What Kind of Therapist am I?
I am almost sixty years old and have been a psychotherapist in private practice nearly twenty four years. I work with children, teenagers, and adults. I have worked with individuals, couples, families and groups. I have worked with folks from many different ethnicities and different sexual orientations.
The variety of clients I work with and the issues they bring prevent me from being bored. Working with folks who have been traumatized by all forms of abuse, losing a loved one, verbally wounded by a teacher or other authority figure is tough, immediate and gratifying.
I like to think that I give all that I have to my clients in the same way as Mary J. Blige or Bruce Springsteen give to their audience. When the work day is over, I am emotionally drained and blessed at the same time.
I believe that I have a gift for helping others heal themselves. I have been fortunate that I have been able to formulate close connections with many kids and adults. I realize that most people aren't willing or they are unable to provide a setting that allows for opening up about the most painful and personal issues.
I believe that talking about one's problems is a huge part of the emotional healing process.
I find myself working with those who have been deeply hurt in the course of their lives. I work with many children from high conflict divorces. Their parents are in almost constant battle over who will ultimately have control over the children. Each parent feels that the other one is highly defective and the kids are in the middle of that conflict. Each parent firmly believes that they are the righteous one and the other one is guilty of being too aggressive.
I usually find myself ultimately being empathetic to both parents point of view. It is usually not a matter of one being a better parent than the other, but the hurt and anger they have towards each other seems to be infinite. Sometimes the parents actually have a meeting of the minds, but that usually involves having a whole team of therapists available for ongoing intervention and treatment.
Children want to be loved. They wish for their parent's approval. The parent's conflict causes them to have divided loyalties and they learn to shut down at the first sign of upheaval. As a result of this process, the kids then learn to shutdown in conflictual situations with their peers and teachers without thinking about the possibility of conflict resolution.
I attempt to help the kids talk about issues that really trouble them. A great deal of the time, they carry around many thoughts and feelings that are not revealed to anyone. They often express their rage and disappointment at their parents to me during therapy sessions. I then provide the forum for the children to discuss these feelings with their parents.
I try to teach the kids how to have a voice in these high conflict divorce situations. I work with the parents, along with other professionals in helping them to empathize with their kids. It is my experience that the children come away from these meetings feeling both relieved and empowered.
I also work with clients who have recently lost a loved one through death. I know that I can do nothing to alleviate or take away their pain, but I am present and do not turn from them when they share the anguish of their loss.
I have been voluntarily teaching a Healing Emotional Pain and Loss class in the San Francisco County Jail to incarcerated women for the past three and a half years. I play music and we all read along with the lyrics. Some of the songs I have played are: Dance with my Father by Luther Vandross, Save Me by Nicki Minaj, Angel by Chaka Khan, Sweet Side by Lucinda Williams and Sadie by the Spinners.
The main objective of the class is for the women to tell the stories of their lives and I am honored that they feel comfortable enough to talk about the extreme trauma they have experienced. The songs stimulate discussion about the tough times they have had.
They talk about being addicted to crack, heroin, crystal meth and alcohol. They discuss what it is like for child protective services to take away their children. They talk about all their friends and relatives who have died violently. They share what it is like to have no one in their lives to support them. They talk about what it is like to have their freedom taken away.
Sometimes when I leave this class, I am so overwhelmed by the power of their stories that I feel a deep ache in my gut that eventually leads to tears. As stark and horrifying as these stories are, I am aware that I am providing a necessary service in getting all of these intense memories and feelings associated with them out into the universe.
Often times I feel that I am teaching a graduate level class because many of the women are brilliant. It is such a financial and emotional waste to imprison them; many for drug violations. It cost $47,000.00 per year to incarcerate one person per year in California. It would far less to actually house and educate them.
What kind of therapist am I at this point in my life? I like to think that I am using all my experience and knowledge to help those who have the least amount of power in America. I like to think that I am at the top of my game and am grateful that I still love the profession I began a long time ago.