You Just Wouldn't Understand...
It is four words that every person on the planet hates the most: but you don’t understand! As a therapist, I am not going to lie, it is even more frustrating. There is often an assumption that because someone has become a therapist, that their life must have been perfect up to this point. It certainly “must” be perfect at this particular point in time. And if someone has not had exactly the same experience that they have had, it is as though this person could not possibly connect with them.
I am not suggesting that having similar experiences cannot help, or give different insights. But if all therapists had to go through what their clients are going through in order to help them, we would be in a world of trouble! Some people seem to think that certain situations are different. If you do not have children, there is no way that you could possibly help with their child. If you have never been depressed or suicidal, there is no way you could possibly understand and help. In FACT, everything that you might suggest is stupid and definitely nevergoing to work. Is this to suggest that only a therapist who is divorced, has children with behavioral problems, is depressed, suicidal, and has serious anxiety in order to help someone who has those issues? Should a therapist be diagnosed as Schizophrenic in order to help support those who have Schizophrenia? It sounds funny when you write it out like this, and yet, it is something that we hear quite often.
I try not to use the words “I understand,” because even if I have had a similar experience, I have not lived that person’s life, I cannot truly understand. I can say that I hear what they are saying. I can tell them that I have not had a perfect life, far from it, and I have yet to meet a therapist whose life was perfect, either. We all have our own “stuff,” but it isn’t our job to tell you, and for the most part, it would actually be inappropriate for us to tell you about it!
So, what about people outside of therapists? Do you hear from friends and family that you could not possibly understand what they are going through, and yet they still spend hours and hours telling you about all of their struggles? Do you have loved ones tell you that you could never have any idea what they are going through, even though you have literally sat through them telling you their whole life story. Twice. Today?
Please recognize that your story is both unique, and not unique. In life, we all have some struggles. Even those who look like they have everything, and maybe even have so much money that they actually DO have everything, will have bad days. It is okay to share with others what is going on, but be clear with them about what you need when you are sharing with them. “I want to share with you what is going on, I need to vent. But at this point, please do not give me any feedback, I am not sure I could handle any ideas about what I could be doing differently.”
Understand that therapists have a wide range of experience and training. We do not have to have the same exact experience that you have had in order to help you. We have no magical pill, nothing is going to work to address your difficulty in one day. It has taken years, and often decades, for you to get to the place you are. You have to give it a little bit of time before you are able to actually get through the difficulty. And perhaps the therapist does not understand, that does not mean that they are not able to empathize with you and support you.
Perhaps do not worry so much about whether or not the person you are talking to understands exactly what you are going through. Maybe just focus on how they can connect to you, provide support to you, and walk next to you during your struggles.