I finished my work with a therapy client a couple weeks ago after fifteen sessions and have been on a bit of a professional high ever since. She set a goal for herself that was pretty overwhelming even to me, and I did not know how we were going to get there--if we were going to get there. It was really, really hard work. We had conversations that reached a level of depth and intimacy that I believe many people don't ever experience. I challenged her. I helped her to make connections that she couldn't see on her own. I asked her to describe some pretty horrifying stuff--stuff I can't really imagine living through. I asked her to acknowledge it, to face it. To face her own feelings--to face herself. I encouraged her, nudged her toward the goal, all the while feeling in over my head and fearing that it was just too big, too much.
It wasn't too much: she did it. We did it, and I am so, so proud. It's that funny kind of pride that's so paradoxically mixed up with humility, but it's on a level that I haven't experienced before. Because it's not really about me; I'm proud of her...and yet, I know that I was an important part, maybe even an essential part.
I'm not a parent, but I think maybe it's like that. I know my own parents act as if my accomplishments are beyond them. They think I'm smarter and more capable and more creative than they are. They think they couldn't have done what I'm doing. I'm always uncomfortable about this claim, partly because I think they don't give themselves enough credit, but also because it just doesn't make sense to me. Because, in the most basic way, what am I but the sum of my parents? Certainly I grew up as a person who is different from both of them, perhaps because I am not just a biological and genetic being, but have been shaped by experiences which aren't necessarily the same as my parents'. But still, my parents are the context for all of that. They didn't teach me everything I know, but they sent me to school and helped me with my homework. I did a lot of things myself, but I did them in the safe, nurturing, encouraging, secure container of my family, my home. I was the one achieving, but they facilitated my achievement, and that's a pretty big deal.
I think that's what I was for this client. She isn't me, and she is the one who accomplished this goal. It does feel like it's beyond me, like I couldn't have done it. And yet, it was done in a context that I created--the container of our therapeutic alliance. She may have gone further than I can go, but I'm still the one who facilitated her journey. I cannot imagine spending my life doing anything better than this.
And yet, I know this doesn't always (or even usually) happen in therapy. Highly motivated clients aren't the norm, and the modal number of counseling sessions is one. Some people "work on" the same things for years with no progress because they aren't really "working" at all. Or they are, but the therapist doesn't know how to facilitate this particular change for this particular client. It's complicated and messy, and it doesn't always work. I have certainly seen it not work a million times.
But I am so thankful for this client who unwittingly convinced me that sometimes it does work. This is not futile work. There is something powerful about therapy. About getting down to the real stuff of life, being ok with unpacking the huge mess of the soul with the confidence that it can be cleaned up, improved, maybe even healed. I am absolutely sure now that there is something powerful about me, in a room with someone else, listening, validating, understanding, guiding.
I will feel discouraged and frustrated and doubtful again (and again, and again), I know. Maybe even tomorrow. But I will always have this victory to remind that there's hope. I know that I will always be thankful for this client and our time together. If I ever don't think this work is worth it, I will think of her, and I will keep going.