Saturday, August 18, 2012

The loneliness of the long distance therapist

I can recall back in high school, in literature, we studied a book called “The loneliness of the long distance runner”. The title always stuck in my mind for some reason and I am not sure why. I always thought it was a good name for a book.

The title here refers not to a therapist who is a long distance from the client but the therapist who goes the long distance, that is, is a therapist for many years. Therapy is an odd profession in a number of ways. A long time ago I wrote an article on psychotherapy and prostitution and some of the similarities between them. Both professions require the person to sell them self.

Water woman

This is unlike the plumber or an accountant. When they are employed by a client it does not matter what they are like as a person just as long as they do a good job plumbing or accounting, at least that matters the most. When a psychotherapist is employed they are employed for their skills as a therapist but also as a person who the client is going to relate to. Indeed the relationship is a significant part of the therapy along with the therapeutic techniques. You can not really separate them in this way.

This has its down side in some ways. Over the years I have seen various therapists who may be changing profession or moving try and sell their practice. And it never is really successful. A therapist can not sell his practice in the same way a plumber could sell their plumbing business. One reason for this, is it is the therapist as a person who relates to the client that makes the practice successful or not. And obviously you can not sell that along with the business.

The majority of new clients who come to me are referred by someone who knows me in some way. Word of mouth is by far the most effective marketing technique for a therapist doing counselling. I do sometimes get randoms or people who found me by looking on the internet but this is a small group. 

Munster smoker

They may say they found my name on LinkedIn or came across my blog or these days even more so they say they found my website. I don’t know if I should let out my trade secrets here, but what the heck! My website is not the usual style of website for a psychologist or a therapist. One particularly odd part is the pictorial history which can be seen here.

I can not recall ever seeing a similar thing on another therapist’s website. If a client reports they have seen my website I will ask them what was their reaction to it and invariably they will talk about the pictorial history. Of course they do, as that is where they can get some insight into me as a person. BTW, that was not the reason why I put it their in the first place. It was just something that felt right when I was constructing it. However it is very unusual for a therapist’s website and now I find that it is a good idea from a marketing point of view. Oh well, these things happen.

So I can never really sell my practice, because most of the clients come to me as a person not to the practice as an entity in its own right.

Rope woman

What about the long distance therapist? Well therapists spend their working days relating to people and often the relating can be quite intense. Every person has relational needs, they need to have a sense of being in relationship with others and those relationships must be lived out first hand at least semi regularly. If this does not happen (and thus the person is isolated) then psychological deterioration will occur quite rapidly and can lead to quite severe consequences. Accordingly then therapists must be well supplied in terms of getting their relational needs met and indeed they are, one could say. That could be seen as a positive of being a therapist over time. 

Does this have an impact on relationships in other areas of their lives?
If their relational needs are met in their work maybe they are less motivated to have relationships in other areas of their lives?



  1. Hi Tony,

    I've been reading your blog for quite a while now and have been continually intrigued by your interest in working with the 'free child' in therapy. The concept although something I have never come across it in my extensive personal therapy is something I would be interested in exploring. I look forward to reading your posts and have learnt a lot through them. How can I contact you directly? And do you do therapy through skype?

  2. I see my therapist every four weeks now and I can see why some people would continue for a long time.

    It's different now than when first I started with him. In that room is the only time I can just be myself and talk about stuff that I never talk about to anybody ever, ever, ever. Sometimes I wonder if he just gets worn out being around people who talk about their "stuff" and I try to sense what mood he is in before I say certain things. I am always the last appointment for the day so I wonder if, by that time, he is just dying for me to go. He never gives me that impression but I am such a worrier and I always offer him the opportunity to make the appointment earlier - he never does though.

    If he decided to not do therapy for whatever reason I am not sure how I would be able to reconnect with another therapist. It must be hard to do. It must also be hard to get a new client who has lost their therapist for whatever reason. Therapy is not just question and answer time, it's a whole unique relationship thing.

    Once I asked him if, being a psychologist, he found it easier to manage his own personal relationships throughout his life. I mean, I figured that would make sense (naive I know). He replied "Sadly, no. Which was kind of funny. Bit like the plumber who has a leaky tap at home for years.

  3. Hello Just me, I am glad that you find my blog interesting and yes I certainly do work with the Free Child in therapy.

    You can contact me at my email

    and yes I do do skype counselling. What country are you in?


  4. Hi Linda, Thank you for your statement. I found it very straight and clear about who you are in that part of your life. A good statement of one clients reaction to the therapist and therapy.

    It sounds like you have made a good connection with him if you are concenred about the loss of him and the fact that you say stuff you otherwise would rarely do. Good for you for getting that into your life. Not all that easy to achieve to the degree you seem to have done so.

    As you undoubtably know therapists do retire, die or move and then the clients have to reconnect with another therapist. I understand your concern but it is done. My father worked as a therapist almost up to the point he died. When he did a number of his clients came to me which was an interesting exercise for them and me! Indeed many wanted to work through their feelings of loss of him, with me as the therapist! I am sure there is a dual relationship of some kind in there but I am still trying to work out what it was.

    thanks again for the candor in your comment


  5. Tony – I think the photos on your website make you seem more human and approachable. The fact that you are willing to expose yourself (and your family) to pubic view gives the impression that you have little to hide, and maybe that you are happy with who you are.

  6. I appreciate your feedback KYLady. It is good to hear how you responded to it and the impressions it left you. Some others in the past have reported similar responses to what you had in this case. It perplexes me a bit because when I was constructing how my website would look it never entered my mind to do a pictorial history in order for people to see I was not hiding anything. As I think back I think it came more from a narcissitic point of view. Whilst there are pats of my life that I am very private about I also like to put myself out there for all to see. Maybe one day I will work all that out in my own head about how I can have these two conflicting things going on about a need for privacy and the desire to get people to look at me. Tony

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