Last night after I turned off my bedside light, a client popped into my mind. It was someone I hadn’t heard from in a while, and I clearly remembered their struggles and our connection in the therapy room. I wondered how they were doing now, and so impulsively I grabbed my phone and typed out a little message: “Checking In”. I just wanted them to know I was thinking of them and wishing them well.
Doing this brought other clients to mind as well – ones who worked so hard and shared their stories and tears and hopes with me. I couldn’t write the emails fast enough as I sent little notes of warmth through the cold night to people I haven’t seen in a while, some a long time. As I put the phone down a while later, sleep pushing my eyelids shut, I wondered if some of the more “long ago” clients might think I was crazy to send them an email after so long, and in the middle of the night. But sleep won out, and I drifted off.
Today was a two-hour delay for school, so you’d think the morning was less crazy for me and my twin eight-year-old daughters – not so. Crazy morning seems to be our fate, and it doesn’t matter if it’s 6:30am or 8:30am. As I was rushing around, pulling white uniform turtlenecks out of the dryer and popping a 3rd waffle in the toaster, I picked up my phone and absentmindedly clicked open my email.
Wow. The messages that flooded my inbox made me stop short in the middle of the kitchen and wipe tears from my eyes. From as far away as California and as close as a few streets over, the emails came, full of updates and joy and pictures of babies I hadn’t seen, trips I hadn’t heard about, and successful marriages I had secretly hoped for. Most of all came the gratitude. Email after email thanked me for my part in their present success – one former client is even now studying to become a marriage and family therapist! Time and again they credited me for being a positive help at a crucial turning point in their lives. They thanked me for being there, for caring, for helping them work through the pain and confusion and challenges. They let me know I had made a difference to them, and that they were happy.
I’m full of tears even as I write this now; I am truly humbled. It always boggles my mind when a former client calls or emails and starts with “I don’t know if you remember me, but…” Of course I remember you! I remember your pain and your striving and that you miss your mom and got a dog. Clients touch my life just as much and maybe more than I touch theirs, always. They open the door, and I gratefully, willingly, eagerly walk in, knowing full well I’ll never be the same. During those hours in the therapy room, we exchange pieces of ourselves – I take on their pain and trade it for a little of my hope. Sometimes when I don’t hear from them in a while, due to life or scheduling or something else, I wonder if what we did made any real lasting difference, if they really knew how much I was pulling for them, and if they found joy or peace or love or hope as a result of the hard work they did with me.
This morning I got my answer. It does make a difference. I’m smart enough to know it’s not me alone by a long shot – without the efforts and dedication and willingness of an openhearted client, I’m worthless. But to know they felt it too – the alchemy of change in the therapy hour, and that it helped them…it lifts my spirits today as nothing else could.
Any good therapist worth their salt strives to be eventually unnecessary in their clients’ lives. We represent an incubator of sorts, flooding bruised and defeated people with warmth and hope and careful challenges so they can leave us and make the lives they want. And in a way, they take a piece of us with them.
Last night I reached out to those pieces, scattered over the country now, and they reached back. To know our work resulted in any way towards their current joys is more than enough for me – it’s the whole reason why I do this work in the first place. To them I say a heartfelt thank you today. You have made my day, month, year. I wish you nothing but continued success and joy. You have what it takes to have the life you deserve. I still believe in you.
To my current or former, even future clients who are struggling now: I’m with you. I can’t promise success or resolution or perfection (in fact I can pretty much promise imperfection on my part!). But I can promise you that I will be there, and not just because you’re paying me. The money exchanged helps clarify the boundaries of what we are to each other, yes, but it is not the end in itself, at least not for me. Know that I am as invested in you as you are in me, and that long after you’ve gone, I’ll think of you from time to time and send good thoughts your way, grateful that you picked me to let in. If you think of it, send me an email once in a while and let me know how you’re doing, and if you need to come in for a tune-up, I’m always here.
Today is a great day. J