“The Wizard of Oz” has always been one of my favorite films. I enjoyed the story—Dorothy’s journey, the visuals, the characters and the moral underpinnings of the entire tale. I suppose you could say every character has resonated with me at some point in my life and I’ve always been very intrigued by ‘the man behind the curtain.’ After all, haven’t you wondered how long it took him to grow that impressive handlebar moustache?
Well, I am thirty-two years old now and I am starting to learn that the person behind the curtain is in a constant state of flux. Or perhaps I should say that the person(s) behind each of our curtains changes often during our lives. When I worked as a paramedic, the curtain dweller was my mentor and co-worker – you can’t do that job alone, nor without guidance. In my relationship, I recognize my partner and I play a shared role in the operating procedures behind the velvet screen. Currently, as an advanced master’s student and budding practicum therapist, I recognize the person behind the curtain is my supervisor and my peers all working with me as a collective treatment team.
For the client(s), the person behind the curtain is whoever/whatever they need it to be at that time, in that place. It is often the case that therapy is initiated because of the something or someone behind the curtain. In modern day therapy this might be the thing in the basement or the elephant in the room. Oftentimes, this thing, or witch to stick with the Oz analogy is frightening until they are understood, processed and brought out into the open and then they can prove useful and informative. For the counseling client, the person behind the curtain is whoever can help them get back on their own road toward happiness and fulfillment.
The witch scared me a lot when I was growing up: her cackling laugh, fireballs from her finger tips – frightening stuff. But in the end she melted when confronted (doused with water). Who would have thought that something as simple and basic as water could make such an ominous problem just disappear leaving nothing but some smoke a pointy black hat? This almost made me want to throw water on my second grade teacher, but that is a story for another day. Therapy, I think, can be as daunting as the witch’s demeanor and as liberating as watching her evaporate into nothingness. Counseling reveals all sorts of interesting characters and provides lots to talk about, discover and most importantly, process and overcome.
Similarly, practicum can be overwhelming at times but knowing that I have peers who feel the same and are just as simultaneously tired and excited is both supportive and calming. The shared experience is comforting and the weekly processing during practicum class assures me I am not alone, something I believe Dorothy learned on her journey through Oz.
So where does the yellow brick road take us all? It’s a good question. In hindsight, I recognize that I have been traveling this curious yellow path all my life - moving through various health care positions, from paramedic to health care coordinator to counselor. The best part of this work was just being there, present with the patient or client, simply listening for the most part, offering reassurances and relief when appropriate. And that is what I am trying to do in practicum with my own lion, scarecrow and tin man supporting me on my own journey. As a child, it took me forever to realize that these characters in the film were her family from the start of the movie in Kansas. I believe we counselors play similar roles for our clients in therapy.
What a wonderful way to learn. At first the scene is scary: Dorothy feels both excited and frightened. Throughout her journey along the yellow brick road she picks apart and learns about the issues not only for herself, but also (ironically) for the once mysterious and all-powerful Oz. Similarly, there are many characters and issues and experiences that come into play in another person’s world and as a new therapist I have learned that it is my job to spend some time with the client in that world, to broach differences, to help them bring ‘the witch’ on board or help ‘the witch’ play less of an invasive or overbearing role.
After eleven weeks I already find myself understanding that we all play different roles at different times and this delicate balance of journeying to another client’s Oz is the most wonderful journey and experience that I have ever had the privilege to witness and be part of. The best part and perhaps the most poignant piece to this is that just like Dorothy, most of us get to wake up in our own lives again after the session and continue to plod along our own yellow brick road.
After all, for most of us there is no place like home, right?
(NB I would like to dedicate this post to my mum and dad, who have always made my home a pleasant safe place, thankfully well away from tornado alley).
Christian Billington is a counselor in training. He is passionate about end of life issues, grief and loss, trauma and the development of training to better prepare the emergency services for what they experience in the field.