This semester I was asked to write a reflection about my growth as a person and as a therapist. I thought what I wrote might be worth sharing (and this helps me continue to procrastinate on my finals…so…). Enjoy:
I have changed so much since I began this program. I started with the idea that I needed to learn the Right way. The Right therapy, the Right advice, the Right techniques. The Right order at exactly the Right time. As if sitting with a person, with a million complex emotions and feelings, could be that simple. As if there even is a Right way. But nothing is black or white. Nothing is simple. And after sitting in my role plays, searching my heart and wracking my brain, it hit me. There is no right. There is only here and now. This moment, this person, and me. And suddenly things changed. My mind wasn’t jumping ahead thinking What am I going to say next? Or What was the next item on the agenda?
I was simply present.
I was sitting, listening, making space for pain, and giving permission for someone to just feel. I was giving them their own space so that they could be true to themselves without other voices telling them what to be.
But at the same time, I am so much of the same person. I still have a passion for this work, but I know when to say No, I need a break. I still wholeheartedly believe people can change and heal, but knowing my role in this is critical. I still let my empathy drive me, but I’ve gotten pretty good at taking the reins, too. At my core, I see things the same way, my horizon has just expanded. I see more of the picture than I thought was possible. I’ve seen what’s outside the box.
And I like it.
I feel calm. I feel confident. I feel good. There really isn’t any other way to describe it. I’ve got so many new tools in my toolbox. Tools that I didn’t think I’d ever get. Tools that I didn’t think I’d ever need. But I have slowly (very, very slowly) begun to utilize them. And I plan on keeping my toolbox open.
In my initial reflection at the beginning of this year, there was one line I wrote that stuck out to me when I re-read it. I said, I want to help everyone and sometimes that costs me my peace. I felt sad re-reading that. At times I was a doormat, happily stepped on time and time again. At times I was a hanger, holding others up, constantly supportive, and bearing the weight so others didn’t have to.
I used to take pride in this.
I used to feel that this was one of my biggest strengths. I used to feel that helping someone the Right (there’s that word again) way required you to do all you could. I was the go-to friend. The I-will-always-be-there-for-you-even-if-you-treat-me-like-crap friend. The sure-you-can-dump-your-problems-on-me-without-reciprocation friend. I’m exhausted thinking back on it. But that is not love. That is not friendship. That is not helping. Expending yourself to the point where you feel burned out is not okay. It took me awhile to see it, and with a smaller circle, I understand now.
And this has completely changed the way I see my role as a counselor. I no longer see it as my job to save someone. And thank God because what a horrible, heavy burden it was. I am a supporter. Someone to accompany them on this journey. Providing a place to heal. Providing resources, working towards goals. But mainly listening. No, always listening. When my (roleplay) clients got better, I saw it as their accomplishment, not mine. It was their hardwork, their determination, their resilience. They are the hero in their story, not me. Reducing my responsibility in their successes has also allowed me to not beat myself up when things don’t go as planned.
I remember when we talked about suicide and self-harm, I mentioned to Fatimah (my lab leader) that I would feel solely responsible if my client committed suicide. My thoughts behind this were How could I not know? Isn’t it my job to know? How could I miss the signs? What could I have done differently? What did I do wrong? And, did I mention, HOW COULD I NOT KNOW? Fatimah framed this in a new way for me. She said, If I wouldn’t take credit for my client doing the good things, then why would I take credit for my client doing the bad things? We only get our clients for one hour out of the week. You can only do the best you can and you should take comfort in that. Fatimah’s words helped free me from this helping-even-though-it-costs-me-my-peace cycle. I’ll be forever grateful for this new frame of mind and the sense of peace it has given me.
Now, I know I’m making it sound like I have it all together. That I have learned all there is and I have all the answers. But that is far from the truth. There is so much that I am still unsure of. There have been some (okay, quite a few) mistakes. I’ve been discouraged with the process at times. But what I’ve found is that you learn by doing. Not having the answers is okay.
Actually, it isn’t even about the answers, the advice, or the words at all.
It is about your presence, the comfort you can give by just being there. The connection. Seeing another person at their most vulnerable and accepting them in that moment.
It’s a hard thing to do.
To be silent.
To listen to pain.
To not try to find the solution immediately.
But what comes from that is an understanding, at its deepest and purest form. I’ll get it all down someday.
I’m still learning.
I’m still growing.