In spite of the emotional load that comes with being a Psychologist, my lasting impression of my clients is their braveness. The act of sharing one’s heartache, pain, shame, and guilt with another person requires a seemingly small but remarkable act of braveness.
As a practising Psychologist, I am often asked; “Isn’t it difficult listening to people’s problems all day long?”
In short, yes, navigating the course of people’s problems on a daily basis is difficult.
The list of human experience and suffering is as endless as the our capacity to inflict misery on other people. To witness these stories of anguish, abuse, neglect, isolation, loss, sadness, shame and so much more leaves you irrevocably affected as a person. Although most Psychologists may not show it, they are all, in large and small ways, affected by their client’s stories. Such an intimate encounter does and always should affect you.
The human capacity for resilience is another impression that has a lasting impact on me. Some of the resilience I see speaks to the ability to hold out against terrible circumstances before being able to access help and support. This type of resilience is a double-edged sword as I marvel at seeing how a person has managed to keep their inner light shining while facing lasting adversity. In this kind of resilience, I also see the hurt and suffering that people endure by not seeking help soon enough. Deep wounds are formed that take a long time to work through and heal.
With the many deep wounds people carry, I am awed at my clients’ courage to ‘stay the course’ in pursuit of something better. Countless times, I have sat with people and observed them push themselves to places deeper and further than they initially thought they could bear. In the end, a great many people who commit to being vulnerable, find unknown strengths and emerge stronger on the other side. That shows both braveness and resilience.
Being positively selfish
One of the reasons that resilience is such an admirable trait is because a therapeutic process is fraught with highs and lows, successes, failures, setbacks and moments of complete vulnerability. I have heard dozens of stories of people avoiding or struggling to re-start Therapy because they did not get on with their previous Psychologist. I believe one should be selfish enough to pursue your consumer right to get the help you need from a person you can relate too.
Changing Therapist is not a personal failing, it is often a sign that you may need to find a better “match”. Equally, do not always rationalize away the importance of sometimes ‘pushing through’ a lull or difficulty in connecting with your Therapist; it might just be your own baggage and that is why you are in Therapy.
Taking the time to reflect on this and even raising the issue with your Therapist might reveal startling information and give the process a new lease on life.
From a Psychologist’s perspective, being a partner in this fragile relationship requires its own form of resilience and braveness. Each day is filled with a plethora of emotions, personas, transferences, projection, identifications, complexes, and more often than not wading through the complex and unconscious territory of ‘What is my stuff and what is your stuff?” To differentiate what is ‘mine’ from ‘yours’ requires ongoing self-reflection and personal insight to ensure that I do not unconsciously project my own thoughts or feelings onto your experience or hijack a client’s story for personal gain or edification.
So, what does all this talk about “stuff” and Therapists have to do with anything? It has to do with another kind of braveness; the courage shown by clients who are ready to expose themselves in the presence of a stranger with the goal of, hopefully, making things just a little bit better.
On a daily basis, I see the incredible courage of my clients as they each wrestle with loss, shame, disorder, anger, hurt, impairment and difficult truths about themselves. The braveness shown by so many people to want better for themselves by risking so much is truly admirable.
In a profoundly ironic sense, I myself, find it incredibly difficult to phone up my Therapist and book an appointment. I do not like going to Therapy. I detest the feeling of vulnerability and exposure that comes with being the client and not the Therapist. I put it off; find a million reasons why now is not a good time and that soon enough, if things get a little worse, I promise that I will go. You never end up going. Things get worse. You rationalize. You delay. You hit the breaking point.
We are, by nature, pain averse creatures and too often, I believe we underestimate what it takes to acknowledge that we need the support and assistance of another person. It takes an act of braveness to make the appointment, sit on the proverbial couch and get in touch with what is hurting us.
Therapy is not an explanation; it is an experience. Some people are not ready to start and are still working through their ‘stuff’ so they can eventually go to Therapy. The people who do come to Therapy are brave enough to know that they must embrace and feel the burden of their pain. Engaging deeply, no matter how difficult or insignificant it may feel will show you just how brave you are.
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