I try, most days, to go into work with anticipation of the stories I will hear, and the emotions I will share in. That, I think for me, is what keeps me coming back. I feel that each session with a client is another chapter in a rich and powerful life novel. Fiction? Non-fiction? Sometimes I do not know for sure. I believe that we all tell stories about ourselves that might not always ring true in every sense of the word. But, whether or not it is fact or fiction, the stories allow both the author/client, along with the listener/me, an opportunity to try on different ways of being. I believe when this occurs, that the formation of the true self begins.
Today, I was listener and witness to a client’s new draft of how she saw herself. As I sat quietly and heard her description of the challenges she completed this past week, I saw a spark in her eye. The spark needed in order for her to claim her life – the life that she thought she lost a long time ago. Was this the happy ending to her story? No, but today’s draft enabled her to see that all was not lost, and that she could manage to wrangle all the disparate parts of herself for awhile, long enough to give her hope.
Next, I met with a client, who willingly re-writes her life in each session, her story becoming more and more lyrical, coherent, and bold. The shy, meek woman moving toward a sense of true self and the realization that past behaviors of supplication did nothing to help. Empowered? Yes. Arrogant? No. She left the session with more parts of herself than before.
The young mother, who in all her earnest ways, struggles to understand how, in a few short years, her sweet little child now struggles to fit in at school. She recounts, aloud, all the activities and lessons she had tried to teach each day. She lists all the polite and mannered examples she set, unable to believe that it may simply be that her child is a bit too young for formal school. She blames herself, losing the confidence and optimism that used to fill her day. I needed to speak, and let her know, that often the tincture of time remedies problems large and small. She left the session with a bit more kindness to herself.
The last client today has ridden the roller coaster of life so many times in the past six months. I have watched as she endured all the twists and turns, often just hanging on for dear life, never knowing when it might all end. Then, a page is turned, and what I hear is joy in her voice, the imminent reunion with a loved one. In this case, I must say, it truly is a fairy tale ending to a story of fear, sadness, and loss.
One day, many stories, some fables, others not. Regardless, if they were fact or fiction, they were what made the difference in the client’s life. And mine too. The walk to the parking lot with my colleague, sharing bits and pieces of the day, both of us, tired but full of excitement and humbled to be witnesses to the new chapters in so many lives. I cannot wait for tomorrow.
What stories have you heard today?
Kathy Renfree is a counselor in a community mental health setting, teaches in a graduate counseling program as needed, and is looking forward to building a private practice.