Wisdom from “On Being a Therapist”

Helpful Hints

Kottler shares other important suggestions for a therapist in the midst of analyzing a client/therapist relationship:

  •  determine whether the problem is with the client or with you
  •  respect the purpose and function of resistance and client defenses
  •  when feeling trapped, follow the principles of the “reflective practitioner”
  •  do not try to cure the incurable
  •  acknowledge that the client is operating under different rules from what you would prefer
  •  remain as flexible as possible
  •  educate yourself about clients who come from backgrounds that are beyond your experiences or comfort level; and
  • when all else fails, allow the clients to keep their dysfunctional behavior. Do what you can do no more and no less (Kottler, 2003).

When a therapist experiences a loss of motivation, energy, control and direction, Kottler said, these are conditions that could be as simple as boredom but left untreated, can turn into chronic, incurable and causation for a larger problem named burnout.

Kottler felt the single most common personal consequence of practicing therapy is not who will experience burnout but how long the next episode will last.

Kottler cautions that when a therapist can no longer deal with stress and/or symptoms of burnout he/she is more likely to engage in unethical conduct or to make decisions that will harm the client rather than help (Kottler, 2003).

He reminds the reader (therapists) that it is important to take care of yourself (burnout protector). He suggests the therapist needs to:

  •  adjust expectations to realistic levels
  •  break away as needed
  •  not be afraid to use the concept of talking to oneself as you do to your clients
  •  demonstrate that you take your own growth as seriously as you do that of your clients


The last chapters of “On Being a Therapist” consist of lies we, as therapists tell, alternative therapies we can use and ideas for furthering growth and creativity within. Kottler states that many of the negative personal consequences of being a therapist derive less from the pressures of clients, supervisors and work schedules but from not being true to oneself.

At times, Kottler believes that therapists have to put on a façade of confidence to instill confidence and motivation in the client.

Kottler shares what Milton Erickson was fond of saying that if you can pretend very convincingly, then clients will pretend to make changes in their lives. And when things go well, after a period of time, they will forget they are pretending (Kottler, 2003).

Not only does Kottler share the importance of being honest in one’s therapy, he also relates the idea of  the importance of not becoming married to a particular theory. A therapist must be flexible not idealistic toward his/her client. If the therapist does not genuinely believe that the therapeutic tools for our profession can work for the client, then we have no business practicing them on anyone else (Kottler, 2003).

Lastly, Kottler shares that in the process of doing therapy we must regard ourselves as explorers. We teach others to discover uncharted territory, to learn survival skills and apply them in conditions of maximum stress.

We teach people about their limits and their capabilities. We help people take controlled risks, where much danger can be anticipated. But, we must never forget that we change as much as we change each client we see.

Tired therapist photo available from Shutterstock

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 February 22, 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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