A psychotherapist thinks out loud about Being Human, and stuff…

I come from a solidly blue collar background. My parents and grandparents were all middle class people, not long off their Oklahoma farms, who valued hard work and knew how to make things with their hands. My grandfather was one of those guys who could actually build a house, from the ground up. He taught me, for example, to never walk by a screw or a nut, a washer or even a nail on the ground, without picking it up. To this day, like most people of my generation, I keep containers of screws, bolts and nails, ready to make small repairs or hang pictures without a trip to the hardware store.

I learned that a job isn’t finished until it’s done- that is, when you’ve put your tools away and cleaned up the area. Then, you get to stand back and admire your work. There are few feelings as satisfying as viewing the results of your labor: you have made a change for the better. Whatever it was, it is now repaired or rebuilt and painted and ready for more years of use. Good job.

So, it’s odd that I have come to a profession in which I can’t be sure that the last hour’s work was useful. Every therapist knows the experience of having a client tell them, perhaps months later, that an offhand comment the therapist can’t even remember making was a life changing moment. Conversely, we all know the experience of thinking we’ve moved the very earth in our last session, and then having the client admit she can’t remember a thing we said. It’s a humbling experience, a reality check and a reminder that in my business we can influence, but we cannot control the outcome of a session or of the entire course of therapy.

That’s a good thing. As I’ve said earlier, my job, as I see it, is to create an environment in which my client is able to take chances that lead to discovery. I won’t pretend I have no hand in that, but it’s my client’s work and it’s happening within her. I might think I know what’s happening at any given moment, but mostly I’m making an educated guess. Neither of us may know, at the moment, that something profound has happened. For all that we try, certainties are rare in this work.

So it is that, when the fifty minutes are over, and it’s time for me to put away my tools and clean up, I can’t know what has been accomplished, not really. I always hold the faith that we did the best work we were capable of, but (as the old saw has it) time will tell. It’s a far cry from painting a wall or even replacing a washer, but we’ve done the best we can, and that has to be enough, for now. Progress, not perfection. Good is good enough.

Thank you for reading, and be well, all.

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Comments on: "Such a Business, continued….." (6)

  1. Robert Toren said:

    Thanks for that

  2. ok I finally figured out how to follow… or subscribe… or whatever… geezzz… feel like I’m losin my grip on technology 🙂

    • I feel that way a lot, Rick. Not sure if it’s a good thing or not, but it generally makes me feel a little nuts. Don’t ask me how that could be a good thing.

  3. This is why I find cooking for workshops so gratifying. I cook, people eat, they are happy, they thank me, they go home with inspiration to eat healthy, delicious food. End of interaction, and the outcome is fairly clear. My work with clients, on the other hand — not so clear. As you say here, this is “a profession in which I can’t be sure that the last hour’s work was useful.” I do usually ask how this session was, did we get at what you needed. Just asking the question allows us to jump up to a meta-level and look at our time together from there – and just that shift of perspective can be helpful.

    But this is not a quick process we are engaged in, and patience and the willingness to sit in not-knowing are perhaps some of the most important skills I’ve developed along the way. Still a nice change to cook for people and send them off satisfied!

  4. Precisely, Selene. “Patience and the willingness to sit in not-knowing”. Sharing the human experience, in all its uncontrollable unpredictability. That’s the work. And, I love cooking for people, too. Thanks for commenting.
    Btw, notice that I included a link to your website on my page. Trust that’s okay with you. I’ll be adding more, but you were the person I wanted to start with.
    Love…..

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