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As a therapist, I struggled with finding my voice. I was young, female, plainspoken, and incapable of much in the way of artifice or sophisticated strategies. Furthermore, I was working in rural Nebraska settings with women whose husbands expected them to butcher pigs in their basements and make blood sausage and jaternice over the weekend, with families going under during the farm crisis, or, and this was when insurance covered therapy, with factory workers, some of whom left their kids in the pick-up while they drank. Others had no idea how to express unhappiness except by fighting. Most of the leaders in our field at the time I came of age were older men from Europe or the East Coast, theoretical and intellectual, given to complex and paradoxical interventions and to flying by the seat of their charisma. I didn't resonate with their ideas and, believe me, those rural, working-class Nebraskans didn't either. I think it was about 10 years before I truly figured out how I could incorporate my clinical training with the person I was and the place where I worked.
So both writers and therapists need their own authentic voices--they need to say what they alone can say. It's worth noting that the therapy room is also a place where the client's voice is respected. Clients are attended to as they tell their deepest, most personal stories in their own language. People leave our offices thinking, as did my cousin Paul, that someone truly understands their point of view.
Both professions are matters of trust and relationship. Writers and therapists encourage people to go on a voyage of discovery. With likable, authoritative guides, people will travel anywhere. If they don't like and trust us, however, they won't take one step. With writers, establishing trust is a matter of being an honest and reasonable narrator. With therapists, it's a question of building a relationship grounded in respect, steadfastness, and common sense.
Both professions are damn frustrating. Writers have harsh inner critics. We must cope with writer's block and constant internal voices saying, "You aren't getting it right. This isn't that good." Our work requires stamina and persistence in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Writing a nonfiction book is a little like building a barn with matches. Helping a couple who've been feuding for 20 years to resolve their differences and improve their relationship can feel that way, too.