It’s been a few weeks since the official dive into summer break for our students across the country. In Florida, the sun is bearing down on our shoulders cultivating the predictable afternoon storms that roll in to cool off the scorching ground. Typically, I would see routine travel plans followed by quick adjustments to client’s scheduling needs. Yet, this year, I am left sitting with the sounds of crickets as the masses flee any resemblance of routines.
Everyone is kicking up their heels and packing their bags, yet where does that leave me?
Do I add more clientele, risking the scheduling consequences for those actively seeking their joy? Do I wait for the chaotic drive for freedom to die down, twiddling my thumbs and watching my financial income dwindle? Of course, I will always hope for healing, and that the quest for peace is long lasting for those whom I was humbly apart of their healing journeys. Yet, I struggle to fully embrace the lull and wrestle with the urge to sink into disarray at the look of my spotty schedule.
There are disparities within the business realm of the mental health world. Take a peek into the logistics of working in a community mental health setting, and you will choke at the insulting pay rates and demand to meet idealistic client quotas. Yet there is a “steady” paycheck, however discrediting it may be, and there are higher potentials for traditional benefits. Most of the time, these “perks” are hardly worth the demands to put aside our humanness as clinicians and serve as robots dressed in human outfits.
If you're wickedly blessed like I am and find opportunity to work as a clinician in a private practice setting, the flexibility to attend to the human parts of you is far more attainable. Private practice allows for therapists to construct schedules and caseloads that are realistically doable, so burnout is not at the forefront of our minds. We are able to adjust rates that are fitting for our skillsets, and we are better able to embrace the quality of our abilities to best serve our clients. Yet, if I do not see clients or foster “billable” hours, there is no method of generating income. Pursuing benefits such as insurance or retirement saving plans fall on my shoulders. All are of which completely understandable. Yet, these “cons” to the private practice sector carry their own weight in what can keep me up at night.
Life carries onto its tempo in the form of seasons, and I am leaning into the discomfort that this suspension in caseload predictability has a promise of non-permanence. It is good practice to store away income when business is bustling, and budget responsibility when interludes in therapy sessions and high cancellation rates are abundant. It’s a reality that therapists in our current stagnant system must face.
I am tipping my hat to those soaking up the good times away from the rigor of their typical responsibilities, knowing the challenges I am facing are not their burden to carry.
This is merely a snapshot into the realities of the business side of mental health therapy. Our associations and organizations are tirelessly advocating for shifts within the macrocosm that runs the systems we exist in. License portability, wider insurance recognition of the importance of creating a smoother pathway to mental health accessibility, and generating more attention to the realistic needs of clinicians are just a few things on the forefront of the discussion points.
Cheers to summer!
What a lifetime this past school year has been. I have never witnessed the level of collective burnout amongst our youth like I have with the seemingly drawn-out conclusion of this particular school year. The number of novel experiences and disruptions to the typical flow of the academic year was enough to drive our kiddos bonkers. Final exams were held six weeks prior to the last day of school, state-wide testing was held four weeks in advance, and then everyone fumbled with tasks to keep the students busy until the states were satisfied with the number of days the children spent inside the educational walls.
As a clinician, it’s fascinating to observe the collective patterns of those within the community that I work in. My colleagues and I joke that something must be in the water, due to the overarching patterns of behavior that we seemingly bare witness to. If one client has a bad week, it seems the majority face obstacles they must navigate. If one client proclaims a planned vacation, all of the sudden, other proclamations of travels pop up within my caseload.
The ripple effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is still quite frequently felt, even a year and a half after the initial panic. Although I hear frequently that “we are returning back to normal”, I acknowledge that this “normal” we are all clamoring to is a desperate attempt to overlook the aftershocks of the traumatic blow to our World. Beneath the surface, we are no where near the state of equilibrium we all chase in our dreams. This summer is laced with the impacts of the pandemic, including the overarching theme of “getting the hell out of dodge”.
Yep, a large part of my caseload is packing up their bags and embarking on adventures outside of the bubbles they have been trapped in since the start of statewide lockdowns. The release of pressure from the chaotic school year has many breathing temporary sighs of relief which impact the overbearing presence of whatever dysfunction or challenge that originally led them to therapy. I wave goodbye to my clients and their families as they make the most out of this burst of optimistic energy. As if we all subconsciously recognize the calm before the return of the storm.
I wish the culture surrounding vacations or unplugged adventures could permanently mimic the mindset that I see present within my current community. Prior to the pandemic, vacations were almost not worth the exhausting effort it took to prepare our worlds to continue to spin without us. Guilt and anxiety, more often than not, talked us out of extended escapades, and we grappled with the crippling burnout simmering beneath the surface of our souls. Fast forward to present day, and the narrative of society is turned on it’s head. We are witnessing millions quit their jobs after returning to the office to sit with the suffocating ways of “what used to be”. The curse and the blessing of a forced hiatus from our usual is that we gain clarity into the dysfunction of our routines. Others have borne witness to insurmountable grief and loss that it forced their hand in what they prioritize within their lives.
We miss our people. We are hopelessly homesick for the memories and places we felt peace. We are tremendously in need of a heaping dose of happy. I don’t know about you, but I am so sick and tired of feeling sad.
Perhaps this normalized momentum toward the necessity of vacation and quests for happy will be here to stay. It’s difficult to muster up optimism (yet another ripple effect of the pandemic), yet here I am wishing upon a star. Tuning into the culture surrounding time out of the office as a clinician, it’s even more difficult to slip away without worry for our clients tugging at our thoughts. As a therapist, I am chronically fatigued from the anguish swirling around as a result of the trauma that has raged. Just as this past school year has been unequivocally novel to our children, families, and teachers, this stent of time has been unseen before in the mental health realm. In no graduate school textbook will you find a chapter on “unique needs and treatment plans for those experiencing a pandemic”. We therapists have been functioning as trailblazers as we struggle to wear all the hats necessary to serve as a supportive clinician. Your girl is wiped out.
Take it from a therapist who has sat with insuperable pain, grief, terror, anxiety, and sadness. Who has consulted with her colleagues who feel just as overwhelmingly fatigued. Who has struggled to dedicate enough compassion to her own self-care during this season of catastrophe.
Take the damn trip.
Call out of work.
Take the mental health day.
Embrace the peace we all direly deserve.
We really do not give Kindergarten the credit it deserves when it comes to the values it encapsulates. Some wise soul decided to craft a book about the lessons learned in the year prior to jumping both feet into the academic rat race. Its humble wittiness is endearing.
Ms. Wahloo was the delightful name of my Kindergarten teacher. Imagine the vivacious teacher from The Magic School Bus and you’ve got an idea of the soul that graced the classroom that year. To grab the attention of 20+ youngsters with the attention spans of hamsters, she would clap out a pattern to signal us to follow suit. Then, she would place a finger over her mouth and poise two fingers with her other hand above her head. Again, the expectation was for us little humans to copy the pose. Years later, I connected the dots and realized the two fingers meant listen with both ears.
What a lesson this is, that is so underappreciated once we exit the Kindergarten classroom.
I cannot tell you how many people grace my office that only listen with one ear. One ear to capture the dialogue of the experiences different from their own, and the other ear is distracted by the buzz of their own flustered internal dialogue that is busy preparing to rebuttal whatever narrative is shared by the other.
So often, we become conditioned to listen to respond, forgetting that the true purpose of listening is to understand.
My favorite cop-out line is “I hear what you’re saying but…”
Oy, if only people knew the negating nature of that “but”.
I will admit, I had to complete a master’s program to relearn the original intent of listening, including relearning how to properly attend to those I am engaged with. This meant I had to exercise the art of putting aside my own agenda to sit with the experiences of someone else’s that were different from my own. This was easily one of the most arduous skills to incorporate into my clinical repertoire.
What makes putting a pause on our own agendas so difficult? Perhaps it’s the irritating experience of perceived misunderstanding on behalf of the others involved in the dialogue. Defensiveness derives from a place of vulnerability that nobody wants to validate. If we acknowledge the vulnerability in the room, then we must sit with the fact that it’s an impossible feat to fully “get” the differing perspectives circulating within a discussion. Desperate to cover up our humanness, we latch onto the idealistic expectation of convincing others our experiences are the most “correct”. Yet, all this pattern of interaction does is chase one another around the metaphorical bush.
I work toward normalizing the act of pausing as a clinician. This always throws me back to the stance Ms. Wahloo took with the two fingers high above her head. As youngsters, we adapted to the mindful nature this simple pose signified. We were not focused on the internal dialogue poised to attack in response. Instead, we placed our bumbling agendas to the side and attended with both ears to the thoughts and feelings of the bubbly teacher we adored. Perhaps this is where we get lost. We so often sidestep the compassion that humans are worthy of and get lost in the shame of vulnerability that is cued by hurt feelings.
Something they forget to teach us in grade school is that we must achieve understanding prior to problem solving in any vocalized interaction with others. If we jump right into problem solving, it is as if we begin to build a new house before the old one is finished burning. We must first attend to the fire prior to beginning new construction. This means we must first hit the pause button and tune into the worlds of those we are stuck with in a misunderstanding. Validation of the authentic nature of another’s experiences primes each party for adequate problem solving. It’s enormously helpful to muster up compassion while this pause button is hit, so that we can fight the urge to listen to respond and instead focus on empathizing with the other’s perspectives. This does not mean you must agree with their perspective, but to merely exude empathy that this is in fact the other’s stance on the matter. Similar, yet vastly different.
Your patience will nag you as you first habituate to the engagement of dual-ear listening. It’s difficult to sit with the discomfort of misunderstandings and exude compassion when also experiencing frustration. All completely and utterly valid experiences. Yet, if you’d like to sidestep the mundane sprint around the metaphorical bush of disagreements, this practice of listening with both ears will pay off in the long run.
Plus, that Kindergarten teacher would be quite proud.
Heck, they would probably even give you a sticker.
There are many constructs floating around within our experiences that are not meant to be ours to hold. Yet, human nature fights against the natural flow of the “should” and “shouldn’ts”, and we wind up stuck in the quicksand of our own fruition. Try as we might, we overthink ourselves into the same unhelpful traps that distract from the bigger picture of our purpose.
I grew up mulling over the construct of time. Paying mind to the dutiful way my Grandfather poised his watch to face inwardly on his weathered left wrist. Without missing a beat, he would methodically check this small, ticking trinket that would cue him to various acts throughout his mundane day. Check the mail, eat the meal, make the drink, watch the show, head to bed. What powers this little watch seemed to possessed over the nature of my Grandfather’s steps. As a kiddo, I’d playfully envision invisible puppet strings dictating his moves. He was most comfortingly predictable.
I sit here now feeling the weathered leather of his watch bands beneath my fingers.
While time decided that my Grandfather go reunite with his bride of 60+ years, I am left with one of his most treasured trinkets. When I hold this watch within my grasp, I can close my eyes and imagine his strong grip envelope my own.
Time, come to find out, was just a melody within my grandfather’s world he soulfully respected. He recognized the wild nature of it and faithfully trusted that time could rely on itself. Time was not his to manipulate or control, instead it was as free as a songbird. Meant to dance to its own tempo. My grandfather was merely a spectator to its beat.
I am allowing myself to marinate in the lessons my grandfather passed on in the form of this watch.
Tears cascade quietly down my cheeks as I tighten my grip on the memories.
I am learning that time does not require manipulation. It need not to be controlled but to be embraced.
Time is a gift.
Time grants permission for memories, healing, and growth.
Time cultivates life and purpose.
We’ve memorized the tempo of its methodical ticking, but for all the wrong reasons. We humans crave control in a fierce and unrelenting way. It’s addictive and perspective-altering, creating a false sense of security and breeds idealistic expectations. Control interrupts the tempo of time to the point of getting to a metaphorical finish line and realize we forgot to pause and breathe in the moments that mattered.
My grandfather danced to the melodies of time. He rode the tempos of the highs and lows, he treasured the quiet moments, and embraced the twists and turns that ensued. He sought to focus on the beauty of the uncontrollable nature of time, and reaped a fulfilling life as a result. He carried each day and honored the time that allotted him his influences and here-says. He thanked time for its gift of practicing resiliency and exercising his voice in a way that would leave an impression.
This watch has taught me an awful lot.
Mostly due to the man it was connected to.
Here’s to dancing to the melodies of time instead of embarking on a quest to control it.
Thank you for an incredibly powerful lesson in mindfulness and seeking beauty in all the unusual places.