I can’t be a therapist.
Did I consider my Junior year of college that I might want to go to grad school for Psychology having not taken a single psychology course?
Yes I did.
Did I then rush through every necessary course required to apply to the psychology grad program most likely at a speed no one had dared attempt before?
Did I then apply, get accepted, and go through two years of school including a year long counseling internship only to discover that I didn’t really want to be a therapist?
Well, yeah. That’s about how it went down.
Let me tell you how I felt when I realized that in no traditional sense did I want to be a therapist.
This is what happened, to the best of my limited knowledge and what I can understand about what in the world the good Lord of my life is up to.
This last year I was working in a college setting meeting with students dealing with everything from home difficulties to depression to suicidal thoughts to grief over the death of a father or mother, to regret over an abortion. I can’t share specifics here, but let’s just say I saw a pretty wide spectrum of issues come through my door. I can honestly say it was one of the greatest privileges of my life to have these students who didn’t know me from Eve take the risk to open up and share their lives– lives that were messier and harder and full of more tears than my life has yet to see.
It was an honor to see them be so raw and vulnerable with me. I wanted to be the same way with them…but I couldn’t. I could go into all of the amazing ethical reasons it’s good to have a clearly defined relationship with your client in therapy- within therapist/client roles only. You try not to run into them at the grocery store, you will never see the inside of their home, and if they ask you a personal question about yourself, the best thing to do is try to redirect the conversation.The beauty of the therapeutic relationship is said to be in that it is so separate from all other relationships. As a counselor I am not wrapped up in your life. I don’t know your Mom, but she sounds terrible. I can’t promise that your roommate is as horrible as you think she is, but I’m gonna have to take your word for it. When you cry, I want to cry, but I try desperately to hold it together.
Here is what I want to say to two of my clients. (Names have been changed and situations modified so as to keep things legal and totally anonymous).
You work for 13 hours a day and manage to go to class too, and get A’s. Only 10% of what you make goes to yourself for means of getting food and clothes. The rest goes to your sister who has a husband in prison. Mostly you send her money because you’re afraid if you don’t, she won’t be feeding your niece, who is only 2 and can’t fend for herself. You wept when you spoke of the little one, because you love her. You want her to believe that there is more than life as she’s known it, that she isn’t bound to drop out of high school. I cried when I realized that you were going to change her life. You were going to show her what it looked like to follow your passions and get that degree and hold it up high even though your family doesn’t get it. You want to become a counselor and help kids who grew up like you know that there’s life outside of the trailer park. We talked about your family, I encouraged you to write a letter to your niece, and tell her everything you believe about her, about how far she’s going to go. You looked like you wanted to hug me when I told you that you, YES YOU, were going to change her life. Forever. You looked like you desperately wanted to hug me, but you knew that you couldn’t, because…well, this is therapy, and that’s ethically questionable.
I wanted to sneak $400 into your CPO anonymously and write that you had to use it for yourself. I wanted to buy you a new pair of shoes so that you could keep up when you played tennis with your friends. I wanted to tell you that if you were my uncle I would ask you to adopt me because you, unlike her Dad in prison, are known by your selflessness and sacrificial love. But I couldn’t. And I get why I couldn’t, but my heart ached from the inability to do what my heart wanted me to do.
You told me that you had taken a pill to abort your baby over Christmas. I didn’t even know you were pregnant when you came in first semester, mostly for educational issues. You sobbed in my office as you told me that your boyfriend’s mother (a nurse) came in the room after you took your pregnancy test and yelled, “You know what you have to do, girl! You will NOT ruin my son’s life. Get it taken care of.” You had nobody. Nobody to talk to you about that heartbeat inside of you, flesh and blood, already growing. You didn’t want to abort the baby, but you just felt so alone. When you showed me the picture of the ultrasound that you still carry around in your phone, I touched the screen and felt my own heart beating wildly. He was so beautiful. You told me how you wanted to post pictures of the ultrasound all over your boyfriend’s windows, wanting him to feel what you felt but knowing he never would. We talked about forgiveness, mostly about needing to forgive yourself. You didn’t know if you could. I talked about God and his love for you that knows no boundaries. That sees past your shame into your heart, and loves you so deeply you wouldn’t even believe it. You wanted to believe me. You wanted to believe that such a God existed.
I wanted to hold your hand, and let you cry on my shoulder. I wanted to meet the nurse that said to you,” Look at that beautiful baby,” and, “It’s hard to raise one on your own, but you can do it. This baby loves you already. Can you hear his heartbeat?” I wanted to go to that nurse and thank her for speaking the truth over you, and for holding your hand and telling you that you were loved when you came back afterward to deal with your stomach pains. I wanted to have you over for dinner and feed you good food and cover you with the love of Jesus. I couldn’t, though. Ethics, you know. You’re in my heart, Gracie. I think about you all the time.
Let me tell you something. Therapy can be messy, but real life is a whole lot messier. I wanted to get up into these people’s lives, if they wanted me to. I wanted to introduce Ray to my husband, because they would have played sports for hours. I wanted to bring Gracie into my home and show her that she’s a child of God, totally loved and forgiven. Even an ounce of that would have been more complicated than a therapy hour. It would be welcoming people into my house, paying for their meals, maybe offering to pick them up and drive them around town when they needed me to. It would take up my time, my energy, my very life.
Nothing clean about it. Nothing sterile, or set aside, or average. Messy, tornado messy.
I don’t want to have to worry about ethics, guys. Now don’t worry, I’m not going to lose it and go crazy. I’m not going to become inappropriate. My life is guided by the Word of God and I’m not going to do anything it doesn’t let me do. But here’s what the Word of God does let me do: love. Love at great and enormous and massive cost to myself. When Jesus loved people he got down in the mud. He touched stones only to take them from the hands of others, he whispered in listening ears, he spoke the truth, and he healed. He wasn’t afraid of the bigwigs of the day, because he knew that although they looked like they had it together on the inside, they were a hot mess. He wanted to help them too. He had a big thing for outsiders and orphans and widows and sinners.
He has a big thing for you and me. And if you want to know how messy it got, look at the cross. God gave us Himself in the midst of all of our mess, and nothing less.
I want to give myself, and I don’t want to give anything less.
I have classmates that will meet with people who need help, and they will sit with love and compassion and total decorum and they will follow every ethical guideline and their clients will be wildly helped. I love those classmates. They are gonna change the world in those four walls, and I pray for them often. They rock my socks off.
But that will not be my story.
I hope you see me talking with women in the church lobby. I hope you see me crying in Starbucks and praying for someone at the drive-thru. I hope you catch me giving more money away than I have to spare. My “office” will probably have fold-up chairs or hideously patterned couches or lattes. For a season I’ll be changing the world with spit-up on my shoulder. Really I imagine that my work in the world won’t be so much a job as a life. I’m realizing, as a movie quote once shared, you don’t choose a life, you live one. And even though it seems like I got way off course on the life I thought I wanted to live, I see that I didn’t. In the Kingdom of God nothing is wasted, and I could not have been in any better program than a counseling program to learn what God knows I needed to learn. I will always be learning.
This fall I am moving to St. Louis and starting Seminary. I’ll be getting a Masters in Theological Studies. I’m gonna soak up the Bible like a crazy person, and I’m going to pour words of life all over people. I pray already for the people that I will meet, and the friends I will make who– in a professional job or not–want to open the doors of their hearts and their homes to anyone and everyone.
It’s gonna be nuts, absolutely nuts. It’s going to be a raging storm of life and love and mess and hope and fear and sorrow and joy.
It’s going to mean the Kingdom come, and His will be done, and the cross stands in the center of it all.
I see Christ with His arms spread wide, saying, “Atta girl. You love them. Love them like this.”