Wounded Healers: Sharing Our Stories

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By Tim Stein

Meditation from Gifts of Recovery.

The number one predictor of success in therapy is “Do clients believe that you would take your own advice?”
–Therapy lesson

Telling people what they should do is easy; following that same advice is often difficult. Like children, other people do not do what we tell them to do; they do what they see us do. When we are guiding others as a therapist, a sponsor, or a member of their support community, the advice they will most easily follow is the advice they believe we would take ourselves.

Does my advice match my actions? What guidance do my actions give? What gifts await me as I follow my own advice?

The universe has been sending me a message recently. I heard it at least three times in the last month. I have learned that when the same message repeatedly shows up in my life, I should listen. The message is, “Your story has power. Be willing to appropriately share it.” I am not exactly sure why this message is coming my way, but it reminds me that one strength I bring to therapy is storytelling.

We tell our clients many stories. Sometimes these stories revisit our client’s past challenges in order to highlight current progress. Other times, our stories are metaphors for life skills and relationship skills. Encouraging patience, perseverance, and trust are situations that frequently benefit from our storyteller skills. Seasoned therapists have no shortage of stories.

As wounded healers, we have a unique opportunity for our stories to hit home in the therapeutic process because we, more than most therapists who are not in recovery, have walked the path that our clients are currently on. We understand their struggles and pain. We have heard their addictive thoughts and denial in our own heads. We have felt the impact of addiction and experienced the joy of recovery. We have powerful stories.

I am fond of saying that my clients have heard many of my stories, but they do not know my story. For now, that boundary continues to feel appropriate for me. Some wounded healers have chosen to share their stories in very public ways. Others have chosen to share very little. Some wounded healers share the wisdom of their experiences as stories about past clients. Some of us share stories of our experiences and challenges but not the entirety of our autobiography. There are many ways to share your story of addiction and recovery.

In our work as therapists, sharing our story effectively is not about entertainment value; it is about using the story to help the client create change. If the number one predictor of success in therapy is our client’s ability to believe we would take our own advice, what better use of our stories than to highlight when we have done just that. Clients begrudgingly hear advice to be patient and avoid forcing a relationship fix. It is easier for them to appreciate this path if we share our own trepidation when we walked it ourselves. It is easier for clients to recognize and work toward the next steps in sobriety and recovery when we share stories of our own sobriety and recovery challenges and successes.

At whatever level of transparency you are comfortable with, use your story. As the universe has been telling me, “Your story has power. Be willing to appropriately share it.”