I've been a therapist for close to 33 years, and although many things have changed, it's remarkable how much has stayed the same. The issues and struggles that brought people into treatment back then are the same issues that bring people into therapy today. Human beings all want to achieve a sense of inner peace and feel content in their lives. They want to see themselves as worthy, competent, and lovable, and they want to be lovingly and respectfully "seen" by others. Workplace stress, relationship discord, parenting challenges, debilitating feelings of depression and anxiety, painful losses, and the complex self-destructive by-products of trauma, abuse, and neglect remain the most common reasons individuals seek the support and guidance of psychotherapy. I've frequently been asked how I am able to witness and sit with the sorrow, anger, and confusion that can often permeate therapy sessions. But the truth is, underneath that legitimate pain there is something deeper and stronger: the amazing resiliency of the human spirit. And that is an extraordinary thing to witness.
It never ceases to amaze me that people who have endured emotional, psychological, or physical hardship can still retain a sense of hope and possibility. How do I know that they've remained hopeful? Because they show up in my waiting room week after week! They keep putting one foot in front of the other. Many of them, despite their pain, are remarkably accomplished. They're either in meaningful relationships or want to be. They do their best to make life better for their kids. They're committed to their jobs even when their workplace environment is not validating or supportive. They have a sense of humor. They do their best to be open-minded and open-hearted. They tend to be very compassionate toward other people.
And perhaps even more impressively they take giant leaps of faith and decide to trust in a therapeutic relationship. They take the risk, even when life has taught them "getting close equals getting hurt." It makes so much sense that prior experiences of rejection, abandonment, and betrayal would create a fear of closeness. That's why I am always moved by the courage it takes for them to sustain an emotionally intimate connection in therapy. Part of that connection includes sharing a personal narrative that often feels shaming and evokes a strong sense of vulnerability. For 33 years I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and determination. It's inspiring and it's humbling.
Although seeking out therapeutic support can be daunting for some people and counterintuitive for others, the therapy process and the relationship often create an experience that is reparative, growth producing, and healing. I've watched countless people reclaim their lives, access their inner wisdom, extricate themselves from unsatisfying relationships and careers, find the courage to let go of destructive behaviors, change their boundaries, set limits with dysfunctional family members, and heal the wounds of trauma. What has not lessened in 33 years is my belief in my clients' abilities to grow and change.
After all these years I still smile when I drive to my office. I arrive with a sense of hope. And I hold a strong feeling of gratitude because I know that I'm being given the privilege of witnessing insight and growth through struggle and pain. I believe that it's human nature to want a witness for personal pain. Even when clients have been forced to be secretive, there's a natural desire to share their experiences with people who are safe and nonjudgmental. I have never stopped believing in the healing power of the therapeutic relationship as a model for compassion, healthy communication, secure attachment, and kindness. To be able to make even a small contribution to my clients' healing journeys is what makes it all worthwhile.