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May 16, 2021

An Ode to Therapists & Healers: the Unsung Heroes.

 

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I remember reaching out to two of my therapists, who were (and still are) my mentors years ago, to express my heartfelt gratitude for the solid support system they had been for me. 

I told them how their presence and understanding had created such a profound difference in my life.

As the conversation proceeded further, I received a common sentiment from both of them—something I didn’t understand back then but ended up experiencing myself much later. They both said that it’s quite rare for people to actually acknowledge the support that mental health caregivers (therapists, counselors) provide.

Of course, when asked to write testimonials and feedback, most people graciously comply. However, reaching out and acknowledging the impact that a therapist has made on someone’s life doesn’t come organically to a lot.

I wondered: why?

Why would you not feel grateful and acknowledge this support that you get from a total stranger when you are down and out?

When you find yourself in a place where you feel misunderstood, alienated, and disconnected from your friends, family members, and even your own self and someone helps you to come out of that dark space through their presence, empathy, and compassion, why wouldn’t you naturally feel a sense of connectedness and gratitude?

It breaks my heart to see, hear, and feel that this kind of endeavor (it’s not “work”)—which has the potential to transform so many lives and has—is viewed from a transactional perspective so often.

Going to a therapist or a coach is not akin to seeking treatment for a disease or disorder. There are no tricks in the bag.

A therapist invests his/her time, energy, presence in the person in front of him/her, keeping their best interest in mind.

“In my early professional years, I was asking the question: how can I treat, cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: how can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his/her own personal growth?” ~ Carl Rogers

Yes, we have to train ourselves to be empathetic and compassionate with a sense of detachment. Yet, it doesn’t take the human component away from us.

We feel our clients’ pain (even though we may not show it explicitly). We end up carrying some stories back with us—ones that make us wish we could do more. Sometimes, we feel a client’s grief as if it was ours. It’s just that we know what’s important at that moment: the person in front of us.

I understand that not all therapists will be like this; not every experience will be transformational for every client. And that’s only because the relationships nowadays have more of a transactional, give-and-take element to them rather than focusing on genuine human connection.

Sometimes, when my clients reach out to me—ask me how I am doing or if I am taking care of myself—and acknowledge my contribution in their lives through messages or small gestures, it fills my heart with joy.

It makes me feel that whatever I’m doing makes sense.

For most of us in the realm of health care, the ultimate success is seeing our clients transform and create meaningful lives.

When they come back to us with their success stories, it’s a proud moment for us, just as it is for them.

I wonder: where has this element gone?

Why aren’t we doing more of it?

What stops us from acknowledging the contribution someone has made to our lives?

What would our life have been if it hadn’t been for that companion who helped us in our journey?

“When the other person is hurting, confused, troubled, anxious, alienated, terrified, or when he/she is doubtful of self-worth, uncertain as to identity, then understanding is called for. The gentle and sensitive companionship of an empathic stance…provides illumination and healing. In such situations, deep understanding is, I believe, the most precious gift one can give to another.” ~ Carl Rogers

Some time ago, I came across a post on social media that said that “running is cheaper than therapy.” It made me angry. It belittled the entire process of therapy and completely undermined the work and investment we make as therapists: to help individuals put their life and emotions in perspective—something that enables them to create desirable and powerful shifts within themselves.

Even though it comes in the category of “work” or “job,” taking emotional or physical care of another human being has a life-changing dimension to it.

Sadly, it goes unnoticed so many times.

“As therapists, we are in the business of freedomwe help people relinquish stories of self that are painful, stories of this moment that are alienating, stories of the future that are limiting.” ~ Ili Rivera Walter

We often overlook the fact that the one who’s “supposed” to provide this emotional or physical care and understanding is a fellow human being too—someone trying his/her best.

They are reaching into the depths of their own knowledge, experience, wisdom, and pain so that it can become the remedy for someone else, in whichever way possible.

“I hear the words, the thoughts, the feeling tones, the personal meaning, even the meaning that is below the conscious intent of the speaker. Sometimes too, in a message which superficially is not very important, I hear a deep human cry that lies buried and unknown far below the surface of the person. So I have learned to ask myself, can I hear the sounds and sense the shape of this other person’s inner world? Can I resonate with what he is saying so deeply that I sense the meanings he is afraid of, yet would like to communicate, as well as those he knows?” ~ Carl Rogers

It doesn’t mean that we have to thank them every second of the day! In fact, it’s not about thinking at all.

Perhaps, all I’m trying to say is that if we can try and remove the transactional element from it (from both sides), we would actually be creating a relationship that has therapeutic and healing properties itself.

The very nature of the relationship will form the backbone of insights, learnings, and shifts to occur.

“A connection is the energy that exists between two people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from that relationship.” ~ Anonymous

If only we learn to hold space for each other…

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