What I was going to write about yesterday, before I got the Big Baby News, was that I saw my last client last night, and so am therefore, technically, not a therapist anymore. It’s weird. Next Thursday I’m going to just go straight home from work instead of going to another job. No more business casual for me, not even once a week.
I’ve decided to quit for some very good reasons, the first being that externs at this agency usually just work their year out and then do other things. Also, there is the fact that I’m doing a lot more work at work lately, and I’m finding it more challenging and getting into it a little more, enough so that I don’t necessarily want to deal with a whole different set of responsibilities and voice-mail system protocols. But all that is just annoyance, really…if I was really loving it, then I’d find ways to make it work. And I wasn’t, so I didn’t, and now I’m done for the time being.
Part of it was, honestly, the clients. I think I’ve said this before, but I’m embarrassed to admit. I liked a lot of the people I worked with, but a lot of them…I didn’t. I just didn’t. I couldn’t establish rapport, I couldn’t really empathize…especially when I was seeing a mandated domestic violence offender. I’d sit there nodding one of these guys told me how difficult it was to control his temper, and how mad he got sometimes, and I’d be thinking, “Uh huh, okay, I’m there with you,” and then he’d go, “And then she ended up getting slapped around a little,” and that was it. I’m pretty sure I showed it a couple of times…my impulse was to yell “But how can you hit someone?” Totally not helpful. I would also wonder if I was condoning their behavior, by listening to them, and then I would think, well, someone has to listen and try to help, and then I would think, But why does it have to be me?? Never a good sign, for a therapist. I really believe that people who choose this kind of work don’t do it for completely altruistic reasons, but I do think you have to create some sort of internal boundaries and not think about your own stuff during session, and not to feel as though the therapeutic relationship is about your personal feelings. It’s not. When you get distracted and start thinking about how many more minutes you have in the session, and why won’t this person just shut up, it’s time to seriously re-evaluate the situation, as they say.
I got into social work with a genuine desire to help people, which was directly connected to a desire to make myself feel good by feeling like I was such a good person for wanting to help people. Imagine my shame, then, as I’ve realized very slowly over the past couple of years, that the people with whom I’ve done the best work are the ones who are a) most like me and b) don’t need a ton of help anyway. I just learned the term YAVIS, which is, apparently, some sort of therapist-jargon for Young, Attractive, Verbal, Intelligent, Successful, and describes, pretty much, the ideal therapy client. You might think that such a person might not be at the top of the list in terms of needing therapy the way someone in crisis or someone with severe mental health issues might, and you’d certainly be right about that. There’s needing, and needing, you know? But, man, what a pleasure it is to work with someone like that. They think about the things you ask them to think about, and they say deep things, and they sometimes laugh at your jokes, and they thank you soulfully at the end of session. They don’t lie, and if they do, they stop all of a sudden and go “No. No, that’s just not true.” I guess therapists like them because they act like a therapist themselves in therapy. That’s the ugliest sentence I’ve written in a long time.
So, partly my decision to quit doing therapy was based on the fact that I didn’t much like a lot of my clients, true. However, underneath those petty whiny reasons is a big question concerning the validity of therapy at all. I don’t know. I’ve written here before about wondering if therapy is just a paid-friend type thing, and if it’s helpful at all and if it isn’t just self-indulgent (for both the client and the therapist, of course). Sometimes I think it’s just ridiculous…and of course, we all know I would never do anything ridiculous, right? No. It’s just that it turns out I don’t like to work with really severely mentally ill people most of the time, and I’m not even sure if talk therapy even works for those folks, and the aforementioned YAVIS folks, for whom talk therapy does seem to work, maybe aren’t in enough need to get therapy, etc. I can’t figure it out. I don’t know what to think. Partially I also think that it’s a little weird to sit and listen to strangers talk about their problems all day, for work. For some reason I haven’t had the same problem with listening to strangers talk about their problems on a volunteer basis, and I don’t know what to think about that either. So confusing.
The really strange thing is that my last client was someone I really enjoyed working with and who really got their shit together while they were coming to see me. (I’m going to use a non-gender specific plural pronoun, okay? I can’t divulge details, you guys know that. Confidentiality comes before grammar, sadly). Even if I was tired at the end of the day and didn’t necessarily want to sit and listen, by the time I was ten minutes into the session I always got into it and found the whole process really interesting and challenging. I feel I had good empathy for this person, and that they really did try to think about their lives and make some good changes and figure things out. I felt like I was using muscles I don’t use a lot whenever I was working with this person, and I would usually feel pretty proud when session was over, because for once I was able to leave myself out of it and really concentrate and be in the moment and enter into that person’s difficulties and all that other therapist jive. That’s a pretty cool feeling. My new question is whether I have to be sitting in an office and nodding and going “Mmm hmm” to be able to do that. In some senses, I think that this would be as effective.