Editor’s Note – September/October 2021

Clinicians’ Attitudes Toward Their Own Struggles

Magazine Issue
September/October 2021
Livia Kent

On the cover of this issue, we feature a piece of art that may, at first glance, seem a bit baffling. It’s a sculpture of a woman’s head inspired by the Japanese art of kintsugi, in which broken pieces of metal or pottery are mended not with the usual invisible glue, but by filling the cracks with a precious substance—usually gold or silver. The brokenness is meant to be fully seen, illuminated, and honored.

For many people, especially Westerners, it’s an unfamiliar approach to sculpture. But for therapists, it may feel intuitive. After all, we hope to engender something like kintsugi in clients, helping them to regard the jagged edges of their suffering with compassion, as well as a felt sense of the worth, and healing potential, of their pain.

But there’s another side to honoring emotional pain—and it has to do with clinicians’ attitudes toward their own struggles. It’s no secret that therapists suffer emotionally. Why wouldn’t they? As Hemingway famously said, “The world breaks everyone.” Nonetheless, many clinicians would just as soon not talk about the fissures in their own psyches, at least not publicly.

It’s understandable. As the culture’s sanctioned authorities on mental health, therapists are still widely expected to be equanimous in the face of inner turmoil. So, outside of their own therapist’s office, many fear coming out about their own serious troubles—even in front of colleagues. Oddly enough, shame and its loyal sidekick, secrecy, still loom large in our field.

The heartening news is that it’s beginning to change. And in this issue, we’re documenting and celebrating this growing openness through the personal stories of several clinicians, who share with us how they’ve suffered, how they’ve coped during the worst of it—while still doing good work with clients!—and what’s allowed them to begin to recover.

What inspired this issue—now? In some ways, helping therapists share their own stories has been a Networker hallmark since its inception. But recently, in response to first-person essays we’ve published over the last year-plus, readers have been increasingly reaching out to each other just to say, I’ve been there. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s helped me so much to read it. Especially now, it seems, we need these opportunities to connect with each other—to speak about, and deeply listen to, what it means to be human.

A final thought: In my last note, I wrote about becoming a first-time mother and my “necessary illusion” that I’d gotten this new-mom thing under control. But the stories here have nudged me to throw off the fear of judgment and share how it is for me now. Well, I’m keeping a close eye on a familiar visitor—anxiety—especially given my lack of sleep. But saying it here helps. And maybe it’s okay, for now, just to know that all the cracks I’m experiencing today may one day resemble kintsugi.

Livia Kent

Livia Kent, MFA, is the editor in chief of Psychotherapy Networker. She worked for 10 years with Rich Simon as managing editor of Psychotherapy Networker, and taught writing at American University as well as for various programs around the country. As a bibliotherapist, she’s facilitated therapy groups in Washington, DC-area schools and in the DC prison system. In 2020, she was named one of Folio Magazine’s Top Women in Media “Change-Makers.” She’s the recipient of Roux Magazine‘s Editor’s Choice Award, The Ledge Magazine‘s National Fiction Award, and American University’s Myra Sklarew Award for Original Novel.