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Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanks to My Clients

Dear Clients  I Saw Today,
I just wanted to say, "thanks." Thanks for coming and bringing yourself to the room to sit and talk with me. Thanks for stopping and taking the time to ask me about my holidays, too, and my comfort, instead of just yours. It means a lot to me, you know, when you see me as a person and not just a "service provider."

Thanks for humoring me and answering my silly, odd questions. Thanks for being honest with me even when you didn't like where the conversation was going, and for being willing to come back, even though I can't fix your problems like you hoped I could. Thanks for engaging with me and trusting me with your stuff. It means a lot, and helps me feel successful at my job.

Thanks for telling me about your happy moments, not just your sad ones. I love to hear your stories. I love to discover who you are under the veil of all that stress that brought you to me. You really are so special and brilliant. I feel privileged to be the one to see you and hear you. Not enough people give the time it takes to really watch another person unveil their wonderfulness, and I'm glad its me. Its like being a treasure hunter. I am amazed at your senses of humor, your way of seeing the world, and your compassion for others. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself with me.

I hope my fondness for you eeks through. I don't always find it easy to express my delight at who you are, or my intense love for you, because of my own hang ups, and because of the restrictiveness of our relationship. I can't give you a big hug or invite you to my house for the holidays. I can't always tell you how much I am your side. But I just want you to know I really love who you are. I really love getting to see you. I sure wish I could do more for you, did you know that? That it stresses me out to send you back out the door with the same problems? But I am amazed and impressed by how much you succeed even with the burdens you carry.

So thanks for sharing your life with this random stranger. Thanks.

Perks of Being a Therapist

Being a therapist has its perks. Other than getting paid to sit and talk to people all day long (something I would doing ANYWAYS!), there are certain therapeutic mentalities which fit really nicely with my own needs. Therapists all are about "congruence." What congruence means for mental health professionals, is being candid with their clients. This isn't always easy, or appropriate ("I'm totally scared of you," for example, would probably be an inappropriate use of congruence), but it means I am free to be a big basket case who makes mistakes all the time. If I mess up, I can say, "I'm really sorry, I messed up" or "whoops, I forgot" instead of having to put on a big show if I forget a family member's name or mischedule people. I can also express genuine positive emotions with my clients. If I think about them outside of work, I tell them, "I couldn't stop thinking about what you said at our last session," or "I was really worried about you!" When I am brave, I also share my dilemmas in a way you normally don't get to in a professional setting: "I'm torn on what to tell you, because on the one hand I totally get why you cussed that kid out, but I don't want to encourage you to do that again because it keeps getting you suspended."

When I first started, I would get easily flustered when I made a mistake or didn't have things perfect in my room. Now I'm learning to address what's going on instead of pretending everything's perfect when its not. People seem to move on faster if something is addressed. Its pretty nice, being able to be a genuine, flawed human girl instead of a perfect entity.

I try not to live in a vacuum, because I can't. Sometimes I'm really tired, and its better to say, "I'm sorry I yawned, its not you- I'm just tired today, " than try to act like I'm not. The clients smile and say, "me too, " and we move on. It is also helpful to let them be a human back to me, and to give them short answers about my life. "Thanks, I had a nice Halloween...I passed out candy. What did you do?" Pretending I don't exist outside this office doesn't really help anybody. Most people seem to prefer talking to a flesh and blood human.

I remember in Grad school, I asked the head of my program why she went into therapy 30 years or so ago.  I expected some lofty answer. She said "I haven't a clue," and smiled. I loved the honesty of that moment.

Sometimes, I have failed at being congruent. I have found it difficult to tell the truth when a client makes me angry. I have found it difficult to admit if I forgot to do something for them that I was supposed to do.

But I work on it, and try to give of myself as much as I can, and improve the rest of the time. Which is what I hope for my clients, too. And you know what? I find myself really enjoying that kind of mutuality with my clients. As much as the therapy is about them, its also about how they relate with me. The families that really succeed are the ones with which I form a strong relationship with goes both ways. If I can accept them as valuable, but real people, and they can accept me the same way, well, the work is almost already done!