As somewhat of a follow-up from my last post, I want to dive into the reason why I would cry a lot after a day of work.
For anyone who knows me, or has even read my about page, you will know that the idea of becoming a therapist fell into my lap.
I never wanted to do this, in fact, I don’t think I have ever met someone who can remember as a little kid thinking
I want to be a therapist when I get older.”
Most people’s conceptions of therapists are people who sit behind a couch and analyze every word that comes out of their “patient’s” mouth. The media portrays therapy as something that is secretive and for crazy people. The stigma is out there and there are still a lot of people who feel that way.
I Want To Set The Record Straight Here
The type of therapy where you lay on a couch and have someone analyze you is a real kind of therapy; it’s called psychoanalysis.
Freud was the founder of psychoanalysis and he believed that our subconscious holds a lot of stuff and that gets in the way of us feeling the emotions we want to feel now (it is in fact more complicated, but that’s it in a nutshell).
Therapy has since come a very long way but there are still a good number of psychotherapists out there.
I am not one of them.
I was trained in systems thinking, which is actually very different than psychoanalysis.
My training involved (and still involves) looking at people in the context of their environment. Everything effects everyone if you will. My training is with groups of people and how their interactions impact in good and bad ways each other.
Here is Where The Therapy Part Fell into My Lap
I have always thought this way
I specifically remember in college when a group of us would go out to a party and three out of the five girls would get really drunk so the two that were left (me and someone else) would have to take care of them.
That meant walk them home, help them make the right choices in terms of whom they found attractive at the moment, hold their hair back if they got sick, and put them to bed.
On those walks, I would think to myself
Why would you let yourself get to the place where someone else has to take care of you?”
What about me?
I was having fun, and now I have to play Mom for someone else. Why didn’t they think about anyone else?
I have always been hyper aware of the sound of my music so I did not disturb my roommate who was watching television.
I have always thought in systemic ways.
My training as a therapist has lead me to working with very intense clients because that is the most needed and the places where I could get my feet wet.
My training taught me to blend part of the toolbox of interventions I have learned with me being a human being. As a family based therapist where we (my partner and I—family based model has co-therapists) would travel to people’s homes to do therapy, I remember one specific case where I first allowed myself to be a human.
Please note, this is not for the faint hearted.
I refuse to sugar coat it though because it is important for people to know the realty in which we live
Our client was a boy, a 12 year-old, whose family was a complete mess.
There were three kids, and a Mom, and a Dad who were in a very abusive relationship.
Their house was a disaster with lots of pets running around, ripped couch, smoke filled, with stuff everywhere.
It looked and smelled like the place had not been cleaned in months. We met with Mom individually and that’s when she disclosed the abuse she was going through with her husband, who refused to participate in sessions.
Mom sat next to me on the couch with a cigarette barely staying lit in her nervously shaking hand.
It Was As If The Cigarette Did Not Want To Be There Either…
We brought her a milkshake to session because when we had seen her that past Monday at 2:00 pm, she was still in her bathrobe and told us she had just thrown up.
In our clinical supervision, we were advised to do whatever we could to get her to trust us because she was going to be the force behind any hope for change.
Step one in trust building is to meet clients where they are and I saw her as someone who had forgotten that she was worthy of being taken care of.
We brought her her favorite flavor, chocolate and watched as she cried while she drank it.
She continuously thanked us and all I told her was,
Expect a surprise every time we come here.”
So as we sat next to each other, she started to tell us when it got bad.
She was holding onto these dreams of the marriage and household she had with her previous husband and that was keeping her stuck in this current relationship.
She looked up at me with tears streaming down her face and said,
is this as good as it gets?”
I felt the hot tears roll down my cheek and I leaned into her and gave her a hug.
I did not have any words for her, but stayed in the embrace for as long as she needed me to.
As she pulled back and sniffled, she said, “I am so glad you are here.”
My partner reassured her that we would keep coming back to her home to help things change. We both felt a shift from that session.
No one ever heard her. No one ever held her feelings, even just for a little while so she did not have to carry them on her shoulders.
In the following months…
The family was able to change homes and Dad decided that he would join sessions because he wanted things to get better.
We had a few successful sessions with him where it felt like some of the ice melted from around him so he could emotionally be there for his wife.
We ended up having to discharge the family from our program, however, because during one of the sessions Dad told us that he had gotten upset the night before at one of the kids. He had been drinking and his child made him angry so he pointed a gun in their face.
Immediately, I felt terrified, but had to shove that feeling aside and switch into crisis mode as a therapist.
My partner and I asked him where the gun was and if it was being stored safely.
Dad got upset that we were questioning him and left session in his truck. We had Mom search for the gun and ensure us that she would call the police if she feels like the kids are in danger.
We left and got into my partner’s car and looked at each other.
We had to do my least favorite thing to do as a therapist.
We had to file a child abuse report against the father.
We made the call and were silent the whole way back to the office.
As I went to get out of my car, my partner grabbed my arm and said, “I’m going to call you in five minutes.” I nodded and got into my car and sobbed. I felt so many emotions and my partner called and we both talked about our shared feelings.
We discovered early on the importance of the two of us processing our emotional sessions afterward, because honestly,
No One Else Would Understand
No one else COULD understand.
We were so emotionally close with the mom and the kids and to hear that such a scary and dangerous act had happened was terrifying and sad all smushed together.
We also knew that the ramifications of making that report would not be good. Needless to say, my partner got a phone call from that dad the next day after he had been contacted by authorities.
He knew it was us who had made the call because we were the only ones who heard it. He requested for us to come to his house so we could talk about it. I was very scared for my own safety, but felt that the kids’ safety was more at risk.
Half way there, the dad calls again and leaves a voicemail threatening that if we step foot on his property, we would be shot.
So, we turned the car around and filed another report.
At that point, the children were taken away from the home due to how much violence there was.
I felt as though I had failed. I felt like I failed the mom, I failed the dad, and I failed the kids. It was my job to keep them in that home. I was my job to help initiate change.
I never got to say goodbye to the kids, but did get to see Mom one last time at the domestic violence shelter she went to.
She Thanked Me
She thanked me for showing her that she is worthy of love.
She pledged to me that she would do everything in her power to get back on her feet and to try to get her kids back.
Okay, so I warned you that it was heavy.
It is still emotional thinking about it now. I think about that family a lot, much like the other families with whom I have worked.
In thinking about systems and how they impact others, therapy is a system in and of itself.
I am simply a human who was born to do this job.
My job involves emotions whereas most jobs are the opposite. My job involves safety, and interventions, and violence, and crying, and pride, and successes.
When I go through therapy with a family, I allow myself to get invested because that is what a good therapist does.
I no longer feel responsible for families as I had when I first started in this field because I know that you have to meet a family where they are.
Some families are not ready for change. In allowing myself to get invested, I also allow myself to feel an extreme amount of emotions all of which I need to manage throughout the session.
By the end of the day, I have a stockpile of some good emotions, but mostly bad ones.
Therapists have to wear many hats throughout their day: therapist, friend, holder of truths, holder of lies, holder of raw emotions… to name a few.
Being in a giving profession takes a lot from a therapist, but when it gives back, it is amazing. That “thank you” will always be in my heart.
— Wherever you are, I hope you feel worthy of being taken care of —