Last week I wrote about purpose. This week on Facebook I posted a quote from my psychology magazine. Today I noticed that the headline of the article reads “Fulfillment of Purpose.” Hmmm…
I am going to repost that quote and add another from the same article by Mark Hubble, Francoise Mathieu, and Scott Miller. The article is talking about the purpose of therapists. “In the end, we don’t fulfill our purpose by providing caring, empathy, and compassion, no matter how lovingly extended. We do fulfill our purpose, however, when we consistently engage in the kinds of therapeutic practices that objectively promote the client’s improvement. Further, genuinely and demonstrably helping people improve is the entire point of therapy and, in the end, the best of all ways to show that we really, deeply care.”
I had mixed feelings when I read this. Often times I am amazed by the way my personal life dovetails with what is going on in my professional life. This is one of those times that as I read those words, I can’t separate how I feel as a therapist, with how I feel as a client myself, or how I feel as a human being in general.
The ultimate goal is progress, change, growth. When I run groups, I stress that. We are here to support each other, but if we aren’t working toward change, then you are paying for a bitch session. Come and spill your guts, get validated, but then let’s talk about how to move forward.
When that happens (i.e. we have an “aha” moment and actually move forward) in therapy or in life, it is very gratifying and satisfying. Knowing that things actually “work” is a great experience. But what about when we are stuck? And what if that statement is even wrong? Being “stuck” implies that you should be moving forward. What if we are just meant to be where we are? What if right now is as good as it gets? There also seems to be wisdom in that Eastern thought of contentment exactly where you are.
I recently had a talk with one of my clients about this before I read the article. I’ve been seeing her over ten years. I’ve been seeing her husband less than that, but still for several years. They were having one of those repetitive arguments where they both had good points. He said, “We’ve been talking about this for years.” She looked at me, shrugged her shoulders, and said, “I got nothing.”
I was listening to them, thinking the exact same thoughts. They both have good points. I don’t know that they can/will change. I have no idea how to help them past this one. (Wasn’t a life-changing argument, just one of those annoying living with each other things.) I looked at them, shrugged my shoulders, and said, “I got nothing either.”
And they pay me!
Later, she and I were talking in her individual session. It was one of those conversations about angst and the circular problems of life. You do everything you can, but fundamentally things don’t change. I could totally identify with her. I said that sometimes I feel like I would do her a better service if I referred her to someone new who had more wise things to say other than validate her frustrations. She emphatically told me that she would end up walking away from a therapist like that. One of the reasons she has continued all these years, is because I am genuine and real, and she feels like I really get it.
I’ve been seeing my therapist for 15 years. People ask me sometimes if I should change it up. I guess what I’ve concluded is that even if my life doesn’t radically change, I feel good for that 50 minutes I am there. He knows me inside and out. He challenges me and tells me things that are hard to hear sometimes. But overall, it just feels better to have a compassionate ear.
All that flies in the face of what that article says. I guess I don’t fully agree or disagree. I think ONE of the purposes of therapy IS to deliver compassionate care. But another very important purpose is to help people change and grow. I guess that is the bigger purpose. Perhaps the steps to get there require the caring.
In my own life, and my professional life, my purpose is to grow and change, by providing compassion and love. And when the change is slow or non-existent, and I am left with people who care, I prefer not to think of that is failure. Sometimes that is as good as it gets. And if you truly have that love and understanding, that is pretty damn good.