I have often filtered blank or confused stares along with comments of bewilderment when I share what it is that I have chosen to do as my life’s work. Having wanted to be a therapist since early on in grade school, I never even doubted for a moment that I would find meaning, intrigue and joy in the work.
I have felt for a long time that many do not understand what it is that I do, let alone why it is that I continue to choose each and every week, to engage in the very personal art of talk therapy. Today I sat down at my desk hours before my first client would arrive, after doing some house keeping, finishing a cup of coffee and steeping a cup of tea for warmth and comfort, I wanted to write a little piece about why I choose to listen.
I am fairly certain that in my younger years as I dreamt of becoming a psychologist that I had no clear picture of what that would actually be like. Sure, I had an idea of what it would look like “me in a chair and my client in another or better yet a couch…” But with regards to what it would feel like, what the work would actually entail and the emotion that would be involved, I’m certain I had no clue. I loved to listen to my friends, I loved to hear their life stories and for some reason I cared deeply about their homes, their families, their relationships, their stressors. My heart would ache when there was pain or heartache. My soul would dance when there was success or accomplishment or joy. My mind would swirl when there was confusion or loss or unknown chaos. I was naturally curious. I was naturally right there, in the thick of it. Heart and soul.
By the time I had made it to my undergrad and declared my major in psychology, I was deeply rooted in relationships of all kind and my own study of people and human interaction was alive and well. In all honesty, I felt my degree had very little to do with that, if anything it discouraged me from wanting to follow through with getting the degree. It was heavy. It was dark. It was unpacking the nature of well-being and disintegrating it into sickness and dysfunction and it was disillusioning. It became all too easy for me to focus on the disease and the lack of health and absence of well-being and become consumed by diagnosis and how to treat each and every one and what ones could not be treated (according to the research at that time). I needed something more hope filled. I needed something to hold onto and not let go of, I needed to know that health and wholeness was possible, even for the most dysfunctional and diseased individuals. I had no desire to discuss those who could not get better; I simply did not adhere to this belief.
I could share many years worth of my own data on relationships and communication, both the formal and informal education that I received and I could tell of my own ups and downs along the way as I moved toward my career goal. Sparing the unnecessary details, I will share that I made it through grad-school, not without bruising and scars that still remain, but I survived and lived to tell about it. All I mean to say about that is that becoming a therapist is somewhat akin to participating in therapy. You get to become all too familiar with your own story, where you came from, what you learned, and how you carry all of those experiences and realities along with you today. It is an arduous journey. It is not for the faint of heart. It is emotional, it is taxing, it is messy and it is absolutely beautiful.
I became a talk therapist because I believed that people needed to have someone to share their life’s story with. Someone who was unbiased, unattached and unconditionally accepting of the process which one goes through to find one’s self, one’s purpose, one’s individual journey and the meaning within it.
I want to simply blast the stereotypes out of the water. I want to smother the noxious fumes that remain of misunderstood psychobabble. I want to instill a hope and a strong belief, backed up by scientific research, that people can and do change. Everyday. Through hard and meaningful work. The act of diving into psychotherapy, of being willing to look back in order to understand present and decide about the future, is stunningly beautiful and it is not to be ashamed of.
Each and every one of us, healthy, unhealthy, functional, dysfunctional… we all need to understand where we came from in order to figure out where we’re going. Somehow we need to start having the conversation about psychotherapy as preventative medicine, as holistic balance in a world that is out of balance and confused about priorities and health. There is no shame in doing the work of telling your story and integrating your past, present and future. It is powerful and life altering work and it is a privilege for me to guide in such a journey. I will go on choosing to do this work of listening, this art of living and loving and sharing in the beautiful stories of others. I am proud to participate in such a gifted kind of work.
Chelsea Bliss Ward