Why do therapists do the heart-wrenching work that we do? David Treadway, a renowned psychotherapist, says that for about 80% of us our calling comes out of our own childhood experiences and trauma.
I was my mother’s therapist. She was a young woman from the Appalachian Mountains who gave birth to me when she was 17 years old with a history of abuse in her own background. Early on she did not know how to be a mother, although that changed later in her life. I remember being left alone at night, at three years old, caring for my infant sister in her crib and the terror that invoked in me. As I grew up, I took care of others as a way of taking care of myself and healing my own wounded heart. I remember in high school, in addition to all my school activities (cheerleader, National Honor Society, etc), I was the most-in-demand neighborhood babysitter, always finding others to take care of!
It was inevitable that I became a therapist! I loved connecting with my clients and feeling that I mattered in their lives. What I did not know was that connecting to their pain helped me feel connected to my own. Safe in the therapist’s chair, I would “borrow their tears.” Because it is a pathway to our own healing, we find ourselves willing to go the extra mile, daring to love our clients. Looking back, I now see I often went from commitment and compassion into over functioning and even enabling.
Being a therapist can create a false sense of intimacy in our lives. We can fool ourselves by getting our emotional needs met from the safety of the therapist’s chair rather than in our own personal relationships. But we are “wounded healers,” and we must heal ourselves rather than staying in the safe, pseudo intimacy of the therapy room. This is how we can truly facilitate bringing new life to those with which we are privileged to work.
I am in my mid-seventies, still practicing as a therapist and am astonished to find that my own healing journey continues. Each day brings new insights into my own life that I can either look at with open, curious eyes or close my eyes to, looking elsewhere. Along the way there have been many avenues of healing—some sought and some appearing totally unbidden. I love the word “grace” to cover those beautiful moments of unexpected healing. There have been many in my life.
There are so many gifts of healing that have accompanied me on my way. Books were my guardian angels as a small, abused child. Nature has always been there to enfold me. Beloved teachers, in the form of friends, acquaintances, strangers and experiences, have appeared along the way to nurture me, guide me and often to give me lessons I wanted to turn away from. Most of the hardest lessons have come through my family, both the tribe into which I was born and the tribe I entered thru marriage. What has undergirded me through it all is that our lives are not random. Each of our stories has meaning. It is the story we are given the invitation to inhabit fully or turn away from. I believe that the Universe is on our side and drawing us toward wholeness if we will allow it. I have heard it said, “The only thing I need to know about my Higher Power is that I’m not it.” Amen.
Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash