One of the misconceptions people frequently have about psychotherapists is that our work is about witnessing emotional pain. This is why many folks can’t quite understand why someone would choose such a profession. Conceived of this way, I can’t say I blame them!
While bearing witness to pain is integral to the work, it does not embody its essence for me. Rather, being a psychotherapist is about witnessing transformation--again and again--within a session, cumulatively over a treatment episode, and throughout a full career. Now to be given a front row seat at that type of event is another matter entirely!
I first began my work in 1979, when a stint as a camp counselor brought experiences I hadn’t expected. Along with the privileged French-Canadian girls who were sent to the States for a 2-week camp to improve their English skills, there were several girls in state custody; their harried caseworkers had dropped them at the camp for the whole summer due to the dearth of available foster homes. While I enjoyed all the girls, I was most drawn to those whose young lives had been filled with abuse, betrayal, and abandonment, not because of their pain, but because of the gift they offered me--the opportunity to help ease it.
Nearly 29 years have passed since those mistreated girls offered me a glimpse of my vocation. I finished my undergraduate education and was hired to work with street kids who were now doing for money what family members had demanded for free. I completed my Master’s degree and worked in mental health centers, often with trauma survivors. Eventually, I moved into private practice. As of this writing, I have had the honor of witnessing the transformation of literally thousands of people; I recognize that the lives of even more have been altered, as the ripples of individual change move out and expand exponentially.
Folks arrive at my office with a variety of presenting difficulties, but though the issues we address vary, the essence of our work is essentially the same: transformation. I sit with dear souls hour after hour, day after day, as they share with me the challenges of their lives. And I’m invited into those moments, those glorious moments, when the heavens open and an individual is bathed in light sitting on that couch right in front of me. And something shifts. Something heals. Something is transformed. I hear Angels sing.
I speak in metaphors, of course. I am neither clairvoyant nor psychotic. But I do feel something shift, sense energy dancing in the room, respond to a brightening of the vibration. It is only through these metaphors--Angels singing, heavens opening--that I can hope to capture the experience.
But there is more. The Angels are not merely a resonant chorus of applause. They are not passive. I have known their influence, time and time again, in the synchronicity of events that together weave an opportunity for metamorphosis--in a siren from a passing ambulance that plunges someone into an ultimately curative catharsis; in words that escape my mouth before I know I’m thinking them, thus opening a fresh avenue of exploration or helping to dislodge an emotional logjam; in the appearance of a squirrel on the windowsill that suggests a salient metaphor.
Yes, I believe that my clients and I are guided each step of the way. I realize I may be wrong, that we may only be guided from within. But that, too, strikes me as miraculous--a dream that launches someone into new and ultimately transformative territory; an intuitive sense of just the intervention that is needed at a particular moment; a client’s random thought that, when voiced, speaks volumes. I’ve come to love those times when someone prefaces a statement with words such as “I don’t know why I thought of this, but...” or “You’re going to think I’m crazy for saying this, but...” I’ve learned that, most often, preambles such as these are my cue that pearls are about to materialize in the room. True, these pearls are not always polished--that’s our work--but they are pearls nonetheless. And they are bestowed so freely!
Ultimately, it makes little difference to me whether Angels and their gifts exist externally or if these images are simply a way to conceptualize the inner workings of our own souls. Regardless, the transformation is real, and these metaphors speak to my psyche in a such a way that I sit up and take notice.
Of course, full-blown transformation does not occur in each session, and sometimes folks remain stuck for quite some time. But with eyes that can appreciate the ripening process of profound work, the evidence of a budding metamorphosis can be seen even in stuckness, as a seeming paralysis often precedes gigantic leaps forward.
So, I guess it’s obvious by now how blest I feel to be granted such soulful employment. Witnessing pain is simply part of the process and makes the ultimate transcendence all the sweeter.
I have, indeed, been given an amazing vantage point in this life. The lessons are many. Proof of the resilience of the human spirit. Trust that no matter how bleak or despairing are the realities of a life, wondrous healing is possible. Awareness that our individual responses can effect others, as well as the tenor of the world around us. Faith that assistance of just the right sort is available, if we can open to receive it.
May we each know these truths as we face our own abyss. We may not see our path or know where our travels through this dark valley will carry us. But if we can remember that we are guided and will not only survive, but emerge with our essence more fully felt, then our journey will be infinitely easier. When less energy is drained off in fear or resistance, more is available for the work of transformation.
May these truths resonate for you, not just intellectually, but from within the very marrow of your bones. And may you hear your own Angels sing this day!