Thursday, July 9, 2009

A small difference

It was to the most damaged individuals I always felt drawn - those people who didn't know themselves and fought to keep me from knowing them. People who needed a large commitment of time and caring. The very people our healthcare system lets fall through the cracks. And all my life - even as a child - I reached out to the lonely, those on the fringes, the unwanted, the unloved. And in a small way I have made a difference - but this is a population that does not easily endure relationship. And even for the therapist endurance in the face of such ambivalence is very painful.

And it is in the struggle to reach out that over and over again I have needed to turn to God - or perhaps you could say: God has turned to me.


Rowan said...

I am not sure how to respond to this post, but feel drawn to do so.

I am honest enough with myself to own up to being a "damaged" person (I prefer the term wounded), though I believe I have reclaimed most of my self. However, I have always been a loner and VERY selective of my friends. I still am. Friendship is something that is a sacred bond to me - always has been and likely always will be.

One the one hand, I would say that wounded ones are reticent because of issues of trust on one hand, and possibly issues of self worth on the other. The second can complicate the first dramatically. I know I had to struggle big time with self worth issues.

I also know that I once wrote poems about my despair that someone would pick me. For much of my life, any friendship that ever developed was because I pursued it. I longed for a time when someone would reach out to me in friendship.

Your being a therapist presents a dilemma I imagine. I know that my experience with therapists has been unilaterally negative. I don't mean anything personal about you in this, but is there a meaningfulness in a relationship that you have to pay someone to spend time with you? Trust is not easy to develop when the person you are paying is there to act interested and concerned. One questions what is sincere, and what is part of the therapeutic game to get one to "feel comfortable."

Let me give you the example of my last therapy experience a number of years ago. I needed to work through some personal issues. Namely those connected to my withdrawing and shutting down when I was physically or emotionally injured.

I went through a number of very painful things with this therapist. Finally at one session I told her that I really didn't think she cared about what I was going through. She asked how that would look. I told her that she would do something that reflected genuine connection to me like reaching out and patting my shoulder, or even giving me a hug. Her response was that if I needed that, I should ask for it.

I stared at her for at least a full minute. Then I told her that "asking" defeated the purpose of the act. It was not something that originated with her, but with me. So here I was, paying someone "skilled" to work through issues with me; sharing really painful personal stuff; and if I needed the most modest level of personal response from her I was supposed to ask? I admit that I almost said something VERY rude to her.

I realize the professional aspect of being a counselor. I also deeply know the need for a "human" response in order to build trust. It seems like an endless paradox in a therapeutic setting.

Regardless, in life outside the therapy setting, trust is critical - whether one is wounded or not. Personally, I think that most people are wounded but some have a gregarious facade to hide their vulnerability, and others just walk alone or have a gruff exterior. However, trust is something that is earned and it is a gift when received.

Rowan said...

On a different level than my last comment, and a personal one ... TheraP, you are one of the most sincere and feeling people that I have met. I know that we haven't met in the flesh, but I have read your writing and read your interactions with others across an array of topics and contexts. I honour your honesty and integrity. It takes strength to put yourself out there the way that you have and do. I personally have been a recipient of your gentleness and true caring and connection.

In your post, I read your pain at other's pain. I also read your pain in some of those you reach out to not being able to trust the hand you offer will not pull away when most needed. I would suggest that all you can do is offer. It is not really a personal denial when the trust you attempt to build is not accepted.

Sometimes what we can offer is acceptance. I see you, value you, and respect you. In that moment and at that time, the person may not respond - or not be able to respond. However, such moments rarely go unnoticed. What you have given may open a door for the person at some other time when someone else reaches out to them. I know that I have been on both sides of that experience.

Love is a deep and varied word. I believe that you walk the path of love. That path is a path of vulnerability. It is the "good" path, but it is also one that may be painful. All we can do is offer.

You are a gift TheraP, and I give thanks that our paths have crossed.

TheraP said...

This - in reply to your first comment. I was working on it, when I realized you'd posted a second one.

I am touched beyond words, Rowen, that you felt drawn to respond to this. It does not surprise me that trust would be an issue for you, given what you've shared elsewhere. The little post you responded to is actually - in a shorter form - the first post of a second blog I've started. To put up my writing related to my work as a therapist.

All that you describe is so familiar to me. There's so much behind mistrust. And I am so grateful that you've allowed yourself to say what you have. It's painful to do this work. And any therapist who is really honest has to stretch personally and be willing to be bruised in the process. For no one, I think, can honestly engage in such work without a willingness to expose themselves to pain and anguish - not just due to the memories of someone else but because closeness under such circumstances arouses such a combination of longing and anger, regret, suspicion. Well, you know better than I.

I've often told people that the fee pays for my "time" and my "skills" - but the caring is something I "give". I think true therapy involves love. Not everyone talks about it - but even analysts now, some anyway, acknowledge that love plays a role.

But a painful love, Rowen. Not that it's intended that way. Or at least not by me. But it's so easy to make mistakes in this type of work. It's so crucial to be able to admit them when they've been made. And for you, I will post in the other blog, some poems which will tell you of my struggle to understand the intense, conflicting emotions that arise in a relationship where someone so longs for the connection that also terrifies - for fear it will be lost or destroyed.

Now maybe I've said the wrong things here already. If so, I apologize.

TheraP said...

Response to your next comment, Rowen:

Your kind words overwhelm me. And as you know I feel a tremendous anguish for what you've been through. Even more now - seeing that you've tried so hard to find therapy and had such frustration. I could sense there was "something" - but didn't know what it was.

You are correct in everything you analyze as far as how painful it is - to both enter the world of painful memories with someone and to endure the emotional ambivalence that arises - and affects both parties in this kind of work.

I am able to offer and to wait. In fact I've gotten very good at waiting. And can now see the wisdom of letting things unfold slowly. One has to be creative also to find ways to reach someone. Each one is so different.

My very first supervisor told me the wisdom that you conveyed in your second comment. Essentially, that we're always planting seeds. I view therapy in very organic terms. (Take a look at the story I put up on the other - brand new - blog. Click my "profile" and it will show up: Bits and Pieces it's called.

I've made use of the Buddhist methods of transforming suffering into compassion. I've used prayer. The field of Trauma "discovered" the importance of spirituality (of whatever type) for both parties engaged in the work. It takes a tremendous amount of stamina too. For me these paths have become intertwined.

But I agree about "offering acceptance". Sometimes that is more important than anything. And that word covers a huge amount of territory - for all the types of acceptance we're talking about.

That short post - that drew you to write - is something I wrote a few years back. It was in a binder I have that's full of such writings. Some are poems. Some are stories. Some are just pieces of paper I wrote on. And there's another whole bunch of meditations in a folder downstairs. I plan to put them on that other blog - one by one.

Peace. Namaste. I value our friendship across the miles. I so appreciate your comments tonight.

Rowan said...

I've often told people that the fee pays for my "time" and my "skills" - but the caring is something I "give". I think true therapy involves love.

That should be prominently included in every professional helper's education.

I'll have to check your other blog - Bits & Pieces.

TheraP said...

The training of a therapist is work of such depth and delicacy! There is so much to learn. And today way too few people have training in psychodynamics - which is key to understanding all the ambivalence. Love forms the soil - in which someone can settle (to the degree that's possible) - but therapy involves 2 courageous initiatives: one is the courage to love; the other is the courage to talk honestly - which at times is like a surgeon, delicately opening someone's skin. Both are risky. One without the other goes nowhere. All that takes time to teach.

The best teaching for any therapist is their own personal therapy. Unless one has gone down that road, how you can ask it of someone else?

Training a therapist is one of the toughest jobs there is! And all too often people are allowed through a program who should never be allowed to do so.