Before I begin, a word of thanks.
You see, as a therapist, everything you do is hidden. You go to work every day, and you are bound by a code of silence. The sun can come up, and the sun can go down, and it is essential that no one know the people with whom you shared a singular bond while the Earth spun around. You must not tell anyone what transpired. The therapeutic space must be protected, and so everything you do, think, and feel must also remain tucked away.
And then one day you start a blog.
Your ideas begin to wind their way out of the lonely and safe space between your ears, through your fingertips, and they end up on the glowing screens of people you know, and of people you don’t know. I’ll be honest: that makes me nervous. Suddenly, those concerns about performance and achievement that I’ve “mastered” a thousand times are, once again, scratching at the back of my mind, like a mouse behind a wall that you thought you had eradicated. How can I describe the feeling? Perhaps the Avett Brothers already have, in their song, “Talk of Indolence:”
“Well, I’ve been locking myself up in my house for some time now, reading and writing and reading and thinking and searching for reasons and missing the seasons, the autumn, the spring, the summer, the snow… latches latched, the windows down… strapped to my work but I can’t make it stop, my confidence on and my confidence off, I sink to the bottom and I rise to the top, and I think to myself that I do this a lot, the world outside it goes and goes and goes, I witness it all through the blinds of my window. I’m a little nervous about what you’ll think when you see me in my swimming trunks…”
Pushing the “publish” button on that first post felt like stepping out of an insular existence and stepping into a much more vulnerable space, wearing only my professional and rhetorical Speedos. So, I wanted to begin this second post by sharing my gratitude for the ways that I have been encouraged and affirmed in the days since I pushed that button. I still feel like I’m wearing my swimming shorts. But it’s good to be at the pool with you.
As a therapist, the client is never the only person in the room under examination and subject to analysis. A healthy therapist will always be in the process of scrutinizing his (by the way, please forgive the masculine voice when it’s used, it’s the only one I’ve got) own motives, goals, and interventions. In other words, the therapist is sitting in his chair in the therapy room, but he is also, in his mind, always on the therapeutic couch, making sure that his needs are silent and that his client’s needs are the ones being met. So, perhaps it is not surprising that, following the first blog post, I asked myself the question, “Are you selfishly putting too much pressure on your clients to soar to the heights of redemption, just so that you can have the energy for the work?” One reader even astutely pointed out that the day-to-day work of a therapist actually involves very few moments of glorious resurrection, and many long hours of careful listening and empathizing. I think at least part of the answer may lie at the heart of what I mean by “redemption.”
Redemption is not a mountaintop.* Redemption is not an outcome or a place at which you arrive. Change is not absent today and present tomorrow. It’s birthed along the way. Redemption is a process, something that happens by placing one foot in front of the other and refusing to stop. You might say that redemption is afoot every time something new and good is happening, when the path being trod begins to lead somewhere different and true. Redemption is a choice that must be claimed and, once claimed, it can change everything. But, paradoxically it is also small, subtle, and by degrees. One foot in front of the other.
And it’s happening every day, in the small moments of quiet, plain therapy offices. It is present in the very act of showing up for a therapy session—in the outright rebellion against a culture that says you must have it all together, that your flaws are something to deny, and that ultimately no one can be trusted with your brokenness. It is present when the dark thoughts that have filled your inner space for years are finally uttered out loud. And they don’t destroy you. It is present when the wrenching sadness, the blazing rage, or the shaking fears are shared. And no one flinches. No one runs, or gets hurt by it, or asks you to put it away, and you start to learn that there are places in the world where people can know you and still value you. It is present when everything in you tells you to not go back, because sometimes its hurts, and there are a million good excuses to cancel the appointment, to be done with it altogether, and still you return. It is present when you leave the therapy space, and you do something that is almost indiscernible, but new: the milk gets spilled at the dinner table and you smile instead of seethe, or someone asks about you and you don’t change the subject, or another request is laid at your feet and you quietly say no without having to volunteer an excuse, or your friends are dismissive and you discover that it doesn’t wreck your day and it doesn’t define you, or another boy pressures you for more and you know who you are and you tell him no and it doesn’t matter what he thinks, or you simply catch yourself in the midst of it all feeling that everything will be okay, that you will be okay.
I think redemption works like that, and I think we are all dying to claim it.
*When I write as if I know what I’m talking about, please know that some amount of uncertainty is always implied. What I “knew” for sure last year is no longer true, and it is anyone’s guess what I might “know” next year.