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The Action Corps

I’m Not Psychic

Nowhere in my education and training as a psychotherapist was I bestowed with the magic ability to see inside people’s thoughts or discern their core motivations.
 
‘Well duh!’ you may be thinking.  But I’m still surprised at how much this notion persists—not so much among my clients, but among acquaintances I make who only half-jokingly show hesitation about engaging me in friendly conversation lest I discover their inner secrets.  Really!  People still do this.
 
While it’s true that good clinicians are trained to “read between the lines,” observe body language, and objectively look at a client in ways that person may be largely blind to, none of us went to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to attain psychic powers.  What’s more, I’m not about to “work” when I’m not on the clock.
 
When I was about eighteen, I called a radio psychologist and asked if this would be a problem should I become a therapist some day: “Someone in one of my classes [at the local junior college] mentioned that Bill’s dad is a psychologist, and she said it’s really creepy to talk with him because he’s always trying to ‘read’ you.”  I was trying to make my question concise, but the background of my question was necessary.  “I’m thinking about someday going into psychology, but will I always be looking for someone’s inside motivations and thinking about what makes them tick?”
 
I don’t think the doctor had ever had an 18-year-old call her show, much less heard a question like this.  She graciously assured me that I wouldn’t lose my power to interact politely and civilly with others because of my education or license.  She said it was unfortunate that this man openly violated decency boundaries, but that it was due to his personality and personal issues and not because he was a trained therapist.
 
Whew!  That put my mind at rest.  I had some interest in psychology that early in life, but I didn’t want it to make me a jerk.  As it turned out, when I graduated with a bachelors, it didn’t feel right to pursue graduate work.  I returned home, found an entry-level job, married my girlfriend, and had a family.  Thirteen years of working in a field I had zero passion about, I returned to school, obtained a masters in clinical psychology, completed 3000 hours of supervised client hours, passed two grueling exams, and became licensed to practice psychotherapy in the state of California.  Had I become that jerk?
 
Although my training taught me to form a clinical picture of a client by observing and asking prescribed questions, I didn’t do so well in that area.  We were all exposed to the same texts and lectures.  And we all took our own set of skills and background into our education.  Some were incredibly gifted in assessing a client’s difficulty and making educated diagnoses.  To this day, I prefer to let my innate intuition serve me and the client.  I don’t like a cookie-cutter approach that forces people into a formulated set of statistics and diagnoses.  I meet a client right where he is, get to know him, and work from that place in a manner that best meets his needs.
 
And when I meet you at a party?  Maybe it is a gift, but I have no interest in “working” to figure you out.  I just want to enjoy your company and get to know you like anybody else would.

About the Author

Kevin is the director of The Center for Counseling, Recovery, & Growth in Torrance, California where he serves as therapist, receptionist, interior decorator, graphic designer, HR manager, light bulb changer, poet laureate, company spokesman, and CFO.

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