She had spent the last hour crying as she had never cried before. Now, she felt stronger. Her eyes glowed with a new understanding and her face reflected a new clarity. As the woman dried her eyes and walked out the door, I remembered again what I loved about being a therapist: it was such a satisfying feeling assisting people to recover their true selves.
This 36 year old woman was leaving my office after spending close to an hour getting in touch with her feelings of grief, sadness, and anger that were the legacy of her childhood emotional abuse and incest. She had come into therapy initially without any remembrance of these traumas but with symptoms including alcoholism and nighttime anxieties. But at this point in her therapy work, she had one year of sobriety to celebrate and the ability to sleep through the night without fear.
As a therapist, I often savor the privilege of being with people in such close ways, to assist them in their exploration to learn who they are and how they got to be the way they are. As a therapist, a counselor, people come to me with a problem to solve, a situation to resolve, a chronic emotional pain to heal. Maybe their relationships are not working the way they'd like or they are unsatisfied with the work they do. In some way or another, they don't feel whole and complete, they sense that life has more to offer, something is holding them back. Whatever the situation, they come to my therapy office wanting to make some changes, and they're willing to do their best to be as real and authentic as possible.
It's so much like watching a flower unfold, a caterpillar become a butterfly. To break out of that cocoon, the butterfly has to do a lot of work and go through a lot of struggle, pain, and suffering. But what a beautiful result! People are the same way, trying to break free of this restrictive (though protective) cocoon-coating that they find themselves in. As their therapist, they ask me to be with them as they go through the process, listen to their tales of struggle and success, offer guidance and structure to their experience, and celebrate with them their wins.
What do I actually do as a therapist? What really goes on in my office? Well, at one level, people come to visit me! That's just a delight! They come at the appointed time and we spend a designated time together. I'm there to listen and really hear what they have to say. I delve into my bag of tricks to elicit how they really feel, to teach them to listen to their own inner voice, to connect with the small child within who has suffered in one way or another. It's a joy to watch people "come into their own," to be with them over time as they learn to love and respect themselves for who they are rather than who they think they ought to be.
One of the most delightful (and challenging) aspects of my work is that people so often come in dealing with the same issues and patterns that I'm learning to deal with in my own life. My clients keep me honest! I'm not kidding when I say I might be two weeks ahead of them in learning how best to resolve one of the myriad dilemmas that life likes to pose. The best therapists are those who have learned from their own experience because the wisdom you need as a counselor doesn't only come from the books!
So, being a therapist to me means always having to take that next step in my own personal growth, to confront the next opportunity that so often presents itself as a problem. "Life is for learning," one of the old rock ballads says and, in my business you can't afford to take too much of a break. It makes for a very vibrant lifestyle, let me tell you! My wife, Linda, is also a therapist and we sometimes see couples together. It's not all that unusual for us as a couple to confront a problem, to run into a rough spot in our relationship, and then see that same problem in one of our couples a few weeks later. It's almost like we're being taught how to resolve a dilemma so we'll be able to help out one of our clients soon after.