Can Therapists Be Bloggers?

In Lifestyle, Therapy by Kelsey Nimmo, MA, LPC, LLMFT

It used to just be called writing. I think if we phrase it that way, the answer feels far more clear. Can therapists be writers? Of course! But can we be bloggers? This question is far more controversial. I put a lot of thought into becoming a blogging therapist. Five years, actually. I put even more thought into becoming a writer – let’s say roughly three decades. While choosing to become a blogging therapist requires a lot of questions for myself and colleagues about ethics and best practice, choosing to become a writer has always been at my core and deep within my heart.

My biggest and only true concern about being a blogging therapist:

Too much self-disclosure. Throughout my master’s program, we were taught to never self-disclose. After my internships, supervised hours, becoming fully licensed, and stepping into my own “private practice,” I strongly disagree with this teaching – as do most of the best therapists I know.

Self-disclosure must only be done when it is in the best interest of the client. I don’t share details of my life just to talk about myself. When I choose to intentionally share details about my life outside of the therapy office with a client (or even more so, my experience within the therapeutic relationship), I often have rehearsed it in my mind to feel out how I want it to be said and to be sure that it still feels relevant to our work. If the moment passes before I decide to share, then I let it go and we move on. But when I feel the intuitive urge to share something personal, hold it in my heart for a moment while being present with my client, and decide that it doesn’t have the potential to be harmful or misguiding for our time together, I voice it.

Of course I have no statistics on this and have never polled my clients but based off of what changed within our work after my self-disclosure, I’m going to say that most of the time it pays off. Most of the time it turns us down another path that hasn’t yet been paved, or it opens my client to more of their own self-disclosure, or it strengthens our therapeutic alliance. Sometimes it provides humor. Sometimes it provides depth. Sometimes it provides personhood. Almost always, it proves to be extremely powerful.

In starting a blog, I cannot control my self-disclosure. I think most clients won’t know this exists and if they do, they won’t read it. I am at least wise enough to know that everyone has better things to do with their time than to stew over what their therapist’s most recent thoughts were after the kids went to bed. But I do believe it could matter to some. I also believe it is likely that once I link this to my professional website, potential new clients will peruse it before contacting me. Maybe it will deter them. Maybe it will encourage them. Either way, it is certainly a new and very different method of establishing therapeutic alliance.

I therefore have decided to step into this blog with the assumption that everyone will read it. New clients, current clients, colleagues, family, friends. Again, I’m sure most won’t. But in this assumption, I will be able to maintain best ethical practice and considerations so that I take precautions against presenting to the world in a way that could harm my clients – or anyone, for that matter.

None of us can be perfect so that we don’t receive complaints. I expect to receive a complaint one day about my nerve to be a blogging therapist – or perhaps about some specific post. But this brings us to the reasons I think blogging is important.

My reasons for choosing to write publicly:

1. As I tell every client in our first session, the best predictor for successful therapy is the fit between client and therapist.

This means that my client has to feel like I fit for them. This does not mean we have to agree on everything or have the same values or shared interests. This merely means that when we sit across from each other in my office and we chat, they feel like the energy is flowing. They feel comfortable. They feel at ease. They feel hopeful.

An important part to knowing if I fit for them is to know me. Previous to linking my personal and professional websites, this meant a short 15-minute self-disclosure at the start of my first session with new clients. I have never had a client complain about this. In fact, somewhere over 75% of them will thank me for this. So maybe we can count these writings as a really long version of allowing my clients to get a feel for our fit.

Side note, I spent a lot of time putting together this article about how to choose a therapist – including how to know if they’re a good fit and what to do if they’re not.

2. Therapists are humans, too.

I sometimes still struggle with clients looking at me as an authority. Occasionally I’m comfortable in referring to myself as an expert in something but usually, this feels too bold. I recognize of course that my clients are coming to me for this exact reason. They know I have a decade more of schooling than they do on these topics.

Regularly, I shock clients when I note that these things we are learning in session – I am still learning them, too. Just because we cognitively know something does not mean we are perfect at it. I specialize in couples work and while yes, my gut instinct during a conflict with my partner might include more communication techniques and compromise tools than your initial instinct, this doesn’t mean I don’t flood, feel exasperated, or say the wrong things.

I am actually quite skilled at being quick to anger when I am hungry, lonely, or tired – and I like to joke that all of my patience is used up at work. I often say the wrong thing, I sometimes forget to be on the same team as my partner, and I occasionally even expect him to read my mind.

But it’s interesting what happens when I tell my clients that I don’t have all of this figured out yet. Or when I tell them that I learned from them. They like to know that I’m a human, also. So just as my intentional self-disclosure in session provides personhood to my role in the room, so can this blog. I am a person, too. I struggle with many of the same things you struggle with.

When I say my work is collaborative with my clients, I am admitting to them that we both share the role of expert (they are the expert of them, I am the expert of this process) and we are both learners on this journey together. Together, we are the best team. After all, I can’t think of anything less motivating than trying to learn from a perfect teacher. How could I ever be real with them about my own mistakes? This blog is because I am real.

3. Writing is my passion.

This one is hard. My idea for the last couple years has been to write a book. I wrote my proposal, a few chapters, researched and read numerous comparative titles, and then spoke with an agent. I discovered that even after hours and months of work, I was still probably 18 months or more away from publication. This was disheartening.

Ultimately, I think it is for the best. My book was to be about an area of passion and expertise for me, addressing mental health concerns, encouraging advocacy, and providing directions for self-help. But here’s the thing: a book feels very removed from my readers and as a therapist, removed doesn’t feel good to me. I want to be able to provide directions for self-help and also interact with people when those directions are or aren’t working for them.

I want to encourage advocacy through also modeling advocacy. I want to address mental health concerns but first and foremost, I want to still be a person. I don’t want to be just another expert in the field. I don’t want to write my thoughts, experience, and research on a topic, send it out into the world, and wipe my hands. I want to be down and dirty with it.

Blogging allows me space to still be a person – to be down and dirty in every day life – and use my role as expert and my profession in mental health as every day advocacy. Essentially, I can interact with my readers and I can update my thoughts as they evolve. Both of those make this far more fulfilling than a published book.

4. To advocate for intentional living.

I am proud to say that my therapist self, the version of me that sits for hours in loving presence with amazing humans, is the best version of myself. It is my most patient, compassionate, creative, intuitive, comedic, and knowledgeable version. Outside of my office, all of these qualities still exist but they don’t appear as consistently.I believe that my therapist self is the true essence of me. When all of life’s crap is stripped away and I can be my own true spirit outside of stresses and distractions, I am all of these things – consistently. This means I’m always striving to reach my true spirit self in my every day life amidst chaotic moments of whining toddlers, financial stress, marital disconnect, and an always ticking clock. It feels like I never have enough time in my life and I used to have the same concern about therapy. How could one hour be enough?

There are many times where I do wish that I had more than one hour with a client but most of the time, this one hour seems to transcend all space and time and it becomes the exact right length for our purpose that day. I think this is because it is an intentional hour. My client and I both step into the space with the awareness that this is our time together. We use it purposefully.

I want to advocate for this purposeful way of living – this intentionality – in all parts of life. I see the most growth and happiness in my clients when they make choices to live closer to their values. Living intentionally will look entirely different to every person but there is one thing that connects us all: mirror neurons.

These fancy little neurons in our brain fire up when we see someone do something. Essentially, our brain mimics the behavior neurologically. This phenomenon is incredible and powerful. It means that when a client tells me a heart wrenching story with tears in their eyes, my mirror neurons feel the heart ache with them and my eyes may water. It means that when a couple comes in beaming and reporting they have finally had sex again after 5, 10, 15 or even 23 years of marriage, my mirror neurons fire up in celebration and ecstasy with them. These mirror neurons help us feel empathy and they help us feel motivated.

I choose to write publicly – to be a blogging therapist – to take advantage of these mirror neurons. It isn’t rocket science to understand that when we read about others feeling inspired and accomplishing, it makes us feel inspired to accomplish. When we see others talk about their new health endeavor, we want to be healthier. So I choose to step into this journey of being a writing therapist because I am passionate about both of these life callings and I want to be real and true.

If you are a current or past client, I am writing this (in part) to honor your courage and bravery to be honest in our sessions and seek your own intentional living. I cherish every moment that I get to witness your beauty – and getting to see this beauty every day means I have the best job in the world.

If you are a potential new client, know that your sessions will forever and always be about you. It is your time. It is your life. My role is merely to walk with you on your journey – providing empathy, compassion, psychoeducation, resources, and perspective – and I am grateful that our journeys are all so very different. It keeps life interesting and valuable.

If you are a colleague, I encourage you to be real with your clients. To be genuine and open. Read some Irvin Yalom. Allow your practice and your role as therapist to be inclusive of your personal self – even if you choose not to self-disclose. Talk about the here and now. Sit with your clients, not above. Never stop learning – about yourself, our field, and your clients.

And of course – to all of us – live intentionally. It’s never too late to start.

 

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To set up an appointment with Kelsey, email her at kelsey@kalamazootherapygroup.com.