HIE THEE HOMEWARD

Walking home just now, I overheard two couples talking. I’m a brisk walker and was overtaking them. One was saying to the others, “They were very tender tonight.” Par for the course with me, I assumed they were talking about people. Tender people–it was such a warming thought. It turns out they were talking about scallops.

The environmentalist in me would like to send you directly to The New Yorker, the March 8 issue, to read about the disaster that is the worldwide fishing industry, devastating ecosystems and traditional fishing communities both. That’s not to mention the state of the waters themselves, the plastic, the chemicals. However, this bit of writing is about therapy.

A client’s boyfriend was depressed and using substances. She was afraid he might be suicidal, and his reassurance wasn’t much comfort–only because of her, he wouldn’t hurt himself. She asked him to see a therapist, and his response was that he didn’t want to pay someone to listen to him.

I feel sympathy for that sentiment. To me it says less about my profession than it does about the widespread and entirely comprehensible hunger people have for real intimacy and support. I do think there are some misconceptions in that statement, though, as well. Good therapy is about much more than just being “listened to” in some timed and compensated way. Among other things, it’s an opportunity to know and speak our truths more clearly, to shape our preferred narratives.

Many people in our lives–good, bad, or indifferent–lack the skills or insight to meet our needs, or their own needs conflict with ours in ways that don’t result in satisfactory compromise. We can walk through the world in a state of confusion, our powers of reason working overtime to sort through the cognitive dissonance: If we really deserved consideration, we would get it, so working backwards, the fact that we don’t get it must mean we don’t deserve it.

Good therapy holds open a sacred space, yes, but the goal is for clients ultimately not to need it because they’ve reached a point of getting what they need within their personal spheres–with family, with partners, at work, among friends. It’s a transformation I’ve been privileged to witness many times. I don’t mean that last statement to ring of false humility or passive enabling of change; I take an active role in my work. But transformation is something greater, irreducible to input and output, “evidence-based practices” notwithstanding.

I’m not talking about “evidence-based practices,” however well-studied they may be, however nicely their results can be graphed. I’m talking about corrective experiences, the back-filling of holes, the healing of wounds. I’m talking about tenderness, joy, logic, laughter. Present-moment learning. To quote Ted Lasso–any excuse!–“I’m talking about practice.”

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GROUNDS FOR CHANGE

It’s the time of year here when trees look picked over, gardens seem bereft and bedraggled, and skies are frequently gray. So as I was walking along recently, I found this color arresting. It promptly landed on my list of things to be thankful for, a list that has been especially abundant this year and includes family, friends, mentors old and new, and, still, the excellent consultation I had last September at Mass General, which gave me hope and ongoing reason to reinvest in my life. If you’ve ever wanted to hug a neurosurgeon while crying dazed and ecstatic tears, you might be vibing to my frequency. I’m thankful for the friend who drove me there and the receptionist who was kind and even the elevators, the hallways, the glass doors, the parking garage. I hate parking garages! But that one helped deliver me from hell back to life on earth. I’m grateful for a screenshot of my parents on Zoom, hugging while wearing the scarves that I made them, my father’s a decade old or so, lingonberry-red, my mother’s new and pinky-purple like a type of orchid. I’m thankful they’ve been untouched by COVID. I’m thankful for your reading this, which is why it’s short—time is valuable! I’m thankful for Nick Hornby, whose novels got me through the worst of election season. I’m thankful for income and inspiration—also for coffee on the daily, and my new favorite source: Grounds for Change. Take a moment and click that link to find out how truly wonderful they are. I have zero financial interest in the company; my only interest is in wanting to see them and every high-quality, deeply principled business continue their good work in the world—work that benefits the people (who, in this case, produce the beans) as well as the ecosystems they live and labor in. Sustainability for all—it doesn’t get better than that.

NEW YEARS DAY

No person can avoid, actually, factually, being human. But a person can be unconscious of those things that make us human – including our flaws and complexities, our interconnectedness with each other and the ecosystem, and our mortality. A person can choose unconsciousness of those things in the most willful and damaging of ways, cultivating “success” without inner growth, “status” without a generative legacy. I have carried the ugliness and violence of this administration as stress in my body since 2016, and I am not alone in that. Relief sweetened my sleep last night. I’m ready for evident self-awareness and conscious humanity in office. I hope the next four years are just the beginning of a better world for us all, people animals plants land water air, no exceptions.