3 Convincing Reasons Why Psychotherapists and Counsellors Should Have Personal Therapy. Part 1. By Dr Linda Berman.


Anette Harboe Flensburg – House of Memory [2006] Gandalf’s Gallery, Flickr

“To my mind, personal psychotherapy is, by far, the most important part of psychotherapy training.”

Irvin D. Yalom

Why do therapists need therapy? What is the point in them undergoing a therapy experience during training and perhaps beyond?

Well, there is, actually, a lot of point.

In this post I will also be calling upon the wisdom of renowned thinkers, and some psychotherapists’ writings, and mainly on the work of the psychoanalyst Irvin Yalom, for some pertinent quotes.

Largely these are from his wonderful book “The Gift Of Therapy.”


“Only the wounded healer can truly heal.”

Irvin D. Yalom


Irvin D. Yalom. Wikimedia Commons. Author:Haemmerli

1.The Importance of Being Aware of The Existence And Power Of  The Unconscious.


Maxfield Parrish – Lanterns at Twilight

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Carl Jung

During my career as a psychotherapist and supervisor, I have actually heard trainee counsellors and therapists say words to the effect of  “I don’t need therapy, I haven’t really got any problems.

This always seemed like a red light moment to me, a time to help the trainee stop and ponder over the fuller implications of their words.


 “I don’t need therapy.” ( quoted from a trainee.)

“Let us begin by simply stating that therapists must show the way to patients by personal modeling. We must demonstrate our willingness to enter into a deep intimacy with our patient, a process that requires us to be adept at mining the best source of reliable data about our patient- our own feelings.”


Therapy helps us get in touch with and understand our deeper feelings, perhaps those emotions and wishes we have been reluctant to face, and to work through any issues that may arise as a result.

Very often, the darker side, or as Jung termed it, the shadow side of our personalities are kept under wraps, even from ourselves, buried in the depths of our unconscious.

Francisco_de_Goya_y_Lucientes_-_Witches'_Sabbath_(The_Great_He-Goat)Francisco Goya. The Great He-Goat.

“Therapists must be familiar with their own dark side and be able to empathize with all human wishes and impulses.”


Perhaps these repressed ‘monstrous’ and dark aspects of ourselves may feel shameful to us, only revealing themselves symbolically in dreams and nightmares, or perhaps leaking out when we are feeling tired, stressed, or angry.

“Monsters are metaphors of our anxiety.”

Richard Kearney.

We may unconsciously project our uncomfortable feelings onto others around us, scapegoating and demonising them, instead of being able to face our own shadow.

This takes the spotlight off ourselves and prevents us having to face our own real feelings. We will be only partial people.

For therapists, such a lack of psychic integration of different aspects of the self can be a serious handicap in terms of the work of therapy.

For example, if a therapist has had painful childhood experiences with an explosive or violent parent, then they may have difficulties working with people in therapy who have problems with anger and impulse control.

If the therapist has not worked through these issues, there will be considerable difficulty helping another with similar problems.

“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.”

Carl Jung

“Tell me what you fear and I will tell you what has happened to you.”
Donald Winnicott

Everyone has a shadow side, regardless of how peaceful and happy they might appear.

We need to come to terms with this part of ourselves, to acquaint ourselves with and ‘befriend’ what we might regard as the ‘monsters’ inside, without self-judgement. What do I mean by this statement? 

“The monsters were never
under my bed.
Because the monsters
were inside my head.

I fear no monsters,
for no monsters I see.
Because all this time
the monster has been me.”


Unless we are aware and in control of denied and unrecognised parts of ourselves, they will emerge and be acted out in some disguised and perhaps destructive way.

We do not need to eliminate the ‘monsters,’ but we do need to become aware of them and integrate this side of ourselves into our whole personality.

The parts of ourselves that are seen as the shadow might not only be to do with aspects such as hate, aggression, immoral or irrational thoughts, or cruelty; they may also be about our strength and power.

Integrating such qualities into our personality is essential if we can gain control of all aspects of ourselves and become more rounded people.

“Be careful when you cast out your demons that you don’t throw away the best of yourself.”
Friedrich Nietzsche.

“If I got rid of my demons, I’d lose my angels.”

Tennessee Williams

2. You can’t accompany anyone as a therapist anywhere you haven’t been yourself.


La Route Forestière, Paul Cézanne. Wikimedia Commons.

It is important that, as therapists, we have explored, as far as possible, our own mystery and inner landscapes.

If we have allowed ourselves to be open to the world within our own psyche, if we have not avoided our dark side, then we will be better able to help others do the same.

It is a privilege to be trusted by another to help them on their own internal psychological journey. However, we, as therapists, need to know our own depths before we can dare to accompany another into theirs.

On such a lonely and difficult journey, we need to be helped along the way by someone who knows their own route deep within themselves.

“There is no coming to consciousness without pain.”

Carl Jung

3. The Importance of Self -Awareness And Understanding How We Come Over To Others.


9Lamberto Melina – Humana XXII [2009]. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.,

“Question: What is the therapist’s most valuable instrument? Answer (and no one misses this one): the therapist’s own self.”


“Understanding of the self only arises in relationship, in watching yourself in relationship to people, ideas, and things; to trees, the earth, and the world around you and within you. Relationship is the mirror in which the self is revealed. Without self-knowledge there is no basis for right thought and action.”

Jiddu Krishnamurti

In order to be able to relate to our patients in an open and healthy way, we need, as therapists, to have worked through, as far as is possible, our own relationship issues and problems.

In this way, we will become aware of our selves and the areas in which we might have difficulties when we relate to others.

When we ourselves are in therapy, it is likely that any relationship problems we have outside the therapy, most likely originating in the past, will be replicated in the relationship with our therapist.

This enables such issues to be highlighted in the here and now of the therapy situation and makes them available to be worked through.

Unless we have explored our own unconscious world in therapy, we cannot- and should not- assist others on a journey into their inner world.

Only if we have developed awareness of our own inner landscape will we be able to gain the empathy, and the flexibility of thinking and feeling that is necessary to be able to help another on their own psychological journey.  


Eliana Petrizzi – Nudity [2008]

“The degree to which I can create relationships, which facilitate the growth of others as separate persons, is a measure of the growth I have achieved in myself.”
Carl R Rogers

“Empathy is the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person.”

Heinz Kohut.

©️Linda Berman

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  1. The more I look at my inner self…or do I mean MY PAST?…I am filled with despair at how I have behaved towards others and let down myself….this is unhealthy for my peace of mind…and I can’t seem to get away from these negative thoughts…Jb

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds so painful, Janette. Sounds like it’s hard to find relief or be forgiving to yourself. I do hope you can find some peace, perhaps through sharing your feelings in some way? X


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