Being a therapist has to be a very tough job…but today we’re gonna hear some success stories from them!
Success stories are probably relative, and maybe not measured exactly in that way, but these therapists had glimpses of moments that must make all the rest of it worth it.
1. One person’s take.
I’m a therapist as well as a client, and I’d be pretty f**king pi**ed if I saw my therapist posting about my case on a Reddit thread, even if my name wasn’t anywhere. I’ve told him some stuff that was really hard to talk about.
People are welcome to differ with me on this, but I feel like it’s tacky to share details, even if you can’t identify the person specifically. Clients come to us with the expectation that they will be safe, and I don’t feel like it’s our place to violate that.
“When someone tells you a piece of their life, they’re giving you a gift, not granting you your due.”
– Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear
2. Just total pride.
I once worked with someone whose agoraphobia and intense anxiety had stopped them from visiting their child (who lived several states away) for YEARS.
By the time we wrapped up they’d bought a plane ticket to go visit. ?
3. Just one small push.
I’m in school for my MSW but I am also a domestic violence advocate. The past year or so I’ve been working with a woman who has been married for 42 years to her abuser and has ten children with him. When I first met her she was told to come to us by her therapist.
She expressed that she didn’t think she needed to be there but she wanted to try it out. She joined a support group but was often quiet or said things like “I don’t deserve to be here”. About half way through the group she started opening up about the horrific abuse her abuser has inflicted on her throughout the years.
We had to end the group because of COVID and I did not feel safe calling her. When she came to group she said she was going to bible study and I would make “worksheets” for her to bring home to prove she was at bible study. Calling her would have out her in potential danger.
Finally, I started a zoom support group and was able to connect with her. She is now divorced, living on her own, and being independent. It is a total 180 and she is absolutely glowing. I am so happy for her.
4. May we all strive for balance.
Had a client with chronic illnesses. She was often sick or in pain and felt terribly guilty for not being able to care for her family when she had really bad days. On the days when she felt good, she would push herself to her absolute limit by cooking and cleaning and fitting in as much family time as she could before she felt sick again.
Inevitably, she would wake up the next day feeling way worse than she did previously because she overextended herself. This became a rather predictable cycle. It took months to convince her to slow down a little on the days she felt good and to take care of herself on those days too so that her good days might last a little longer, and to stop feeling guilty for her bad days.
She was able to find a balance and improve her overall quality of life. She did amazingly, and I still think about her from time to time. It’s been 10 years, I hope she’s still k**ling it.
5. The things we take for granted.
I’m an art therapist who worked on an adolescent inpatient psych unit in an urban area. There was a 6’ 17-year-old almost non verbal (spoke some Spanish and his own sign language) also born addicted to crack and was HIV positive and violent. He wore adult diapers.
His family never potty trained him and they basically dropped him off at the hospital and gave him up. His family never gave him services when he was younger and kept him in a room for most of his life. In 6 months he was talking and using the bathroom by himself.
6. The days are hard.
Coming into this one late- but I work with children in social services as a trauma therapist/teacher.
So the stuff I see is pretty horrific sometimes.
I had a kid a few years ago who will stick with me forever. PTSD at four years old from seeing some really awful things, things that d*mn adults into lifetimes of isolation and depression. And my job was to try to get this kid equipped to handle a kindergarten classroom.
A little info here- when young children experience trauma, one way they may communicate this is through mimicking their experiences. Sometimes in social interactions, sometimes in play. This child had this symptom.
Essentially, I had a four year old acting like a psychopathic, abusive, alcoholic grown man.
Every day we documented the bruises and marks he left on me. For two years he bit, spat at, shat on, hit, kicked, and slapped me. Some days I felt like I was getting to him. Most days I went into the staff bathroom and either punched the paper towel dispenser, or went home and drank myself to sleep.
He spat a used band-aid into my mouth. Threw his own s**t into my eyes. Bit through my wrist, which, yeah, was all every bit as horrific as it sounds.
But I kept trying. Everyone did. We loved him, we never let him know how stressed he made us or how much we had to brace and prepare ourselves for sessions with him. We never told him that we dreaded some days, knowing we were just too tired but had to do it all anyways. Five days a week, intensive outpatient care, and it felt like we were getting nowhere.
And that was it. He came to me that way, and he left me that way. The day he graduated the program I cried, got heavily d**nk, and prayed his kindergarten teacher would show him half the love and grace I’d been able to.
Only a few months into kindergarten that teacher reached out to me- we had an ROI from his IEP process, but I never thought I’d hear anything after school started- I usually don’t. And she said he was doing amazing. The medication we hadn’t seen work had started to balance things. The skills we taught over and over and over and over- he was using them. He had friends, where everyone had been scared of him before. He played with other children. He colored. He walked into school happy to be there and left happy to go home. She was describing to me a child I had never met, but had helped create.
Working with littles is discouraging, because I often don’t see the fruits of my labor. If I’m lucky, I can help identify ongoing traumas and put a stop to them so that the next specialist can treat it. If I’m even luckier, the child may be able to function in kindergarten better because of something I said or did correctly. But I usually don’t know.
If I’m unlucky, the grooming is so deep and so hurtful that the children give me very little to go off of, and I send them to school with little more than a lying parent and a wrist-thick binder of documentation that led nowhere. And my buddies on speed-dial with CPS do their best, they do, but there’s only so much we can do when a family really wants to hide something.
I have to remind myself often that my job is really just to plant a seed of healing, and that I’m doing it for the functioning adult they will get to be someday, whom I will never meet. So that their middle school teachers never realize what a broken child they had to be at this time, and their future spouses and children benefit from the love they’ve learnt and skills they’ve had mentored into them.
But f*ck if it isn’t hard some days. Most days. All of them. F*ck if it isn’t so godd**n hard.
I’m glad I do this, that all of us do. Social services is savage and unforgiving. We need more good people in it. I hope the kids I’m helping benefit and turn into the recovery journeys everyone here is describing- but unfortunately, I rarely ever really know.
7. Amazing to see.
I am not a psychiatrist or a therapist and I have not been in a recovery journey. However, there was this girl on my class at high school who must have had some kind of trauma, because she almost never spoke. And when she did, it was almost like a whisper. She must have felt really anxious around people because she would always secretly escape during school day trips to go home.
My friend and I took her with us (we were a bit of outcasts already), but she could not communicate well, even when we asked her questions about her hobbies etc. Talking made her really uncomfortable. So we just let her hang around, and she did follow us for all high school.
Many years later I saw her by chance on the street and she talked to me with a normal voice tone! We had a whole conversation. And she was fashionable, and had a husband who adores her. Later she got pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl. She is the biggest transformation I’ve ever seen and I’m so happy for her.
8. A beautiful moment.
Was working with a young boy who had experienced horrific trauma the first few years of his life. He was understandably angry all the time but you could tell he didn’t understand why. Often times I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere with him.
One day when it was time for him to leave, he hesitated between me and the person picking him up. We looked at eachother like “what’s happening?” and he suddenly ran right at me and gave my legs the biggest hug. He then let go, smiled at me, and walked out like he felt ok for the first time.
I don’t know why, but that moment sticks out to me and probably always will.
9. Sometimes they don’t get to see the end result.
I’m a therapist and when I think of all my successful clients I can see how wonderful it would be to hear the success stories. When I think of success stories, I cannot imagine a way to anonymized the information enough to protect privacy and keep it interesting.
Like to protect privacy, it would be along the lines of “they started a medication that helped them feel well enough to start doing the therapeutic change work. They overhauled their life and changed their interactions with others and are now doing awesome.”
10. You can’t give up on kids.
Therapist here. Withholding information for privacy reasons. Kids for me are really rewarding and inspiring to work with.
One kid growled and yelled at me, wouldn’t talk to me at all. fought and stole from kids. He had severe trauma of all kinds at a really young age and wasn’t given a chance. Refused to attend classes at school. By the end he did a complete 180. Not just because of counseling but also great support from the school.
But his transformation was incredible. He went from yelling and growling out of anger to verbalizing anger to verbalizing hurt it stemmed from. It was truly amazing.
11. To break the cycle.
Not my success, but one that stayed with me.
Was working as a secretary for a clinic that did forensic psychology/psychiatry. Got a call from a former patient: ‘I’d like to enrol my teenaged child. I recognise that they are doing as bad as I was at that age, and I wasted years of my live with that. You guys helped me so well, I want the same for my kid.’
That parent was trying to stop their generational abuse, and give their kid the best start they could.
12. We all need that something.
Any time a previously depressed, disinterested, apathetic, or suicidal client tells me about a new hobby or passion, I get so excited.
Doesn’t matter what it is. Dungeons and Dragons, pet rats, growing herbs, 3D printing, anime, video games, geocaching…I don’t know about any of those things but if my client is excited about it, I’m over the moon and I want to hear all about it.
Seeing them find a passion for SOMETHING, no matter if it’s something that I personally find weird or boring – that’s a part of my job that I love and I will sit and listen and cheer them on and I will leave that session feeling so happy.
13. All of the work is important.
Working with literally any client and being able to collaboratively work towards what is important to them, its hard to pick a favorite since everyone’s journey is extremely meaningful in one way or another!
14. It really is little things.
One that stands out most was a woman who had used heroin, alcohol, and crack for all of her adult life. She was homeless, had never really held a job, and had multiple legal problems due to her drug use. At 50 something, she had decided to get clean and did so for several months, until her child was m**dered. She had a brief relapse, but got clean again. In 4 years, she sorted out her legal issues, reconnected with her family, left her abusive partner, obtained her own housing, volunteered regularly, and completed a 4 year degree.
I can’t imagine having gone from a complete street lifestyle, enduring the worst tragedy one can imagine newly sober, and then entering and excelling in academia.
Honestly, it’s not the huge stories that stand out, it is little things that people accomplish during their recovery.
- A person meeting their grandchild for the first time because they’ve gotten clean
- A person that always wanted to go to the circus but had never gone because money always went to drugs
- A person finishing school or actually keeping a job
- A person leaving an abusive relationship and excelling
- A person finally reaching out to family and getting an answer back or kind words after years of broken promises
15. That’s one great day.
I worked on an outreach team that helped homeless folks off the streets. Found a guy downtown one day that was a classic schizophrenic. Word salad, things tied around his arms and legs, the whole 9 yards. Spent a few weeks buying him lunch and building a relationship with him.
He eventually let me move him into a hotel room and take him to a doctor. Got a shot from one of our doctors and started doing better. I transferred him to a longer term care team and went on with my life. Years later I was doing a homeless count for the city and boom, there he was standing in front of me. Clean, well spoken, happy.
He introduced me to his cousin. I’ll never forget it. “D**n Robert, this is the guy who helped you get off the street? You saved his life man. My family can’t thank you enough.”
One of the best moments of my life.
16. What keeps you going.
I used to do sessions at a government run long-term psychiatric hospital. Where I am a patient can only stay in a psych hospital for 3 months max, & if they didn’t get better we had to transfer them to the long-term hospital, So, the people who ended up here already had very poor prognoses to start off with, and to add to that they were all there on an involuntary basis, so co-operation was an ongoing battle. Very few are ever successfully discharged back into the community. There is a gross shortage of resources and the place itself looks pretty bleak, but we did all we could within our limited means.
I have had a few successes with patients here over the years, which you kind of hold on to in order to remind yourself that there’s always hope.
One lady I recall had been admitted via the courts after vandalizing a colleagues car that she believed had been using witchcraft against her. After being admitted and treated at the regular psych hospital, she was diagnosed with treatment resistant schizophrenia, which is probably one of the worst case scenarios in psychiatry.
Once she arrived at the long-term facility, I started treatment with probably the only drug we have for treatment-resistant schizophrenia. This drug is basically our last “big-bomb” for schizophrenia, but is not a pleasant one to have to use with a patient. It has a lot of serious side effects, requires blood to be drawn every week for 18 weeks (& then monthly for the rest of the time you’re on it, which is generally life-long in schizophrenia) and most frustratingly there is no injectable formulation, so patients need to take it willingly everyday which is a real uphill battle for involuntary patients that lack insight (lack of insight being part of schizophrenia as well, so you can imagine how challenging that can get). If they refuse more than 2 days worth of meds, the whole 18 week initial phase needs to be restarted from scratch.
This patient was extremely paranoid and very hostile towards treatment in general. Every time I saw her she would get aggressive, argue with everything, and refused the meds on several occasions, necessitating a restart every time. She was one of the most challenging patients I have had to deal with, and honestly I didn’t hold out much hope for her. But, we just kept on trying, worked through every aggressive episode and tried to at least keep things steady enough so that she wouldn’t deteriorate any further.
After two years, things slowly started to change for her. She started taking the meds regularly and we had noted small incremental improvements. Despite this, her prognosis was still poor and I was just hoping to improve her overall level of functioning in any way I could.
Then one day when she walked into my office, she looked like an entirely different person. Her grooming and self care were definitely better – she had done her hair, wore earrings and actually smiled at me… all for the first time since being admitted to the hospital. To say I was thrilled at her progress would be an understatement, I was flabbergasted really.
Having gone back to her almost normal self, she was a pleasant, articulate lady with a wicked sense of humor. After that, we did a lot of work on her insight & helping her make sense of what had happened to her and understanding the medications she would need to take for the rest of her life.
After about 3 years, she was discharged home and resumed her previous occupation of being a high school teacher. Last I heard from her she was till doing well and even became a grandmother. Sadly, I no longer work at that hospital so I have since lost touch with her, but her story stays with me every time I see a “hopeless” case. It’s the starfish analogy for me, and although my job can be emotionally draining & frustrating, every now and again you get to make a life-changing difference for someone, and that keeps me going.
17. That’s all they want to hear.
I had a client who was a Senior at a highschool I was contracted at. I got him the day after he had been released from the ER for a Suicide attempt. He was smart and his plan was well executed, painless to being a diabetic. He had his method of suicide literally on him 24/7. He had second thoughts.
He was a wreck, paranoid, didn’t want to live. Are one point I had to have him involuntarily committed by the police because he could not guarantee me he could keep himself safe and his parents really couldn’t either. I h**ed to do it. I had no other choice though.
Every week we met. He was intense, angry and paranoid. His parents were Asian immigrants and were woefully under prepared for dealing with and understanding the extent of his mental health issues. We went on a regiment of Cognitive behavioral therapy for 6 months. He went all in, did every price of homework I gave him and utilized it. By the end of the 6 months he graduated and was accepted to NYU and prepping to attend in fall.
The last day we met I asked about his experience in therapy and to reflect on his journey. He ended by saying. ” I’m glad I didn’t k**l myself”. Don’t know where he is but I hope he is doing amazing.
18. Sometimes experiments work out for the best.
I work with veterans who have had traumatic brain Injuries a lot of whom additionally have some combination of ptsd anxiety and depression. One of our most recent patients was a graduate student before deciding to enlist in 2011 to fight isis. He came back unable to walk and unable to read and remember things properly as a result of the damage to his brain.
He could no longer focus in classes, and was severely depressed which lead to him not able to finish his PhD. We do an experimental 10 days brain stimulation treatment combined with vision and working memory therapy and after his 10 days the changes were astounding.
He feels motivated again, there was an improvement of almost 100% on every cognitive and executive function task as well as improvements to his vision/reading/focusing ability. He signed up for classes at the community college here and is hopeful he can finish his PhD in geology and get his life back on track. I’ve never seen such a dramatic improvement before and it made all the difference in the direction of his life. Reminds me why I do what I do.
19. They just keep showing up.
I had barely graduated and was working in the public sector as a clinical psychologist. One day a 47 yo woman arrived. The patient was experiencing depression and had told me that in another episode she couldn’t even take a shower.
I was nervous cuz I was so inexperienced and felt a weight on my shoulders thinking: “how Am I gonna help this woman?”. But as the months progressed I saw a big transformation. In the beginning she wouldn’t even look me in the eyes and she had told me that she couldn’t even hug her children (they were young adults). She was my patient for 8 months until I had been approved to work somewhere else with a much bigger salary.
In our last session she was looking at me, dressing up, smiling and when I told her that I wouldn’t be working there anymore, she even gave me a hug. It was quite a challenge, but in the end it all worked well. I no longer work as a clinical psychologist (and don’t intend to return), but this experience transformed not only her, but myself.
I gained confidence to work with other people and was extremely satisfied to see that I could help improving someone else’s life.
20. Sometimes all you do is listen.
I’ve regularly had clients tell me some version of, “Remember that thing you told me about breaking up with them/applying for that job/telling them such and such… Well, I took your advice and it really worked and made such a difference!”, and in my head I’m thinking, “that’s not at all what I said” or “oh, that was just an offhand remark that had nothing to do with what I thought I was trying to do, but good job!”
It has made me realize that change is kind of inevitable (tho not necessarily for the better) and that when people are ready, there’s little that will stop them from moving toward that change; they’ll take what I say or, a song lyric, or a convo with the Lyft driver, or whatever is around them and turn it into the thing they need.
So maybe I’m just more like the catalyst in the sense that I can help start the reaction, but I’m not there in the end result.
21. Some parents are not the best.
I tutored students with learning difficulties and helped them learn to coordinate with their guidance counselors and teachers etc. I was kinda the go between for a lot of these kids whose parents had no idea what to do.
One of my students was one of a few siblings. Parents were totally checked out and self absorbed, entitled, expected others to do everything for them and the state to pay for everything so they don’t have to work because they don’t feel like it. They were convinced his adhd was his fault and he wasn’t sad or anything, just bad at school (because his twin brother had been using the “I’m depressed” statement for years as a reason for him to refuse to go to class or do any homework and instead play video games and hang out with a not so good crowd. his brother was evaluated by mental health professionals over and over who deemed him completely fine just unwilling to work hard because he didn’t want to and expect the state to take care of him like it did his mom and dad…this was a whole other story) But this kid was drowning in himself and I saw it and so did others. I sat his parents down and told them if they didn’t get their s**t together and get him some help, he wasn’t going to make it. Period. It was crisis level bad and his brothers issues were being reflected on him as the same thing and thus ignored.
I finally got his guidance counselor involved and laid it all out. This kid needs help, his parents are ignoring it, his other older brother is trying to help but can’t, the twin brothers issues are being used as a reason why “nothings wrong with him, he needs to try harder”, the extended family isn’t close enough to do anything but know there’s a problem (they were calling me at this point), and I can’t watch this kid loose this battle. She was on board the second I informed her and jumped right in to coordinate help.
3 months later I watched him walk across the stage graduating with honors, on track with a good mental health plan, a therapist, and his grandparents directly involved in supporting him.
He’s off to trade school as of last year.
22. You’ve gotta love that.
I am a private practice therapist. I had a long term client I saw for over 2 years who was able to overcome so much (poor support, negative self talk with some suicidal thoughts, trouble regulating emotions, using substances to escape, etc).
She ended up moving away but checks in with me from time to time. Her life has completely changed and is doing so well now.
23. Sometimes it’s a simple answer.
when I was a Patient at the psychiatric ward there was another patient who I still think of sometimes. When she arrived she was so white and apathic. Some days later I met her in the halls of the facilities and she looked way better. So I talked to her to get her story.
She was brought in because she had d**nk various cleaning products after 14 days without any sleep. She just wanted to sleep and didn’t know any further – I guess it was kinda like a psychotic episode. When she arrived they pumped everything out of her and fortunately she didn’t had any long term damage.
The doctors found out that she couldn’t sleep because of menopausal issues so she got sleep medication and hormones for menopause. When I talked to her she already had slept two nights in a row and she looked so much better, was smiling and talkative.
She said herself she didn’t know what happened to her. Being without sleep made her into a completely different person. I was so happy that she felt better. Overall she just stayed about a week.
Came to us like a ghost. Left us full of life. It was amazing
24. Most people have a reason.
I’m a therapist inside and outside of the prisons. I’d say at least 1x a month I meet an inmate that was likely a major piece of s**t when they committed their crimes
Fast forward 10-20 years of incarceration later, and they are intellectual, hardworking men of integrity. It’s amazing what a little bit of structure can do for someone.
25. It happens to men, too.
I’m a therapist and mine is one of my clients getting out of a ridiculous, controlling relationship. He had difficulty conceptualizing that abusive (emotional and physical) relationships can happen to men and it was so bad that he internalized all those negative feelings.
I’m talking about significant, bat-sh%t controlling too like “send me a snap every 10 min, no even LOOKING at other girls, you aren’t allowed to be outside” type of thing.
Working through all of those issues over years was super satisfying to see his progress and recovery.
26. Tell the truth to yourself, first.
I spent most of my childhood depressed and chronically wanting to throw myself off a cliff. There was abuse and a lot of trauma that doesn’t need to be detailed. But I spent pretty much all of high school suicidal and self-harming. College was slightly better but about the same. I never looked depressed mind you, I was high functioning and I always did well in school, etc.
My parents knew but did nothing. I was also dealing with a lot of internalized homophobia and coming to terms with my s**uality in a strict religious environment that had no room for me. I ended up a lesbian married to an abusive man, with a decades long history of trauma, self-harm, etc.
I started therapy four years ago now. Something my therapist instilled in me from the beginning was this: once you can tell the truth about your life, then you can start to create a better story.
She taught me to identify the terrible things I had endured at the hands of the people who should have protected me. She taught me to bring those truths into the light, see them fully, and grieve the childhood I didn’t have and the way that followed me into adulthood. She helped me identify the ways I was perpetuating toxic cycles as a result of trauma: in my relationships with other people and also in my relationship with myself. She reminded me over and over again, that it was not my responsibility to create safety for myself as a child, but it is my responsibility now to protect the child inside myself.
It is my responsibility now, to do better than people did to me. She taught me that I could trust myself to know what I need and what I want and what I deserve. She showed me what my life had been, held my hand and pulled me through all the paralyzing, desperate things I did to cope, and then asked me what I wanted instead, and what I could do to build that. She gave me permission to imagine better and then build better.
So I came out. I named what happened to me and stop trying to keep all the abuse a secret. I left my abusive ex. I quit the job that was k**ling me. I stopped drinking. I started taking medication. And it was absolutely terrifying. But I knew that I had built a trust in myself and I could trust myself to take care of myself. I believed there was a version of life that could be as good as I wanted it to be. I leapt.
And now I live in a beautiful city with the kindest woman I have ever known, whose love feels like coming home. Whose touch is gentle. Who knows every tiny thing about me. I do work I love. I have the derpiest dog to ever exist. I sleep well, which is a new thing. I say yes when I mean yes, and no when I mean no. I don’t abandon myself anymore.
Things can get better. Not overnight. Not without a f**k ton of pain and nights spent possibly sobbing on your kitchen floor. But it is possible for things to get better. And it’s also possible for things to get worse, and for you to not be alone in that, which is a different sort of better.
I owe my life to my therapist. Truly.
These just make my heart happy, y’all.
If you’re a therapist, what’s a moment that made it worth it to you? Share with us in the comments!