What do you wear when you are working as a therapist? Read on to find out how I choose my clothes, and why I wear the things I do. Fashion and CBT not the most likely of topics, but a subject that I find quite intriguing.
When I first started my CBT training, I asked my clinical supervisor ‘what should I wear when I start to see clients?’ He looked at me puzzled and replied ‘Clothes, Alieshia!’. ‘Very funny’, I said but seriously, I said, ‘how do I know what to wear?’. He looked at me again and could see I genuinely wanted advice. He said ‘as a woman you don’t want to wear anything that is too revealing, simply because it is too distracting for clients’. I said ‘yes, I had already thought that, I have never worn anything that shows my cleavage or is too short whenever I have worked in the caring profession. I agree. But apart from that how do I know what to wear?’ He looked at me again, surprised that I still was not satisfied with his answer. He looked down at himself and said, ‘I just wear this’. He was wearing a pair of jeans and a polo shirt. I looked at him and said ‘Yes, that is fine, but you have many years of experience and look your age, I don’t’.
My issue is that I look very young. Only the other week my new cardiologist started asking my Mum about my usual energy levels at home. My Mum had to turn round and say, sorry Dr S****** but Alieshia lives with her husband, she is actually 29. He turned round and apologised to me, he had thought I was still a teenager, living at home.
I feel that if I turned up to meet clients in a polo shirt and jeans that I would look so young that they may doubt my clinical capability and lose confidence in the therapeutic process, which would be counter-productive. For me personally it’s important for me to dress in a way that looks professional and choose an outfit that makes me look at least 20, I mean this sincerely, I do not jest. I have discussed clothing with some other therapists. My colleagues do not have the age issue to contend with but are honest with me, and can understand why it is important for me to dress in way which enhances my age.
So aside from the age issue, what other factors are there to consider when I dress for work?
For me I think it’s great that my first clinical supervisor wore casual clothes. On one level, I believe what you wear should not matter, CBT is a collaboration and not a platform for power dressing. By wearing jeans, it could convey the message that ‘I am relaxed, it’s ok for you to be too’. I can particularly appreciate how this might be great when working with children and young people. Business attire can sometimes be intimidating. However for me personally I believe that dressing smartly (not a three piece suit or anything, but smart trousers, top and shoes) conveys to my client ‘I respect you and have made an effort to dress this way. I am a professional and I want you to have confidence in that from everything, from the way I speak, the content of what I say, the way I conduct myself and what I wear’.
Some therapeutic approaches discourage from any personal expression and therapists will wear exactly the same outfit, or extremely similar clothing to each session. CBT is not like that, I have never come across any literature that discusses proper work attire! I still feel able to express my personality through my clothing and make-up without being distracting to my clients, whilst still being professional. What do you think about what your therapist wears? Are you a mental health professional, have you ever considered your work attire? Let me know in the comments below, or send me a tweet.
On a final note I shall leave you with this memory…… I wore a yellow top one day with matching yellow nail polish. In the morning my client said to me ‘Alieshia, you look like a ray of sunshine’. The next day my supervisor said to me (I had a different top on, but the same nail polish) ‘Alieshia, that is the most disgusting colour nail polish I have ever seen. It’s horrible’. Make of that what you will!