I’ve wanted to be a psychotherapist since I was in eighth grade. It’s what I went to school for, and it’s what I’ve done for the last ten years. I’ve been licensed and with with the same private practice for ten years. It was a very comfortable place to me. I liked my colleagues, I liked that the job was challenging and cerebral, and I loved that I could set my own hours and work part-time for a decent wage. One of the things that drew me to this career was that I thought it would be very compatible with motherhood. I thought I could see a part-time caseload during Mark’s off days, while staying home with the kids.
This worked out well when Jafta was a baby. I really enjoyed going in to work, and the adult conversation was a welcome change to the quiet days at home with a baby. When India came along, it got a little more difficult to juggle. I felt a little more frazzled in session, and really struggled to keep up with returning phone calls and setting appointments during the week. Once I had Karis, I could barely find the time to call back the referrals I got. The few long-standing clients I saw after her arrival were hard for me. I felt like my brain was in short-circuit mode. I just couldn’t get my head into a space where I could really be present with clients. I am an introvert, and motherhood was draining any energy I had that I could previously devote to my job.
Now that Kembe is here, it has become increasingly obvious that I won’t be able to continue in this line of work (at least any time soon). Parenting four kids is incredibly taxing for me as an introvert – but parenting Kembe also requires a great deal of therapeutic intervention. I am daily trying to help him grieve his losses and break through some of his emotional and behavioral issues. With all the trauma we are working through at home, it seems impossible to then go and help others work through their own stuff.
I’m also finding it more and more difficult to handle “heaviness” in general. I have often thought that my cynicism and sarcasm have been shaped, in part, as a way to cope with a job where I deal with the worst of humanity, day in and day out. I look back at the last ten years and wonder how it has shaped me to hear story after story of the way humans are ugly and hurtful to each other. From divorce to child abuse to domestic violence to infidelity – I have heard it all. There have been many times when I’ve wondered if I wouldn’t be happier arranging flowers, or designing furniture. As a therapist you are supposed to learn the art of detaching – but I have found that detachment follows me into other arenas of life, which hasn’t always been good.
I’ve been holding on to this career, though, partly because a large part of my identity has been wrapped up in this career I chose before I knew myself well, and partly because I feel like the years of grad school and student loans mean that I need to stick it out. (There is also the bigger part of not knowing what else I can do professionally, but that’s another story). But I’ve been avoiding any acknowledgment that I’m done – telling referrals that I’m on “maternity leave”, even though it’s been a year. And telling colleagues that I’m just taking a break.
Last week, my office called . . . and in a very gentle and therapeutic way, suggested that maybe it was time for me to come get my diplomas and books. They were absolutely right. I haven’t been into the office in nearly a year. But something in me wanted to hold that place, because I just didn’t want to admit that I am too compromised to be a therapist right now. Or maybe ever.
So I went and got my things, and packed up ten years worth of books with titles like Working with Emotional Intelligence and Anxiety Disorders and Phobias. As I packed it into my car, I wondered what to do with all this books. And I don’t just mean where to put these books (though that poses a problem, too). But the more existential question: what do I do now, with all this knowledge, and without the ability to apply it?
(And yes, the obvious answer here is that I can apply the knowledge with my children. But I’m having a little pity-party of vocational identity, so let’s not go there, okay?)
For the time being, I’m still teaching a couple classes in the grad psych department, and supervising a few interns, but I’ve officially taken down my shingle as a private practice therapist. Books are in the garage. Diplomas are in a box. Self-identity undeniably in flux.