Trigger warning for suicide
For those of you that have seen the film Good Will Hunting, you may remember the scene where Robin Williams tells Matt Damon over and over, “it’s not your fault.” The scene culminates in a meaningful embrace and what can only be considered as a therapeutic breakthrough. In graduate school, my professor showed us this scene to demonstrate a point about empathy and understanding in the therapeutic relationship. And while most therapy doesn’t really work like that, this scene remains one of the most poignant scenes that I have seen in regards to the portrayal of therapy.
I’ve watched this scene several times since the tragic suicide of Robin Williams. And it sums up everything I want to say and get through to not only my clients, but everyone suffering from suicidal ideation, depressive symptoms, mental illness, and those who have ever felt a sense of hopelessness and despair.
It’s not your fault.
“If you were to wake up tomorrow and your life was exactly how you wanted it to be, what would be different?”
If you’ve ever been in a graduate counseling program or have been involved in therapy, you’ve probably asked or been asked the “miracle” question. This question, often used to spark discussion about what’s needed to facilitate productive changes, is often met with one of three answers:
- The specific, well-thought answer where the client knows exactly what needs to change and is making strides as to how to change it (thank you for making my job easier)
- “I don’t know…everything”
- “I’d be happy”
Trigger warning for violence, sexual abuse, emotionally-charged language and suicidality.
In graduate school, the first thing that was drilled over and over into our heads was to take one’s cultural experience into account. We were taught to recognize our own privileges and understand that others from different backgrounds will not have the same views as we may. We learned that one’s cultural experience largely shapes that person’s identity, experiences, and way they see the world. We were made to address several unpleasant stereotypes that had been engrained into our thinking, as well as acknowledge how these stereotypes could impact the clients we work with. The term microaggression became rooted into our daily vocabulary. We were taught to accept everyone for who they were and put our own stuff aside when working with them.
Trigger warning for violence and abuse. This first post will focus primarily on the “mental illness” portion, while the next will focus on the #yesallwomen portion.
Disclaimer: This post will be posted a day after it was finished. Some say it might take away from the point of the post, but this is what happens when you don’t quite finish it the morning of the 15th and go straight from work to Passover Seder and don’t get home until it’s past your bedtime.
April 15th, 2014. Just a day like any other. Quite unremarkable, really. It’s raining, but warm rain. Standard for a spring day in Philadelphia.
A date is just a day on the calendar until something happens.
April 15th, 2014. Tax day in the United States. The day before my father’s birthday (and he still doesn’t look a day over 35). And it also happens to be the second night of Passover. Tonight, I will go to my childhood home and feast with 20 different family members and friends. Despite my age, I’ll be seated at the kid’s table. We’ll drink wine, eat cardboard known as matzo, break into a spontaneous rendition of “Let My People Go,” and argue over which child is the wise one, wicked one, simple one, and one who doesn’t know enough to ask a question. And at some point throughout the night, we’ll ask, mah nishtanah, ha-laylah ha-zeh, mi-kol ha-leylot?
What has changed, this night, from all the other nights?
Some of you may remember that a while back, when I was first interviewing for (and soon after landed) my first “real” job, I had a stage system in which denial was the first stage of attempting to find employment after graduation. I don’t have a theory for how it works once you land that job (once the stages have all been successfully resolved, I’ll keep you informed), but what I do know is that there’s a serious case of denial going on, and it might be with every new person who has entered a demanding, somewhat thankless field that thinks they can handle the pressure.
“How are you?” This is the text message I get from my mother last Saturday.
Now, most people probably wouldn’t think this is weird. But my mom’s not much of a small-talk conversation texter, and she hates talking on the phone just as much as I do (and I wonder where I got it from). Uh oh, is something wrong? I debate ignoring the text and waiting to talk to her in-person during the week (after all, if it was urgent, she would call, right? There’s the rationalization defense mechanism for ya), but I was too curious to know the meaning behind those three words on my phone.
“Thanks for that detailed update on your recent major life changes!”