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|Getting It Right - Page 6|
The other day, a young woman came to see me for some help with a 15-year-old incident, the shock of discovering her father's dead body. She couldn't talk about it or even think about it without quickly going numb and silent. She was a psychotherapist herself, just out of an initial round of training, new to the work. It seemed to her a distinctly shameful situation to be a psychotherapist who had to get help. She'd bought the idea that therapists were people who have not only a special understanding of what makes people tick, but also an unwavering understanding of what makes them tick. "I should know," she said, abashed and apologetic: "I should be able to handle it all."
As if "knowing" were some sort of Kantian a priori category, something you figured out from a great theory or from your own smart brain, and didn't have to come to know through exploration and practice. As if, to be a therapist, you were supposed to be a fully realized person, pure of heart and mind and soul, sitting in your ergonomically correct therapist chair, taking your ethically correct therapist notes, nodding your head with unending compassion at your dear patients, who are struggling and shortsighted and not at all like you.
But there's no way for any of us to learn how to "handle it all" unless we sink down into it. It's constant, the way we therapists explore our own lives, our own reactions, our own thorny dilemmas. It's part of the training, part of the work, part of the job of sitting day after day in the therapist's chair. The sinking down constitutes one of the primary learning modes for psychotherapy.
Mercifully, we don't all have to leave a marriage or fight with a child or renounce our parents to be able to work with divorces and temper tantrums and radical alienation. But we have to explore the impact of our own losses and deprivations, the terrible assaults on our own spirits. We're regularly stuck, sidetracked, narrowed by our own thinking. And that's the good news, because each of these human impasses becomes . . . the way through. These are our most vivid lessons, when we learn not only how to sit with patients, but how, in fact, to live. We enter into knowledge about ourselves, and about what it is to be human, through our wounds. That's the way in. Otherwise, we'd just tootle along, under the illusion that we'd figured it all out. So it's the wound, the injury, the mysterious irresolvable conflict, the recurring depression, the grown child lost in rehab that makes us stop and think again.