I was walking the dog with The Husband late last night (this is what you do when your house is in chaos, you take late night dog walks because up is down and down is up) and we started talking about my job. I’m a mental health counseling intern at two different mental health programs and learning so much about so many things at each one.
The programs are very different and the clients are all unique, so it is often surprising to me the commonalities that exist. What these common elements have taught me is what lights my fire professionally. I’ve spent most of my three years of school thinking I would work with this population on these issues, or maybe this population on another set of issues. One day it’s families. One day it’s trauma. One day it’s first responders or veterans or both. Most days, it’s all of the people and all of the things.
Realistically, I know I need to narrow down my field of vision. Truthfully, I have always known what gets my professional and creative juices flowing and that is stories. No, I don’t mean just reading books in a corner chair by the fire. Although that’s not too shabby a plan, if only they paid someone to read books without the hassle of having to edit them. Seriously what I really mean about stories fueling my passion is that I crave hearing and sharing people’s stories. As I writing teacher I loved helping kids find their narrative voice. As a blogger, I loved meeting people with experiences to share and then getting to share them with you. And now, what I have learned in mental health, is that I can’t get enough of helping people find their stories, learn to accept their stories and then use their stories for growth.
I used to think all anybody wanted was for people to listen to them tell their tales. Then I met a bunch of people who wanted nothing more than to ignore, hide from or erase the details of their lives for a variety of very solid and even rational reasons. Here is the catch though, until you can tell your story and accept that story as part of you, no matter how traumatic or ugly or shame riddled, it is near impossible to move on and create new stories you may some day be proud to call your own.
It can be uncomfortable, making sense of ourselves through the stories of our past and present. For many people we have to learn to feel and feeling can be spectacularly uncomfortable, especially for those who have mastered the art of covering their feelings for years or even decades. Once we learn to feel, we have to learn to let go of judgement-both of others and mostly, ourselves. If you thought feeling was hard, it’s got nothing on acceptance. Once those two astronomically hard things are attempted (I’ve never met one single person who has them mastered. Maybe Buddha.) then we learn to create new narratives for our lives that we can embrace.
Some counselors work with attachment, or parenting or communication. Some concentrate on shame. I am learning, as I sit with the incredible human beings I have the privilege of working with, that what I love more than anything is being the blank slate that people need to make sense of their own stories in time to use them to grow. Just like I loved watching kids find their narrative voice, I can’t get enough of seeing my clients now, young and old, learn to accept and even love themselves enough to heal. They do all the hard work, but they let me be around to watch and that is a story like no other. So whether I end up with kids or adults, families or couples, veterans or police, I know one thing to be true; I can not wait to hear their stories.