Every Client Tells a Story
The young woman was friendly but wary. Her eyes would meet mine, then dart away to gaze into some middle distance. She had the “flat affect” I’d learned about in my classes: her voice betrayed little emotion and she rarely smiled, but didn’t show much anger or sadness, either. As she recounted a life of multiple traumas and disappointments, I started to say, “Have you ever thought about seeing a therapist?” Then I remembered…that would be me. I’m the therapist here.
She was my first client. If she detected my inexperience, she didn’t show it (bless her heart), and she remains my client to this day. I’ve become more comfortable thinking of myself as a therapist since then (the “uh-oh” moments are fewer now), but my interest in human thought and behavior is as keen as it ever was, if not more so. As a writer, I love a good story, and everybody has one. As one who’s had more than her share of life experience, and spent a fair amount of time on her own therapy, I think I’m pretty intuitive. I’ve cultivated that quality that’s essential to all good therapists: empathy. Yet I’m never more compelled by someone than when they prove me wrong.
The truth is, I love my clients. I love them for their courage, their resilience, and their willingness to dig deep into their souls in their quest for a better life. I love them for their honesty and their loyalty, their faith in the idea that somehow, perhaps, if they just keep showing up…maybe things will get better. I love them for the way they goad me into being the best person I can be so I can feel I deserve their trust. I love them for the way they shine a mirror into my own psyche and force me to keep working on myself and my craft. I love them for the way they seem to overlook or at least forgive my most egregious mistakes. Each new session is another chance.
And I love them for their stories. I love the way they unfold before me, week after week, so that after seeing a person for a few months I realize that they are, in fact, someone very different than I thought at our first meeting. All too often, people are limited in the number of psychotherapy sessions they can attend, due to finances, the vagaries of their insurance coverage, or some other aspect of life circumstances. That’s a pity, because it takes time to know what makes someone tick, how his mind works, what her patterns of thought and behavior really are. And only then, in my opinion, can you really get down to the work of helping them grow.
In this blog I will share my experiences as a newly minted psychotherapist as I try to help my clients wrestle with issues that are at once personal yet universal (confidentiality will be strictly upheld). Sometimes I’ll explore an ethical or philosophical question elicited by something that’s come up in a session; other times I’ll share something I’ve come across in the news that I think would be of interest to a wider audience. My hope is that you’ll ponder these issues also, and perhaps get an idea of what things look like from the therapist’s chair. As in a good novel, certain classic themes seem to emerge in each person’s life – but the variations on those themes are infinite. That’s where the real story lies.
Your questions and comments are welcome.