Wisdom from “On Being a Therapist”

“Yet it is hard to tread water with someone on our back without drowning.”
Jeffrey Kottler

Jeffrey Kottler throughout his book “On Being a Therapist” sprinkles seeds of wisdom that will not only benefit the inexperienced therapist but the experienced therapist as well.

Kottler states that many in today’s therapeutic community regard therapy as little more than simple accountability and measured outcomes that are all held together in some limited time frame described as brief therapy.

Kottler believes that therapy is more than brief interchanges between a client and a therapist but an opportunity no matter how slight for the therapist to role model a positive influence on the client’s life.

Along with the relationship between client and therapist, Kottler shares in his book other challenges that confront today’s therapists such as:

  • increased diversification of client base
  • advances and changes in theory and technique
  • increased bureaucracy in health care
  • living in a stressed filled world.

These variables, along with the personal inner struggles professionally and personally that therapists are dealing with, makes the task of being productive in therapy in today’s world a daunting task.

Kottler believes that theories, prescribed rules, regulations and other therapeutic practices have their time and place and are in many ways helpful for the therapist, but he emphasizes that importance must  still be placed on the client/therapist relationship.

Learned Along the Way

Another key point Kottler emphasizes is how the client and therapist change each other during therapy.

Kottler warns counselors to be wary of the destructive energy emanating from a patient that it can pollute the spirit of the healer (Kottler, 2003).

Kottler wonders whether Freud’s habit in counseling sessions to remain detached had more to do with preserving his own emotional safety than transference issues.

It is important not to fall into the same emotional trap that the client is experiencing but rather encourage the client to risk take and act more than reflect on their issues.

Key for the therapist is timing when the client is ready for the next step in the process of dealing with painful issues. Kottler felt that an error in judgment by the counselor could result in tragic consequences or at the least regressive backlash.

To Kottler, clients become our greatest teachers, who let us know what is working and what is not, that is, if we are paying close attention (Kottler, 2003).

Another interesting aspect of counseling shared by Kottler is learning to love someone unconditionally, non-possessively, non-sexually, with warmth, empathy and genuineness. He states that this experience can be exhausting.

Patients can test the patience of any therapist and that can affect how the therapist relates to the client.. In doing so, we tend to feel more comfortable working with people who are most like us.

But, Kottler states feeling too comfortable with a client can be dangerous. We tend at this point to limit our therapy to:

  • what worked well in previous cases
  • deal with issues that are not personally threatening
  • limit the challenges that the particular case can teach us.

Real learning and growth comes from learning to be flexible, when we are forced to use new therapy styles and realize, that in some cases, it is not the client’s antisocial or annoying behavior that is the problem but our own listless, lack of caring attitude being expressed to the client that is the center of the problem.

Wisdom from “On Being a Therapist”

Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) in northern Michigan who has a passion for reading, writing, music and helping others. He specializes in counseling complex family situations, substance abuse, and parenting. Steve’s counseling philosophy is holistic, approaching each issue on its own merit and evaluating influences to help overcome life’s dilemmas.


APA Reference
Greenman, S. (2015). Wisdom from “On Being a Therapist”. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Jul 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jul 2015
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