We live so completely in an age of spin that it’s easy to wonder if anybody ever tells the unvarnished truth about themselves anymore. If Diogenes couldn’t find an honest soul among the ancient Greeks, imagine how appalled he’d be today by the fabricated melodrama of so-called “reality” shows, the self-serving confessionalism of daytime TV, or the hyped sincerity of our political candidates. A lot of the time, it’s just about spin control.

Of course, the mental health professions have their own public-relations agenda. We’d like the world to see us as ready for anything our clients throw at us–always imperturbable, calm, reassuring in the face of the most awful revelations, the most battering emotional storms. It wouldn’t be surprising if, in our headier moments, we even tend to believe in this beguiling myth ourselves. This is why the stories in this issue are so remarkable and courageous.

In “Therapy at the Edge,” four clinicians recount, with extraordinary candor, stories about therapeutic encounters that pushed them to the limits of their own professional competence and personal confidence, and sometimes even beyond. Gathered and masterfully edited by features editor Marian Sandmaier, these stories reveal how even experienced, highly skilled clinicians can find themselves completely at cross purposes with clients whose personalities and problems generate intense reactions that are difficult to master.

But far from diminishing the authors, these stories about therapy gone off the rails should make us all proud to be therapists. In what other line of work would people struggle with such relentless honesty, not only to tell the truth about their failings, but to learn something about themselves and their vocation in the process? Indeed, Sandmaier comes away from this issue with enormous admiration for its contributors. “There was such a generosity of spirit among these writers,” she says. “They were willing to put themselves on the page about situations that still have the whiff of stigma–particularly for clinicians who are so experienced. But they all believe that being conscious of who they are and what they’re doing is the most important quality they can bring to therapy. And I think the’re also saying to the world that these things don’t happen only to young, inexperienced therapists: no matter how long you’ve practiced, or how skilled you’ve become, there’ll always be more to learn.”

Rich Simon

Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day.