Can you wear bright pink lipstick as a therapist or counsellor, or should you strive to be as neutral as humanly possible? When I was studying to become a Psychomotor Therapist, our teachers would remind us that as a therapist you needed to be as neutral as possible. You were supposed to be a vessel for healing, a catalyst for the client’s own healing capacity, and thus you needed to be as least distracting and personal as possible – when engaging with your clients, you basically had to be a blank canvas both pertaining to looks and personality. I even remember my psychology professor telling us how she’d refused to say “you’re welcome” to a client thanking her for a session. She saw this as a personal exchange of courtesy, that she shouldn’t engage in as a professional.
We were repeatedly told how it was of uttermost importance to make sure to wear neutral clothes, to never wear nail polish and by all means abstain from wearing lipstick. I understood where my teachers were coming from, as I remembered good ol’e Freud having his back turned to his clients (or patients, as he would say) for the entire duration of the psychoanalysis session in an attempt of neutrality. The sparse interaction Mr. F would have with his patients would usually consist of the odd “hmmpf” and the rare question. This approach was based on the idea of psychology as a science and an attempt to eliminate the “scientist’s” influence on the subject.
However, (you knew this was coming!) times have changed and so have our understanding of human nature. Yes, as therapists, coaches, psychologist, counsellors etc. we’re lucky to be vessels and catalysts for healing. But how do we obtain that position? By being who we are. By using ourselves – our personalities – as a tool to reach the client in the way he or she needs it the most.
When I engage with clients, I use my humor, my empathy, my ability to understand my client deeply and get to the core of the problem in a loving way. All aspects that you can’t really learn from a text book. Those qualities are a part of who I am – my personality. I will always say “you’re very welcome” and depending on the situation I might hug my client instead of shaking her hand. Wearing lipstick is also a part of who I am, an extremely tiny, unimportant and somewhat ridiculous part of the bigger picture, but nonetheless a part – I like wearing lipstick and I usually do. I never really was a very *neutral* person and pretending to be someone I’m not would only be inauthentic and hinder my ability to reach my clients in the purest way.
As a therapist you are the toolbox with your degree, skills, experience – and your personality too – and lipstick or nail polish or a shaved head or a nose ring, tattoo or mohawk adds to that – it doesn’t take away from it. You should get to be who you are, regardless of what that looks like. Therapist or not.