My work with the free clinic has both challenged and inspired me in a number of ways, not just professionally, but personally as well. I could probably write a short novel about my experiences so far and what I have learned, but I want to discuss one that seems to permeate through all my interactions with clients.
Perseverance, strength, tenacity and determination are only a few words to describe the clients I have the honor of meeting at the clinic. As I sit and listen to their stories and all the adversity that they have experienced and in most cases, continue to deal with, I cannot help but feel a number of emotions. I feel humbled, awestruck, appreciative, sad and angry to name a few.
I met with one client the other day that had experienced sexual, physical and emotional abuse as a child. She recalled a horrific incident when her father had tied her up in their basement as punishment for “misbehaving.” Fortunately, she was able to free herself and run to safety at a neighbor’s house. If she had not, she might not have survived her father’s planned “beating.” Although she survived that traumatic event, she moved into the foster care system and did not have a stable home. She ran way at the age of 15 and has been on her own ever since. This client was able to graduate from college and have a career in the IT field. With the tumultuous economic times, she lost her job about six months ago and is now homeless. She lives in her car, but says she feels “safe” there. She said she would rather live in a place that she owned, even if it was her car, than face the uncertainty in a shelter. This client struggles with diabetes, hypertension and depression, and we are trying to help her manage her illnesses.
I wonder if I could endure such hardship. I wonder how my clients are sitting in front of me, not just surviving, but trying to live. I wonder how I could ever complain about anything in my life when I have more than enough. I wonder why they had to go through this; it doesn’t seem fair. I wonder what I can do to help.
As we are in the midst of the holiday season, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, I want to highlight what I think is important about this time…hope. One common factor among the clients that I work with is their ability to embrace what is not tangible. Something seems to drive them. The cause or basis could be organized religion, spirituality, faith or whatever internal drive they may have.
Fortunately, I am reminded almost every day that this force is real, and it is my job to be part of the client’s journey. Therefore, I not only should, but need to be hopeful as well. It is when we lose connection to this ominous energy that we cease to live and merely exist. It is my privilege to be a reminder of this hope especially when they may have lost sight of it, even for a brief moment.
Grace Hipona is a counselor in the state of Virginia. She currently serves as a Mental Health Therapist for a clinic, a counselor for a private practice and is a doctoral candidate. She operates from a strength-based perspective