Dear Douglas,


Do you like being a psychologist? Don’t you get depressed or worried about the people who come to you with the problems they have? How do you enjoy yourself, when you listen to the problems of everyone else each day? For me, I tire of hearing my friends complain too much, especially when they don’t do anything to change. Does that happen to you… do you get tired of hearing the problems?


— Just Curious


Hello JC,


Thank you for asking about me and the way that my job affects my outlook on life. It is something that clients should know about. First, let me correct one small thing. I am a psychotherapist, not a psychologist or a psychiatrist.


A psychologist, in America, has a PhD in psychology. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor whose specialty is psychological illnesses. I have a master’s degree and am trained to offer psychotherapy. Those terms are often confusing, and many people don’t know those differences. It can be even more confusing in a place like Vietnam, where those terms can mean something different, depending on what country a person was trained in.


Your questions are good ones. Do I get depressed or worried because of what the client shares with me? Do I get tired of hearing the problems?


My answer is not Yes or No. Of course, I feel sad or some of the pain another person feels when they are suffering emotionally. I can never feel what they feel, but I can feel some of it and try to understand where it comes from.


I have accepted that life is difficult and that sometimes reality is quite harsh and painful. I have heard many stories of what people are living with, both what has happened to them, but also their inner life, how they have unwanted feelings of anxiety, sadness or depression. I think it is because I am not afraid to know this side of life, that people can share with me the truth of their experiences. Being a psychotherapist has taught me the power of empathy.


When people open up and share their deepest pain, they feel less alone, they feel heard and accepted, they feel a connection that we all want and need. I feel good about it because, while the problems people share with me are not inside my control, the ways that I can offer help and understanding is. So the pain I share is coupled with the good feeling of being helpful and doing something that feels meaningful to me.


Therapy is structured in a way to help this happen. Psychotherapists usually meet with people for an hour-long session once a week for several weeks. It creates a ‘container’, a time/place where everything that is said and done is contained and confidential. The help I offer, through listening and sharing ideas, happens inside of that container. What I can do is done then and there. Sometimes I think about my clients and what is the best way to help, but I know that it is in the session that the work is done.


I learnt something that I tell my clients quite often. My own well-being is the gift I give to others. To me it means that my first responsibility is to myself, to doing the things that make my life enjoyable and meaningful. My physical and emotional health need to be maintained through conscious decisions and practices. There are many ways to engage the body, to get exercise, and many ways to explore how to bring happiness, joy and well-being into our lives. I am a big fan of creative expression and playfulness. I practice mindfulness in a variety of ways. I see the value of being productive and continually learning, to my well-being. All of those methods of living life influence how it is that I can be open and receptive to the pain and struggles which people bring to me.


I read somewhere that we cannot choose whether life will offer us pain. But we can choose whether we suffer. I believe we suffer less when we feel connected and cared for, something we can all do.


Thank you for asking about how it is to do my work.




— Douglas


Do you have a question you would like Douglas’s help with? You can email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Personal details will not be printed

Douglas Holwerda

Douglas is an American trained psychotherapist, writer of the Dear Abby-esque monthly column in the Word, "Dear Douglas". He holds to the notion that the living of life is a creative endeavour... an eternal adventure without promises. And that we are both shaped by the journey and the shapers of what is possible. Our greatest hope is to find love and connection along the way. Live it all.

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