New Year's Resolutions for Therapists

By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.

New Year's Resolutions

We therapists are extremely lucky to be in our profession. Like our practices, our New Year’s resolutions give us the opportunity to grow personally while improving the lives of our clients and making our communities and society a better place. I invite you to make resolutions in the same spirit with which we help our clients, using our integrity, creativity, bravery, and compassion.

Similar to the way we have done in prior years, as we begin 2014, I’d like to propose the following resolutions to my fellow therapists:

I resolve that when I differ with colleagues’ ways of doing therapy I will learn to respectfully say, “I disagree,” rather than being confrontational right from the start:

  • Before encouraging a client to file a board complaint against a former therapist, just because another practitioner has a different view of healing than what I believe is helpful, I will use critical thinking and contemplation.
  • Except in situations of sexual involvement or intentional harm, I will engage in respectful discourse when I do not agree with another therapist’s attitudes and actions in regard to issues such as non-sexual touch, home visit, self disclosure, bartering, dual relationships, and other boundary considerations.

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I resolve not to use pathologizing or labeling clients (‘she is just a borderline’) as a therapy shortcut or as a way to ease my own countertransference, doubts, anxieties or fears.

I resolve to place clinical and ethical integrity above my fear of attorneys, licensing boards and lawsuits. To do this, I am committed to identifying the difference between rigid or fear-based risk management practices and ethical risk management that is based on client care and clinical integrity. That may mean, when ethically and clinically appropriate:

  • Gracefully accepting gifts from clients with gratitude and generously giving clients gifts.
  • Respectfully bartering with cash-poor clients.
  • In small and interconnected communities, engaging in healthy and appropriate dual relationships.
  • Going on a walk with a client who can benefit from an “out of office experience”.
  • Using touch to soothe a panicked, sad, or grief-stricken client.
  • Conducting therapy text, or secured e-mail or Virtual Realty with young tech savvy clients who request it and can benefit from it.
  • Making a home visit to an agoraphobic or home-bound client.

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I resolve to educate myself about neurodiversity, and to view neurological differences as valuable and interesting rather than as problems to be cured. I will not shame or pathologize people with atypical neurological makeups:

  • I will encourage family members to get to know their neurodiverse relatives, accepting and encouraging their unique interests and capabilities.
  • One of the largest groups fighting for their neurodiversity rights at the moment are autistic people. As a responsible member of the field of psychotherapy, I resolve to remember that the goal of therapy is not to “cure” autism but to help my autistic clients become healthy autistic people.
    • I will encourage family members to get to know the autistic person, accepting and encouraging his or her unique interests and capabilities.
    • I will refer to autistic people, rather than people “with autism,” since autism is not a disease.

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I resolve not to pathologize transpeople or gay people:

  • I will use correct pronouns (if a person identifies as male, him/he/his).
  • I will speak out against bullying of gay and transpeople, just like I speak out against bullying based on race, gender, or any other axis.
  • When gay and transpeople enter my practice, I will treat the presenting issues, not attempt to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • I will work with family members to help them become accepting, welcoming, and respectful of their gay and trans children.

I resolve to support healthy lifestyle interventions, such as proper nutrition, sleep, exercise, and mindfulness:

  • I will educate myself on the effects of nutrition and supplements on mental health.
  • I will engage my clients, where appropriate, in conversations about their sleep, food, exercise, and spiritual life.
  • I will educate my community about non-medical ways to treat anxiety, depression and many other mental health conditions.

I resolve to object to the excessive medication of children, whose brains are developing and vulnerable:

  • I will stand up in protest against psychiatrists, pediatricians and mental health professionals who diagnose one and two year-olds with ADHD or Bipolar and then medicate them.
  • I will do what I can to protect helpless children by providing parents, clinicians and the public with information regarding the potential harm that some medications may cause as well as whether or not such medications have been approved by the FDA to be used with children.

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I resolve to educate myself on which parts of DSM-5 are in place so that pharmacological companies can make more profit, and which parts can be clinically helpful.

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I resolve to develop a fee-for-service private practice and market it actively:

  • I will pursue developing a fee-for-service private practice, as this will assist me in treating my clients according to their needs and wishes rather than carrying out treatments according to profit-motivated insurance companies’ protocols.
  • I will develop, or have someone develop, a professional website for my practice.
  • I will market my practice online and offline, with the help of a marketer if needed.
  • I will accept some pro bono cases or cases at significantly reduced or no fees.

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I resolve to let go of the myths or delusion of the “power differential” that implies that all therapists are powerful and all clients are vulnerable, dependent and helpless:

  • I will recognize that while therapists have some power of knowledge and information, clients can be equally or even more powerful than their therapists.
  • I will recognize that especially in the ‘age of Google’ clients can get a lot of personal information about their therapists via web searches, thereby gaining power.

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I resolve to stop being part of the “Victim Industry”:

  • I will focus on helping clients overcome trauma by viewing it as an opportunity to grow and become stronger, rather than stay in a victim mode in therapy for years.
  • Many well-intentioned but misguided therapists and attorneys have been at the forefront of those who promote, via therapy and lawsuits, victimization rather than healing and responsibility.

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