The age old argument, “How could someone possibly help me if they have not experienced what I have experienced?” On the surface, this argument makes sense. No-one can truly know what it is like to be in your shoes, except you. There is another side to this argument, however, in that it may not be about truly understanding --- it is not that another person needs to completely understand what it is to have had your experiences, it is that they can empathize and validate you for what you have experienced AND help you to gain a different perspective.
Empathy is the capacity to feel for another being. Validation means acknowledging the feelings or situation without necessarily agreeing. This type of response is normally what you get when talking to a close friend or family member. A therapist is trained to respond differently, in that it is not necessarily their understanding of exactly how you are feeling based upon your experience, but their ability to help you find your own way. That’s right, therapy is not about advice giving or recommending a path for you, it is about helping you to find your own path. When confronted with this argument, I often use the following metaphor:
“We are all climbing our own mountain of life. I am over here climbing my mountain and you are over there climbing yours. From my perspective and the climb that I have made, I can see your path from a different perspective. Despite the fact that I do not have experience climbing your mountain because I am over here climbing mine, my different perspective of your climb may have some value. I am able to point out patterns, unconscious habits, or barriers that may be keeping you stuck. And armed with this knowledge of a different perspective, it may be easier for you to find your way up the mountain. That is the goal of therapy, not advice giving or “I know what it’s like.” Because I don’t, and most likely no one does, even if they have had similar experiences. This is because you are uniquely you, and see life in a unique way, despite similarities in experiences.”
Summed up, I believe everyone has their own answers. At times, there are situations, places, people or things that blind us from making the best choices for ourselves. It is not always about someone having the same experience, but you learning to understand for yourself what is keeping you stuck on your path. And this is the goal of therapy, to help you get YOURSELF unstuck.