A wave of awe comes over me as Mary describes how she’s caring for her mother with Alzheimer’s and her 6 year old granddaughter, all while dealing with her own ulcerative colitis and depression. Do I care about her and getting her beyond the depression that’s keeping her from sleeping, eating and enjoying the sweeter moments of her life? Yes, I do. As do most therapists. It is why we enter the profession.
Do I care about her differently than her husband, her mother or her daughter? Of course. The way I care about her and hear her is entirely different from the way her loved ones do. She and I are relating for her and about her. I am committed to seeing her through to our intended outcome – free of symptoms, contented and lighthearted again.
Your therapist will come to know you in ways your loved ones do not. He or she will come to understand you in each of the roles you play – wife/ husband, mother/father, grandmother/grandfather, sister/brother – and as an individual.
For our 45 minute session, Mary’s needs, thoughts and feelings will have my complete attention and the benefit of my skills. For this, Mary and her insurance company will pay me a fee. But that fee doesn’t mean I don’t genuinely care about Mary, or my other clients.
Understanding your therapist’s level of care for you is about understanding the nature of your relationship. It is not a relationship based on family or friendship. It is centered on you and is not reciprocal. You enter into a payment agreement with your therapist to care about you in a unique way – in a way that is responsive, useful and not particularly complicated.
I will see Mary beyond this depression to enjoying life again. At that time, we will wish each other well and say good-bye. Someone else will occupy her chair and I will hear his story and his needs. I will listen, I will care and I will help.
Michele Gustafson, LMSW, DCSW practices in Grand Blanc and Fenton, Michigan. She has over 25 years experience doing therapy, having received undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Michigan where she has taught psychology and social work. www.michelegustafson.com