The Beginner’s Mind: Letting Go of Therapy Ego

The beginner’s mind is Buddhist concept, which refers to practicing with a sense of openness, humility, and a sense of newness. That is, rather than approaching life or experiences as an expert, can you cultivate a beginner’s mind by dropping preconceived notions and expectations, previously held beliefs and attitudes, and approach every day and experience as if it were your first?

When we approach our world with a beginner’s mind, we are able to step away from the ego, our identities, our “knowing”. From that space of openness, we learn new things, we approach life with a sense of humility, and we may see things that were right in front of us but we failed to recognize before because we were approaching things as an “expert”.

So, how does this apply to our work as healers and counselors? It can be a common theme as a healer to get caught up in your ego, in your expertness, in your knowledge as you approach your work with clients. Yes you’ve treated trauma, anxiety, depression, self esteem issues…but have you ever treated this specific client, couple, or family before? Could your standard approaches lack cultural sensitivity? Could your preconceived notions and conceptualization be misguided if you put people into categories? Could you miss important information or healing opportunities if you lack the curiosity of the beginner’s mind?

What if our preconceived notions of healing are wrong, or need to be further defined? The field of counseling was founded by white men. Of course, some of our techniques and beliefs hold room for improvement. Of course we’ve learned along the way that some ways of “treating” people are just wrong or harmful (ex: conversion therapy, level systems, consequencing behaviors). If we fail to approach our work with a beginner’s mind, we miss opportunities for improvement, for growth, and for treating each client as the unique individual they are. 

When we approach our work as healers from the mind of the “expert”, we attempt to heal others through the ego. Healing from the ego will produce limited outcomes, and may have consequences on the therapeutic relationship. Big egos feel unsafe, uncomfortable, and untrusting to many…all ingredients which we need the opposite of to set the space for big healing to occur.

How one goes about healing from the beginner’s mind begins with self reflection and awareness. Sometimes our “expert” mind gets triggered because we don’t know what to do, we feel out of our scope of practice, we feel incompetent, we are burnt out or have vicarious trauma, or we are in a toxic ego driven work environment. Notice your triggers or themes, and start to invite more ease into these sticky points. Give yourself permission to not be an expert, to not know it all, to be a beginner in every situation.

There is deep wisdom in not knowing and uncertainty. Invite the beginner into your work, into your life, and notice what happens.