I started my new job this week, and thank goodness they’re allowing me to ease into the actual counseling part, observing and shadowing other therapists before I meet with clients face to face on my own.
If you saw me on Day One, getting lost multiple times in the circular hallway, walking in on a colleague in the bathroom because I had a master key in my hand and too many new things overwhelming my brain, and then getting slammed with my monthly cycle, complete with painful cramps, in the middle of a staff meeting, you’d understand that I was not ready to put forth my best self in the service of others.
Then again, will I ever really be?
I’m not going to magically morph into a skilled, savvy, smooth operator with all her shit together, who knows the right stuff to say/do in session, in a matter of days — or even months. I’m a second-year grad student who’s brand new to the daily realities of a helping profession, and the only way I’m going to transition from textbooks, papers and role plays to actual practice is to dig in, do the thing, take my lumps, and learn some real-world lessons.
Shit! This is f*cking scary! 😱
Furthermore, my first few days at the counseling center have taken a vague idea in the back of my mind and crystallized it into clear certainty: My “lived experience” as a recovering addict gives me a strong sense of empathy for other addicts and a deep personal passion for the recovery process, but it does not equip me to provide effective treatment to other human beings.
To do right by my clients, I’ll have to find a way to relate to them without relating everything they say to my own journey. I’ll have to invest myself in their pain, joy, struggles and triumphs without commiserating too much. I’ll have to hold space for them while keeping a healthy distance. Separate Jen the Alcoholic from Jen the Therapist and understand that blurring the lines is self-serving and ultimately cheats the client.
This. Is. Not. About. Me!!!
I mean, this blog necessarily has to be all about me. I can’t go into detail about anything that happens at work; I can only use this space to process what happens, and the impact my work with other addicts has on my own mental health and recovery.
I have no way of predicting what that’s going to look like. That’s f*cking scary, too!
However, I can say that my few, brief observations of group and individual therapy thus far have shown me how difficult it will be to balance authenticity and professionalism. I’ve already been moved to tears by what I’ve heard clients say, and felt the urge to blurt out, “Totally!” “Same!” “Me too!” No.
While counseling students learn that there is such a thing as “appropriate self-disclosure,” so yes, I can absolutely tell my clients I’m in recovery, our sessions are not AA speaker meetings where “service” is telling my story. Here, service is honoring my clients’ experience, drawing out their strengths, and helping to cultivate hope as I walk with them wherever they want their journey to lead.
Intellectually, I understand all this. But I can tell it’s gonna be a big challenge to remain stoically neutral and practice my “attending” and “intentional interviewing” skills when the subject matter is so intensely personal and emotional. And since I lack any practical experience doing therapy, I can see there being a strong temptation to overshare. I mean, that’s always a danger when I’m feeling anxious or awkward, but I can see it happening naturally as I attempt to establish connection and rapport with people who don’t know and/or trust me — yet.
I know in my heart that I can do this job, but like every other challenge I’ve faced in my life, the key will be to get out of my own way, stay patient and persistent, and not let mistakes eat me alive.
I went into this field to be useful. I did it to “get outside myself,” and stop living a closed-off life all up in my head. Easier said than done, but I have no choice but to start doing it…now.
It’s going to be trial by fire. There’s no turning down the heat or avoiding the burn. There’s no point at which you feel “ready” for scary stuff you’ve never done before, stuff that’s beyond your control and you can’t really prepare or plan for.
Starting a new career is kind of like getting sober; all you know going in is that it’s worth a shot, if you truly want to live, and even if you give all your effort, it’s still gonna take a gigantic leap of faith.
1 thought on “Leap”
Thanks Jen. Fascinating. I’ve always wondered how therapists in recovery walk that line. I’ve seen several therapists for myself, in my time, and I’ve learned something from each of them. It’s always been worth my effort. I think you’re going to help a lot of people too. Good luck!
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