With therapeutic power comes great responsibility

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I am not a reader of fantasy or the fantastic. Rather, I glean inspiration from the biographies of real-life superheroes such as Malala, Schindler or Mandela.

That being said, as a therapist who often works with vulnerable individuals, I find myself thinking fairly often about the motto of Spiderman’s Uncle Ben: With great power comes great responsibility. This is a motto that I live my life by.

Since I am a DBT therapist (and the theoretical framework requires it) and also since it fits with my values, I make it a goal to treat the clients I work with as equals. We are two equal parts of a team: I am the expert on psychological treatment and my patient is the expert on him or herself. Our job is to work together to move the patient closer to having the life he or she wants to have.

But let’s be clear: I’m also the doctor. I’m the one with the Ph.D. I’m the one the vulnerable individual is coming to for help. I’m the one with the power.

This power differential is likely true even if I encourage the person to call me by my first name (which I generally do… I have always shied away from being called Dr. Wisniewski).

So if I have the power, I also have the responsibility.

  • Responsibility to make sure that I am giving my all
  • Responsibility to make sure that I am using treatments that work
  • Responsibility that first, I am doing no harm
  • Responsibility to take care of myself physically and emotionally so I can provide good treatment
  • Responsibility to stay on top of what is new in my field so I can be confident the treatment I offer is cutting edge
  • Responsibility to get consultation if I am feeling stuck or ineffective in my work with a particular individual

This is why I go to conferences, watch YouTube videos of expert therapists, read books. I’m writing this on a plane on my way back home from an eating disorders conference in Canada.

I want you to understand your power and your responsibility.

If you are a therapist, go to conferences, get consultation, stay on top of your field.  Your clients’ lives depend on it.


About the Author:

Dr. Lucene Wisniewski is an internationally recognized leader in eating disorder treatment and Dialectical Behavior Therapy, with more than 25 years of clinical and training experience. She may be reached for consultation through the "contact" page on this website.