate in the development of psychotherapy, not simply in their own practice. Learning new techniques along the way is certainly important, but I have always valued the importance of filtering their value through tried-and-true perspectives and approaches.

I can’t overstate the important contributions of three particular therapists. Carl Rogers (On Becoming a Person: A Therapists’ View of Psychotherapy), Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning), and Erik Erikson (Life Cycle Completed) have provided me with a firm foundation for a therapy career, and a yardstick against which to measure the value of newly emerging ideas.

Carl Jung suggested the therapist should learn everything, then forget it when they sit down with the client, but that learning should not be limited to the theories and history and techniques of psychotherapy. I have come to appreciate the importance of mythology, religions, folklore, theater, poetry, and literature — each of which have become resources in my personal and professional development. Absorbing the wider context of art and culture through history has helped me to view the client and their relationships in new ways. Yes, the dynamics of the psyche are important, but so too is the client’s (and therapist’s) place in the dynamics of a long and vibrant history of human culture and creativity.

The great 13th century Italian poet Dante, wrote the three-volume masterpiece “The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.” At the beginning of the first volume, Dante becomes lost in a dark wood, midway through life’s journey. He was guided and tutored in his subsequent trek by the ancient Roman poet, Virgil, who is said to have represented human reason.

Lost in a dark wood during one’s journey. Talk about a universal experience! Life can be so complex, and so difficult at times — both client and clinician can find themselves lost on their respective journeys. Many of my clients have come to me for guidance and tutoring in their journey through the thicket of their hardships.

I have come to seek wisdom in my work as a therapist, as someone able to blend art and reason in my effort to accompany others through the descents and ascents of life. As a psychotherapist, I aim to guide and educate others through their darkest troubles, and towards recovery, and/or attainment of their fullest capacity for love and a purposeful place in this wide world.

Questions for Thought and Discussion

What impact does this author's words have on you as a person and as a clinician?

What have you learned thus far in your professional journey that you might want to pass on to others?

In looking back, what life's lessons have you brought into the therapy space?  

File under: The Art of Psychotherapy, Musings and Reflections