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How I Learned to Be an Authentic Therapist

It was 5pm, and I just finished my round of client therapy sessions for the day. As I got up from my chair, I couldn’t help but grin. Like damn, I had a big goofy grin on my face.

“My clients are the best.” That’s what I was thinking to myself, as I went to grab a few cookies, reminding myself not to overdo the snacking. But maybe I’ll have a few extra cookies, to celebrate for my incredible clients.

Today’s clients were ones who has been seeing me for some time now. They know me well, and I know them well. And today happens to be a day where they were all celebrating their own individual successes. “WINS,” as I call them. And it has to be capitalized, for that extra emphasis.

And these sessions were fluid, free flowing between listening, asking questions, offering my thoughts, validating, cracking jokes, and laughing. And my clients were fluid, and free flowing between sharing, reflecting, consolidating, and trusting the conversation. And of course, celebrating, and laughing.

I reflected on my process as a therapist, and how uptight I used to be, and how much I wanted needed to show my clients how much I cared about them. Of course, I still care about my clients. But I’ve also learned to do it in a way that is more genuine to who I am.

Admittedly, I may not be the kind of soft, loving therapist that people think of when they think of therapy. I can be, but I can also be very candid, very goofy, and very pragmatic. And my past mistake as an inexperienced therapist was trying to constantly be that soft, loving therapist. But I’m more than.

And it’s kind of ironic. While I was supporting clients to say “fuck the rules” and do their own thing, I was stuck there trying to conform to the rules of how I think a therapist should be…soft and loving and nothing else. I didn’t dare make jokes and laugh with my clients. Because that just isn’t seemly for therapists, I thought.

While I was able to help a lot of clients as the soft, loving therapist, it wasn’t until I became wholly myself that I was able to go infinitely deeper with my clients. You see, I can only take my clients as far as I have gone myself. And clearly, I needed to work on becoming my true authentic therapist self, and find that sweet spot of professionalism and authenticity.

I realized that I am a goof, I like to joke around, and I like to laugh. And this is not a weakness of character as a therapist. By being able to joke and laugh with my clients, clients felt much more comfortable seeing my authenticity. And it’s also an implicit permission to make life less serious than it needs to be.

Therapy isn’t just about the doom and gloom, the trauma and the pain. It’s also about celebration. And about authentic connections between the client and the therapist. And by embracing my inner goof, and picking the right time to crack jokes and laugh, it made me a better therapist.

And as I learned to be myself with my clients, I hope they will also feel that it is ok for them to be themselves. And I am thankful for all my clients, who continuously help me to come into my true therapist self.

As always, thanks for tuning in. If you found this helpful, share with your peeps. You can also get my free Asian Survival Guide.

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Harry Au

Therapy for Asians

MSW, RSW | he/him

I help Asians go from feeling trapped to becoming self-liberated.

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