Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reflections: Why I am not a psychotherapist (with credit to Harry Specht)

 Today has been the first day in a long, long time that I could actually use my Thursday research day.  Unfortunately, it was not for research, but working on catching up on grading.  This semester, with its added responsibilities of a second grant, the program director position, a new service learning project, and a class overload that involves an extra 120 students, has kept me from not only research and writing, but even staying current in evaluating assignments.  I suppose that is one of the reasons I tend to be more lenient these days in deadlines on assignments--at least to a certain extent.  I did decide that 6 weeks into the semester, and 6 additional opportunities to submit the assignments for the previous 6 weeks was enough of a break in one class.  That was the class in which I was not behind.
 We were watching Hawaii 50 last night, and I commented that my friend was there by now, having left Tuesday for the islands.  "Damn her eyes" (Johnny Cash).  Actually, I think it is great that she and her husband can vacation in such wonderful spots as Hawaii, Nova Scotia, Taos, and any number of other really neat places (even the Jersey shore qualifies, I suppose) for the months they live in snow, ice, rain, sleet, wind, and cold in Unalaska--though the 3 months of gorgeous summer would make up for that for me to not have to endure the Mississippi heat and humidity during those same 3 months.  I can't complain--it has not been that many months since I spent 3 weeks in my beloved South Africa, while Rand has not been out of Mississippi except to drive to Texas for family obligations in 2 years.
I took about 2 hours to work on the asset mapping project for the research service learning class and then spent the rest of the day grading journals for the other service learning project (pictured above).  Reading the reflections of students is always insightful for me, and can evoke any number of feelings.  Sometimes it is pleasure, as I see them beginning to make the connections between social work knowledge, skills, and values, and how to use them.  Sometimes, it is frustrating, as I see that I have failed to help them make those connections, and try to give feedback to help them see it in a different way.  Either way, it always contributes to my learning and I think about how to go about the process of educating students to practice social work, and in particular, social work with groups.

One of the lessons I have learned over my life--painfully at times--is to be relentlessly honest with myself and to assess my role in the outcome of a situation.  It does not come easy, and truthfully, after practicing for 20+ years, it comes much easier now than it did when I first began in this field.  Because of that, I know it takes time for students to learn to do that, and that I have to be patient as they develop those skills.  It is frustrating because the very size of classes, and the demands of those other things--like grants and research and program administration--sometimes keep you from being able to devote the amount of time you want to give to other things that are equally or more important.

So, what does this have to do with why I am not a psychotherapist?  I have been in the past: I have the knowledge, skills, and credentials to do so, and am licensed to do so.  I use my psychotherapy knowledge and skills all the time; I cannot help it.  As my colleague and partner in private practice used to say, "It's hard to turn off your therapist's ears" and I spent a lot of years in the mental health field.

It's because group work and community work is more fulfilling to me; it brings the sense of connection that I think all humans need, and it is through relationship that everything matters.  So even when it is painful to be in relationship (not in a relationship, but in relationship) I find joy in it.  As I shared with my friend last week while we were in Atlanta, sometimes out of our deepest and darkest pain is the breakthrough that we need to move forward, and when we have asked for that understanding, we cannot then say to the universe "never mind."

That understanding is what I wish for my students as they prepare to practice social work.

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