Recently I discovered that my therapist is taking an anti-depressant for depression. I also suffer from chronic depression and understand that, if properly treated, depression doesn’t jeopardize the ability to do one’s job. (I, for one, am successful despite my condition.) But since my discovery, I am more reluctant to trust his judgment. Is this a case of the blind leading the blind?
Dear Anxious Analysand,
Let me start by saying that your reservations are perfectly reasonable. When someone initially seeks treatment for depression, he’s generally hoping to find a cure. If this is true of you, the fact that your therapist has been unable to “heal himself” is unlikely to instill a high level of confidence. But allow me to present the case in a different light: Chronic depression is not an illness in sense that, say, the flu is– flaring up and then dying away entirely. It’s more like diabetes, a chronic ailment that must be managed throughout the course one’s lifetime. If you suffer from chronic depression, you are undoubtedly aware that there is no ‘cure,’ in the strictest sense of the word. Recurring depression ebbs and flows in response to life events and medical interventions. Thus, the question you should really be asking yourself is: Is your therapist currently healthy enough to provide you with the level of psychological care you require?
If your gut response to this question is ‘no,’ I’d advise you to start shopping around for someone new. It may be that his depression isn’t under control, and this would, indeed, be a case of “the blind leading the blind.” But given that your therapist is on medication, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he’s managing his symptoms successfully. And if this is true, there is reason to believe that his depression will actually make him a better caregiver, according to Neurologist Alice Flaherty of Massachusetts General.
“One of the characteristics of depression is what’s called high interpersonal sensitivity,” says Flaherty, “which usually means they’re really easily offended. We all know people like that–we have to tread like we’re walking on glass with them. But actually that tends to be a rather useful trait for psychotherapists.” Why? Because high interpersonal sensitivity makes people more perceptive, and thus better at intuiting others’ intentions. It has also been correlated with enhanced problem solving skills.
While no one has conducted a formal study to prove that depressives make better mental health workers, these data suggest that they may be uniquely suited to the job.