Finding Your Self: The Challenge for Helpers, Healers, & Caretakers

Lately, my best friend is reminding me to hold boundaries, to protect myself, and not to play therapist to people in my personal life. This is sound and sage (and timely) advice, and I welcome it. It’s an important reminder for individuals like me – a therapist not only by trade but down to my very bones, so much so that when I’m asked why I decided to pursue this profession, I can honestly reply that I never considered anything else.

For many of us that grow up as caretakers, helpers, and healers, the road has been paved before us. We came of age in environments where we learned how to keep ourselves secure by keeping the peace. We became skilled chameleons, anticipating the emotions of those around us before they emerged, and we shaped our own self-presentations to best keep order, even when it meant suppressing our true feelings. We had our own ideas, wants, and needs, but allowed them to be secondary in order to cater to the ideas, wants and needs of the others around us, because their emotional states were precarious, and directly impacted our own. In this way, we were expert actors, supporting players in the stories of our own lives, exchanging our authenticity for something that was palatable and soothing to whomever was responsible for taking care of us.

Sometimes, we disappeared altogether.

In sessions with clients, many of whom are also helpers and expert emotional shape-shifters, the thread often emerges that they have lost themselves, or don’t know who they are. When we talk about acting from their center, or Self, the idea is so foreign as to create confusion. There is no discernible “Self” left to act from. I relate to this sentiment, and this fear that there is no center, having struggled mightily to locate my own. And, I cannot stress enough, the Self is present, intact, and ready to steer the ship. We just need to feel safe enough to allow this to happen.

So how do we create a feeling of safety? First, I believe, we need to get in touch with the notion that we have not felt safe, and validate the reasons why this might be so. This can be hard work on its own, as many of us spend a long time excusing the behaviors of those around us, and operating from a “it’s not that bad” mentality. Struggle and pain is relative. If something’s been hard on us, then it was hard, regardless of how it measures up to everybody else’s pain.

Next, we do the work of accepting all the less-than-wonderful parts of ourselves that we’ve voted off the island in an effort to keep the peace. This means getting in touch with our wants and needs, and authentic thoughts and ideas. The word “selfish” comes up frequently in this self-inventory. Often, it’s highly inapplicable. We are simply acknowledging that we are human, and getting to know all the parts of us that make us so. Even (especially) the needy ones.

Then, we set boundaries. Lots of them. We begin to get a sense of how we want the people in our lives to treat us, and we try out asking to be treated that way. We define how we want to spend our time, and set limits around things that do not correspond with that intention. We become choosier about who we surround ourselves with, how much supporting we do of others, and we begin to allow others to support us. We find out what we like and don’t like, and make life decisions based on this new information.

Finally, we begin to live day-to-day according to everything we’ve discovered about ourselves. We empower ourselves to make choices and act from our Self (who was in there all along!), and not from the parts of ourselves that have had to cater to others throughout our lives. We choose our own health, our own wellness, and our own happiness, and then make space for others after the fact. All of this is scary business and uncharted territory for many of us, but it is important work, and well worth all the trouble.

The helpers and healers among us must take extra good care of ourselves – after all, if we don’t, we certainly can’t be of service in any meaningful way. More importantly, we don’t want to miss out on our own full, rich, and authentic lives. What we try to support in those around us, let’s create for ourselves, first. Then, when we choose to, we may help others from a place of strength, wholeness, and intention.

Originally posted on my blog, Common Humanity, at Psych To read more, visit


Useful Information

Some frequently asked questions and useful answers.

Online therapy works in the same way as in-office therapy, but is done online, similar to a Skype or FaceTime conversation. Clients are able to have sessions from home, work, or any other convenient location. We meet with clients using a HIPAA-compliant secure platform.

Online therapy allows you to work with us from the comfort of home, or any private location of your choosing. For some, the screen provides an added layer of comfort that makes the challenging work of being vulnerable in therapy a little easier.

Online therapy also creates the unique opportunity for you to work with us without the constraints of proximity! The practice was born in Keene, New Hampshire, but has since grown to service clients anywhere in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, Florida, and New Hampshire.

Online therapy is a great option for clients that travel for work, for college students that go home during the summertime and do not want a break in their sessions, and for anyone with a challenging or inconsistent day-to-day schedule. It is an excellent choice for clients seeking a therapist with a particular specialty that they are unable to find support for locally. Some of our clients report that online therapy makes the vulnerability element of therapy a bit less intimidating.

No. For some clients with more complex symptoms or safety concerns, having a local therapist that is readily available is important in case of crisis or the need for a higher level of care. Online therapy is also a challenge for clients that do not have access to a private, quiet space to be “in session” for the hour, or for those that do not have adequate internet connectivity.

There are several reasons why we don’t accept insurance. The most important are:

Confidentiality. Insurance companies require that your information be shared with them in order to pay for services. We prefer that clients’ information is kept as confidential as possible.

The pressure to diagnose. Insurance companies require that clients are given a mental health diagnosis in order to pay for therapy. We have found that many clients benefit from therapy, but do not meet criteria for a diagnosis. Not using insurance allows clients to access therapy without being given a mental health diagnosis.

Flexibility and freedom. Insurance companies dictate the length and number of sessions they will authorize, as well as when a client is no longer eligible for the benefits of therapy. Because we do not work with insurance panels, you and we can collaborate to determine your individual needs regarding session length, frequency of sessions, and when to terminate therapy.

While we do not accept insurance, many clients choose to submit receipts to their insurance companies to receive reimbursement via out-of-network benefits. We are happy to provide these receipts for you! Please check with your insurance company for details on your benefits.



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