"Think of your head as an unsafe neighborhood; don't go there alone."--Augusten Burroughs
This is exactly what comes to mind when I think of my experience of offering therapy so far. I've completed about 35 clinical hours now of my own--almost 60 if you include my observations of others' cases--and it's been a little rough, to say the least.
I never thought I was all that sheltered or caught up in my own little happy bubble--but man, was I sheltered and caught up in my own little happy bubble. As soon as my clients started opening up about their past traumas, severe struggles with self-esteem, unbearable pressure on themselves to perform, and basically all that is wrong with the world we live in today, I went home and told Dave, "I think anyone who goes into this field with even an inkling of what they're getting themselves into must be a masochist." And I meant it. As much as we're supposed to be able to compartmentalize work and home to keep them separate, some stories are just going to stay with you. How can they not? And sometimes it's not even the stories that get to me. It's the pain, the hurt, the sadness, the grief, and sometimes even worse--the apathy. I just hurt for these poor people who's lives have been so traumatizing that they've had to resort to turning off their emotions to be able to function.
Don't get me wrong. I am absolutely loving it. There's something incredibly rewarding about shutting out my own life for about 10 hours a week to solely focus on someone else's pain and really empathize with them and help them heal. (Except, I have yet to feel like I'm actually helping anyone heal..) I find it easier than I thought I would to empathize with my clients and enjoy listening to them and talking with them. My favorite is when one of them says, "I don't know if I've ever thought about it like this before, but..." or "I never realized how much..." or something else that helps me know that at the very least I'm helping them explore parts of themselves that have been ignored their whole lives.
But with the good also comes the bad. Some nights I come home and I just want to curl up in bed under the covers and have Dave hold me because I'm afraid to bring children into a world like this. Some days I can't think of anything else except how desperately I want my clients to realize how strong, competent, and innately good they are. Sometimes when I'm driving home I just have to cry, because I don't know what else to do with the powerful emotions I feel after a particularly painful session. And sometimes I question whether or not I can handle this roller coaster ride for the rest of my life.
I think it's good that right now as I'm just starting out I'm so strongly affected by my clients' struggles. I think if I wasn't there might be something wrong with me. But I'm really hoping that sometime soon I figure out how to take care of myself in a way that will help me stay emotionally healthy and positive about life in spite of all the bad I see.
My supervisor was watching one of my sessions the other day and she told me that I needed to stop skirting around my client's pain. I needed to get them to feel it, be there with them, and just let them stay in it, feeling whatever emotions came. I told her I didn't really want to, because it was just too hard for me to go there. It was too painful. So she gave me this analogy. She asked what the main character did in What Dreams May Come when he found out that the love of his life had been sentenced to Hell while he was in Heaven. He journeyed all the way to Hell to save her and while he was there he experienced the grief and loss she herself experienced before they could be reunited and travel back to Heaven together.
So basically, that's my job. I see people stuck in the torment of their own hell, go down and be there with them there for a while, and then try and pull them out of it.
Now, that makes it sound like I'm super important and without me these people would be stuck forever. That's not my point at all, and that's definitely not true. I just mean to illustrate that I'm beginning to understand what it means to truly empathize with people in their darkest moments and still maintain the positivity that comes with knowing that there's something better out there for them to experience.
As hard as it is on me right now just starting out, I know that this whole process is making me a better person and has the potential to make a difference in the lives of so many people who didn't deserve the bad that life has thrown at them. And I know I'm in the right place because I can just feel it, but I needed to process some of my emotions about my experiences so far through writing today. Thanks for reading!