Sticky Notes From Alyssa
Dear New Therapists-
You are beginning your career in the hardest time of our human existence.
Surely every new therapist comes into this profession during some conflict in the world, when has there not been conflict? I came into my career post 9/11, after the Sandy Hook school shooting, and during events such as the Boston Marathon Bombing, federal government shut down and massive state wide service cuts, George Zimmerman’s acquittal of his murder of Trayvon Martin, and civil war conflict in Syria. My beginning wasn’t without existential questions and stress over how to process these events in my sessions with clients.
However, even though those events were happening, the hope for the future was still bright and life felt connected. I had my supports, I had my community, and I felt free to live my life on my terms.
Our new group of therapists are facing something much more significant. Much more emotional and individually (as well as collectively) challenging.
When COVID hit, I remember the panic I felt having to switch from in-person connection to telehealth with my clients. I remember telling myself that this would be a temporary side-step. I didn’t know how to do my job virtually. I did not feel like I was good at my job virtually. I remember the (virtual) gatherings I would attend with other therapists just so I can gain some footing on how we can help process the heaviness of the world closing down while also experiencing it ourselves. Just like everyone else was.
In our programs, we are taught to keep our “stuff” out of the room. I remember a professor once said “just leave your baggage outside of the door. Don’t let your baggage come into the room. It will make your work with a client less successful”. Well…here I was, experiencing COVID in the same way everyone else was. I was carrying the weight of the world just like most other folx were, except this time, I also had to do sessions from my home. In my bedroom. I couldn’t keep my baggage outside of the room. I was IN MY ROOM.
So imagine, you just graduated from grad school and you are off to start your work as a therapist. Arguably one of the hardest jobs someone can choose to do, you begin your career already on a shaky imposter felt foundation. And then COVID hits and you not only have to continue to learn how to even do this thing called therapy but also you have to do it from your own home, your own space, and through a screen. Your onsite supervision changes. The community you once had to help you process and let go of the stressors in the job are restricted and taken. There are no classes for that. There are no books that can prepare you for that. What often helps new therapists move through their normal development as a helper is to have boundaries in their work. That’s not really possible when therapy happens in your own space.
Now, as I write this letter, it has been two years into a global pandemic. We are seeing the highest number of therapy clients coming through our doors than ever before. Our kids and teens are suffering from all of the necessary isolation. Trans youth are being left unprotected. Our black and brown communities continue to be threatened and murdered. Our mother Earth is starving for love and respect to keep us healthy here. And we are on the brink of a world war as Russia invades Ukraine. This is heavy shit.
To my new therapists, thank you for showing up. Thank you for being here and continuing to pass along hope and compassion to our world. I am in awe of the grace you carry as you try to make sense of it all for yourself and for your clients. You are doing a beautiful job holding space for all the heavy and intense feelings being carried by the world.
My hope to you is that you may remind yourself that you are a human in the room with another human. You cannot and should not leave yourself out of that space. While there are boundaries we can cross as therapists in sharing too much of ourselves, it is imperative that we bring our whole selves with us to the room. Please don’t leave anyone outside of that room. Please don’t be afraid to feel with your clients. I believe that is the most healing thing we can do.
Let’s hold each other and be with each other. It’s the bravest and most important work we can do now and for our future.
With love and gratitude,
For new therapists: The Whole Therapist Podcast