So much is spoken without a single utterance. Her words say, “It’s okay. It’s happened to me before. Companies change insurance plans all the time.” But her eyes convey that avoidant look of someone who has learned to shut down their emotions for their survival. She avoids looking into the camera. She wishes to hide from me…no, from herself. I say her name gently. She looks at me. I look at her. She can see the warmth in my face and the fact that I feel sad to lose her as well. The tears begin to stream down her face. I believe the only thing I said was, “Yes, I know.” I recognize there is something lovely in this sadness, this grief. But it was not the time to celebrate her progress or the way she allowed me to matter to her. It was the time for a moment of quiet understanding.
This is what makes me a decent therapist. Perhaps the only thing that makes me one. I’m lousy with technique. I don’t know the names of my interventions. I have forgotten most of what I learned about theories. My mind doesn’t hold onto the scientific information it has gleaned from books and articles (the neuroscience and the human development stuff) because it just doesn’t work that way. I watch. Pay attention. I look into and behind the eyes, the mouth, the posture. Oh how often it is that our words betray our truth. But our faces and bodies rarely do.
I often watch my clients quietly. Somewhere in me I am registering their words (and actually storing them quite well in my memory) in case something in the content really matters, but mostly I am observing. I see the beauty in their pain and not just the awfulness of it.
I learned to observe at a young age; to read people’s faces, postures and tones of voice. I knew that my father’s “I’m tired” meant “I’m unavailable and unhappy”. I watched hopefully at first and then, eventually, hopelessly. I began to see that unavailability was the norm. I began to see that nobody could really say what they felt or thought. And so I learned to hold in what I felt and thought as well.
Perhaps the real reason I became a therapist (the reason that lurks somewhere behind the idealistic idea that I want to help people) is so that I could derive something from my watchfulness: an income; some intimacy to make me less lonely; a way of seeing that I can have an impact on others; a way to create some semblance of meaning. Why is it so taboo for therapists to hide their selfishness from other therapists? It is because I know my selfishness that I do not put it on my clients. It is because I know that I am needy that I do not ask my clients to meet my needs. Were I to disown my selfish neediness then what would happen?
Yes, the truth is that a big part of the reason that I became a therapist is because I am so very often lonely and sad. And the reason I don’t put that on my clients is because I know I am lonely and sad. I needed to do something positive with my pain. And so…here I am.
Shit, I’m out of time. I need to get ready for…you guessed it: my clients. I could go back and edit this and make it a “finished entry” but I don’t want to. I just needed to get this out of my system so that I could focus on the next thing. I think I’m ready for the next thing.