Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The young psychotherapist

At the TA meeting last night I did my life script time line and a discussion of the young psychotherapist came up. I began counselling when I was 22 years old and this resulted in some discussion on the psychodynamics and transactional dynamics of the young psychotherapist.

To be a young psychotherapist is a hard thing to do. Compared to the general adult population you are inexperienced in life, inexperienced as a psychotherapist and both you and the client know it. This immediately puts the young psychotherapist in a difficult position which the older beginning psychotherapist is not. If a person begins training as a psychotherapist at the age of 35 or 40 they do not have such a hard time in this way

Not only is the young psychotherapist automatically ‘discriminated’ against in this way by the client but they have less experience and psychological resources to deal with such a negative perception compared to the mature adult. (This is not a negative statement about clients as it is a natural, factually based perception for clients to have of a young therapist.) So they really are in a tough situation.

Will I have the skills to make it in this occupation? No young person ever knows this until they give it a go. But the young psychotherapist has an extra hard time compared to other occupations.

When a client seeks counselling and the therapist is 40 years old the client will automatically assume the therapist has a reasonable level of life experience and hence is automatically imbued with potency to varying degrees. If the client has been told by a  friend or relative about the therapist then in the mind of the client the therapist has some kind of good reputation which also automatically imbues them with a psychological potency in the client’s mind. The young therapist has neither a large level of life experience nor a reputation. So they do not automatically get given a psychological potency by the client.

This is shown in the transaction below. This is missing with the young psychotherapist. This is a very crucial transaction in the client therapist relationship. Clients seek out counselors about very intimate and important issues that can effect their lives in significant way. A trust and belief in the therapists skills is very important for the client to have. The young psychotherapist has to battle against this which the older new psychotherapist does not (so much).

Young therapist Jpeg

However the story gets worse. The young psychotherapist is aware (at least to some degree) of this lack of belief and trust by the client which for some would undermine their confidence. Thus the young psychotherapist who already lacks a bit of confidence because of their age then has to battle against this further level of lack of confidence which the older beginning therapist does not. And being younger they have less natural psychological resources to deal with such lack of confidence.

However some young therapist do survive and go onto make careers in the profession. As a young therapist I would think at times, “This person is asking me for counselling about their marriage and I am only 22 years old”. This did strike me as a bit strange and a bit fearsome. However at the same time I did have a confidence in my self that I knew what I was doing and that I was being effective. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that my confidence then as a young therapist was a bit unrealistic. 

Bend backs
Not an easy thing to do.

Also one does tend to get automatic feedback. If you see a client and they say they want to return next week (and then actually does so) that is an indicator that what you are doing with this person did work. Of course then there are clients who don’t return or report that things are not getting better which the young therapist has to have the confidence to ride over that bit of a rough patch. But if you are out there in the cut throat world of private practice where clients pay to see you and they keep coming, that is ‘proof’ that you are doing something right.  I think that is how I got through the ‘baptism of fire’ which all young therapists have to do or else they drift off into some other occupation.



  1. to sweeten the deal to the young therapist - maybe they are more trustworthy and efficient working with younger population, like say teenage anorectics or substance abuse or self harm thing - I imagine a kid of 16 would be more comfortable in therapy with a 22 yo therapist than w/ someone more 'mature'?

    disclaimer: I don't know much about psychotherapy - it's just my guess

  2. I think you make a good point Zbig. I never did that as I was running a private practice and would counsel anyone who came to see me. Not many young people were brought to see me by their parents. I don't think for any special reason, just that it did not happen. G