Saturday, April 5, 2008

one broken heart

How about a work-related update?

Last time I wrote about work, I said that I was upset about my new job description of only doing phone stuff (and only at the adult unit). I said I was going to hate it, and, well, I do. I hate it a lot. Most days I just try to focus on the task at hand and put Walker House, children, and therapy (and, you know, purpose) out of my mind. This is quite a lofty goal even on my best days, but it became downright impossible one day last week when I received a phone call (because that's what I do) from Theresa, the head honcho at Walker House. She said, "We just wanted to call and let you know that R. O. is here again and she misses you. She was really upset when she found out you wouldn't be here, so we told her we would let you know." It was like a knife to the heart. R.O. is my favorite client (I know I should have favorites...sue me). She was on the unit a few months back for quite a while and we worked fabulously together. She's a tremendously interesting young woman who has been through hell and lived to tell about it. She is beautiful, and loving, and creative, but she is also--how shall I say it?--difficult. She doesn't like to talk about her feelings; she doesn't like to look people in the eye; she doesn't always tell the truth; she's so uncomfortable in her own skin that she has heartbreaking difficulty connecting to other people. For some reason, though, she connected to me, and, obviously, vice versa. Just to be clear, this has nothing to do with me having any sort of superior clinical skills to anyone else's--it's just one of those mysterious and completely nonscientific things about psychology that people connect to certain people and not others. Who knows why. Part of it, I guess, was that I did art therapy (which, by the way, I'm completely unqualified for and totally made up as a went along) and R. is a very artistic person. She gave me this painting from one of our sessions:


It says "one broken heart" because she feels so alone, as if no one understands. I think the rest of the text is pretty poignant too, even though it wasn't what she intended. One broken heart to my friend Sara. When I read that the first time when she gave it to me, it struck me as a perfect poetic embodiment of the therapeutic relationship. Especially the crisis therapeutic relationship, and especially with children. When in crisis, so many clients do view the therapist as the only hope, the savior, the one with the power and the answers. They say, though usually without these words, "Here. Here is my broken heart. Please fix it." And they hand it over.

Of course, therapists aren't magical, and we don't have all the answers or all the power, and we can't fix everything. I know that. But I tried, and this phone call from Theresa would suggest that I did have some sort of positive impact. While encouraging, this idea only made it harder knowing that, all week, while I was answering phones, I could have been with R., listening, understanding, connecting, trying to do a little more healing of her one broken heart.

I'm sure this is some sort of lesson about getting too attached to clients, and I know that's something I'll have to deal with in my career. For the most part, I've been impressed with my ability to leave work at work, but this girl got under my skin. She's the one who gave me her heart, but even though I'm no painter, it seems that I returned the favor.

1 comment:

nicoleleeartistry said...

I provided therapy to others for 8 years before changing career paths to join the business world. I completely understand your predicament. When you are a genuine person, who is in the helping profession for the right reasons, it is difficult not to become attached to some clients. It is why we have training in boundaries and ethical issues when we go through undergrad work. It's ok to care - in fact, it's good that you care enough. R.O. has to know how much you are extending your good wishes, even if you can't be there to convey it in person. Art Therapy can be extremely effective! I used to use it a lot when I worked in a child and adolescent unit and it provided many "Ah Ha!" moments for clients and myself. Sounds like you have the gift to reach others! Keep it up! :)