Hard Journeys

Yup.  The first thing I thought when I took a look again at the topics of my last SNAP Milton column was, “Damn that stuff is hard to deal with.”

Every week folks come into my office with these very issues, at their wits’ end about how to untangle the mess they have either created or fallen into (or perhaps a little of both).

It puts to mind a discussion I recently followed on some internet list or another about the usefulness of therapy.  The crowd seemed do divide along two general lines.  One set of folks insisted that therapy was a scam, that the sort of problems it purported to help solve were not amenable to scientific method and therefore not really illness.  If they are not really illnesses, then they are character issues so suck it up butter cup and deal with your problems.  The other group insisted that mental illness is an illness like any other that can and should be treated and cured. 

There was lots of cross talk but it seemed to me that neither of those arguments accurately describes what I do every day.

It is true that I do not view my clients as “sick” in a traditional medical model way.  I view each person as inherently adaptive.  This means that their difficulties almost always arise originally as an adaptive response to some adverse circumstance, present or (more likely) past.   I view my clients as driven toward relating to other human beings but also, often fearful of the risk that entails.  The result of this dance between need and fear is often what we read as the dysfunction. 

Therapy is a place where the idea of relating and relating itself becomes safer.  In an environment of safety, people are better able to sort through their fear and begin to become their best selves.  It’s still up to each client to make the choices that are positive or take the risks that are necessary.  It is still up to each client to decide what they want and what they are willing to live with.    So I suppose there is an element of “suck it up butter cup” to therapy.  However, my belief in their power to make their own good choices or to suffer with dignity or to risk isn’t enough.  I have to convey those things to them or bring them to that conclusion in a way that resonates and sticks.  This is the skill and the essence of therapy.

Would a good friend do just as good a job?  Sure they could.  The sad reality is, most of us can’t access that sort of support from our friends and family.  It is the nature of modern society.  So, we turn to a specialized professional.  Whatever comment that might make on our world, it is the way of things at this time.

I love my work.  Every day, I get to encounter the raw guts of living and watch how my clients use me to grow and heal.  It’s hard stuff to deal with but when it comes out the other side brighter and more beautiful, it’s worth it.

Here’s the column:

Dear Susan:

The last few weeks I just can’t figure out what is wrong with me.  I have a great job and it usually feels easy to do the work but these days, it’s just dragging along.  My conversations with my co-workers feel incoherent and when I talk to a client, I swear they are staring at me like they don’t understand a word I’m saying. Yesterday, I went into my office, closed the door and put my head on my desk for about 10  minutes.  I wasn’t tired, just overwhelmed and out of control.  I don’t know where to start to get out of this state.  Any advice?


Dear G.L.

The state you describe could be a symptom of a few different things.  How stressful is your work?  Do people rely on you exclusively for vital tasks?  What kind of backup do you have?  You could be experiencing a form of burnout from work.  However, it may be related to other things in your life.  How are your interpersonal relationships?  How is your physical health?  Stress in that realm can leak into work and sap our ability to cope.  Finally, in the waning of the year, we can suffer from mood changes as a result of the lack of light.  In both physical and emotional ways, light affects us.  You may need some time off, or you may need to connect with others.  An experienced counsellor can help you better identify what you need to do for yourself.

Dear Susan,

I am recently separated from my spouse of 10 years.  I haven’t been in the dating pool for a long time.  My single friends are all doing internet dating but that scares me to death.  I don’t know if I can remember how to meet people and I don’t want to be alone for the rest of my life. How do I get back into this sort of thing?


Dear R.P.

While many people have experienced success of varying degrees with internet dating, it isn’t the only way to meet people in the modern era.  The best way to connect socially is to find a group of people with shared interests and values.  Online community may hold that for you but if it doesn’t, it can be overwhelming.  There’s nothing wrong with the old fashioned way.  Join a club, a choir, or volunteer for something that is important to you.  If you are part of a faith community, connect there.  Make sure you are ready for the trials and tribulations of dating again.  If your first attempts at dating result in being rejected, it can be doubly painful.  Jump in but take care of yourself.

Be well,Susan