My first Master’s degree was in English, and by the end of it, I knew I didn’t want to grade papers or mill around any MLA conferences, hobnobbing and comparing erudition. That milieu was not my scene. But I didn’t know what else I could do, so I stayed put and spent the next bit of time just working and living in a community where I felt more at home than I’d felt where I’d grown up.
In that time, I contemplated a range of options, testing them out against my appetites and competencies—the latter, I thought, were few. I felt that I wanted to improve people’s lives in some way, if I could, but for various reasons couldn’t figure out quite how.* It was my own experience in therapy that finally provided the revelation and catalyst.
I work with children because the world of their emotions is real to me, and I haven’t entirely lost my memory of that world’s proportions: what it’s like to have a small body, with circumscribed autonomy, and yet hold such enormity of feeling. I respect the challenges, and I’m willing to try and meet kids where they’re at. I think when they feel comfortable with me, that may be why.
This is not to say that I’m a good fit for every child client. Taming hyperactivity, for example, is not one of my strong suits; but then, I think ADHD is largely a matter of biological exposures (foods and other substances) and constitutional reactions thereto, and is best treated accordingly—except where hyperactivity is actually post-traumatic hypervigilance in disguise, which is work I’m better equipped for.
Personal experience can be a great help in doing therapeutic work, so long as the focus is on the client. The therapists I know who do best with ADHD, identify as having it themselves; they can provide management strategies and support for self-esteem. I don’t resonate with hyperactive energy and would personally be inclined to recommend alternative medicinal approaches first, to address the biology and potentially address concerns in a holistic way.
This may seem like a contradiction of something else I’ve written recently: that as long as a client engages with me, it doesn’t matter how much we have in common otherwise. I still feel that’s true. An important and also quasi-contrary addendum, to change the subject slightly, is that sometimes those clients who appear to engage the least are the ones I love working with most. Following my own logic, I must have something in common with them, right?
As a passionately private and daydreamy introvert with a trauma history, I have spent the better part of my leisure in adulthood thus far in solitary pursuits (which, thankfully, I happen to enjoy). I have my cherished friends, but as I’ve recently been reminded, having someone new seek intimate entry into my space triggers a kind of immune cascade, as my whole being struggles in diverse ways to raise alarms and eject the foreign body. With consciousness, I’ve gotten better at managing it, but it’s still a noteworthy phenomenon.
Thus my special fondness for the tough-talking teen client who was transferred to me out of juvenile detention, who calls me a creep anytime I express friendliness or affirmation, but who keeps showing up even though her attendance is no longer mandated. I know what it’s like for warmth and presence to be desirable yet provoke discomfort, even fear; I know what it’s like to be guarded against anticipated breaches of trust. My client might not identify those as her issues—she’d be more likely to say, “The problem is, people are shit.” Whatever; I’m happy to sit down with her as many times as it takes for her to grow more comfortable with my regard.
Happy New Year!
I’m deeply grateful for my readers, and in 2018, I’d love to reach more! If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it with anyone you feel might like it, too, by linking to it in whatever way works for you. I typically post once a month, so no barrage. Out of respect for client privacy, names here are always changed or omitted, and details may be altered in fact while relevant in spirit. Text and image copyrights held by me. To subscribe and receive future posts, please look to the upper right on your computer screen, or scroll to the bottom of the page on your mobile device. “The Numbers Game” (July 2017), now long delayed, will be continued in a future post, when I have more stamina for the topic. *Perhaps I’ll write about my obstacles to identifying a career on some other occasion. Thank you wholeheartedly for reading!