Often when I am working with a new family the fact comes up that I (and other therapists at Evoke) spend two days of the week in the field. At this point I can usually hear anxiety and concern in their tone, "You only see my daughter or son for two days? What happens the other five days of the week?"
"At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source. When you are an artist, you are a healer; a wordless trust of the same mystery is the foundation of your work and its integrity."
I have been thinking a lot lately around my graduate studies and training to become a therapist. I remember having a mentor (and highly seasoned clinician) reach out to me to congratulate me on my graduation a couple of years ago. The first thing he said was, “Now, all you have to do is forget everything you learned and start actually doing therapy.” We both laughed, but the reality was that he understood there was some truth behind this. Graduate school and additional training did an adequate job preparing me for the job of being a therapist, but ultimately didn’t completely teach me the art of truly being with another person. This became an integral part of my post-graduate training, and something I am sure I will continue to work on for decades.
This past week, I took a vacation to the Sierras to camp and hike with a friend (yes, I spend my free time outside, too!). My hope was to get some time to unwind and unplug, and I was particularly excited to get some good, quality sleep. I spent five years as a Field Instructor at Entrada, and most nights in the field with the groups, I fell asleep promptly, slept deeply, and woke rested. I always attributed this to simply sleeping outside, away from phones and screens and all the typical nightly distractions.
I worked with a student recently who I will call Al. Al did not trust me and he had reason not to. He had been hurt by many people in his life and he was wary of putting his trust into another. In our first session together I noticed him watching me whenever I wrote a note. About half way into our session I asked him if he would like to read what I was writing. I was honest with him and shared what I had written and why. Al’s next statement of mistrust was to ask me, “What is your strategy here?”
Much of what I have learned about the work I do everyday holding space for parents regarding their struggling kids came from my experience working at a residential treatment center (RTC) for adolescent girls. I, myself, am not a parent , but through this job I got the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be around, engage with, set boundaries with, and love teenage girls in a highly intense environment.
As a field staff, I am honored to witness powerful moments in the wilderness while students explore their therapeutic process. Many times, this exploration occurs through therapeutic assignments colloquially called “yellows.” After a year and a half working in the field, I’ve concluded my favorite yellows are assignments we call Empty Chairs. An Empty Chair is a chance for a student to address a concept or person that has had a significant influence in their life or “process.” I’ve seen Empty Chairs to students’ younger selves, family members, to anger, or school, for example. If this person, concept, or emotion was sitting in front of you in a chair, what would you say to them?
Recently, I was preparing for an Evoke Parent Support Group, stumbling through different topics looking for something that spoke to me (it may or may not have been at the last minute). I finally arrived at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, something I have looked at dozens of times, and discussed with both parents and clients on numerous occasions. One of the things I appreciate about the world of mental health is that I can look at something many times and still have a new takeaway. I was struck in that moment of preparation by Maslow’s understanding of our need to belong. Maslow posits that our love and belonging needs come just after our need for things like food, water, and safety. Our need for belonging even comes before our need for things like self-esteem, recognition, and freedom. The gravity of the need was truly apparent to me in that moment.
When my daughter was eight years old she asked to be signed up for city league basketball. I signed her up, and bought her some sweet basketball shoes and a jersey. I was excited to watch her bouncy brown pony tail move up and down the court, and to see her try a new sport. After the first two games, it was clear that she hated it. Hated it. She begged to quit, and I responded with one of my favorite "Mom-isms" at the time. “We can do hard things!” I pushed her to each game, where she would sit on the bench in sadness, and what I know now as anxiety.