Understanding the Loneliness Experienced by Therapists

Therapists can have life changing impacts on their patients' mental health, but what toll does it take on their own mental wellbeing?
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Created by Marios Stamos

Published on Feb 19, 2024
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Fa Barboza, Unsplash

Feeling close to someone, like we belong somewhere is a basic human need.

The effects that loneliness has on the human psyche have often been underestimated. Yet, clinical and experimental evidence suggests that loneliness plays a fundamental role in our mental health.

If left untreated, it can take a serious toll on one’s mental and physical health.

Therapy provides a structured and supportive relationship, which can help mitigate feelings of loneliness. But there is no one-size-fits-all approach to addressing loneliness or social isolation, the effectiveness of therapy varies depending on the individual’s specific needs and circumstances.

But patients battling mental health problems aren’t the only ones affected by loneliness.
Therapists are often seen as real-life superheroes, they help us climb out of our darkest moments, and to us, their patients, it's almost like they're impervious to any trials and tribulations that may come their way. 

And while no one can deny how important their healing role is, they too are plagued by the same problems that we everyday folk deal with.

Gazing into a person's psyche can take a toll even on the best-trained professionals. 

According to Sandra Buechler, a patient with narcissistic personality disorder may make the therapist feel that they have lost their capacity for empathy.

If their patient is suffering from schizophrenia, the therapist may feel a sense of emptiness, loss of meaning, and hopelessness.

If their patient has a borderline personality disorder, the therapist may feel that they have lost their identity, that they are not their usual self, or that they're tormenting their patient with the structure and boundaries of the therapeutic framework.

It is not uncommon for the therapist to adopt a paranoid attitude, and treat the client's pathology as a personal enemy. It’s possible that they feel the need to completely eliminate their patient’s pathology. 

When faced with such unrealistic expectations, it's no wonder that the therapist feels alienated and helpless.

The therapists' loneliness is rooted in the very nature of their work. They are constantly faced with their own countertransference, which they must process both during and after sessions. This can be an isolating and challenging experience.

Benjamin Garber suggests that child therapists feel an even greater sense of isolation in their work. 

It could be because the children they work with may not talk much, which can make it tricky to understand their thoughts and feelings.

Or, they may feel the need to overprotect their patient from their parents and have to stop them from interfering with their work. 

Therapy can be a powerful force for healing, but it is important for the therapist to thoroughly consider risks to their own mental health when dealing with a particular client. This can help them make informed decisions about their treatment and to be better prepared for any challenges that may arise. 

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