What it’s like to be a therapist: Part 2
Recently I applied for a new job. It sounded really, really good on paper. Lots of benefits. Opportunity to get unlimited free psychological training. An office with a window and…wait for it… ITS OWN BATHROOM, the highest honor ever bestowed an employee. Having your own bathroom is the ultimate luxury. It means you’ve made it.
So I did three separate interviews for this job, and was pretty sure I had it in the bag. I mean, it seemed like I had performed pretty well, and I met their qualifications for the position. But then weeks passed after my second round of interviews and I hadn’t heard back. I jotted off a quick email to check the status of the job and requested that they let me know their decision either way.
I must say, I was a little surprised and (pretty turned off) when they never even bothered to reply to my email letting me know if I got the job or not. They’d indicated that they were down to their last few candidates, and it certainly wasn’t inappropriate for me to ask for clarity. For a day or two, I was pretty disappointed. The idea of starting something new and fresh is always exciting to me, and as much as I tried to convince myself not to, I’d gotten my hopes up about this opportunity. It seemed like a really good job.
But then I really thought about it. Even though there are no benefits, my office is dark and windowless, the pay can be inconsistent and I share a sincerely lackluster bathroom with many people, I really, really like my current job. Actually, I love it. Very much. And when faced with the idea of a different job, it dawned on me that I’d be more sad to leave than excited to go.
I work in an outpatient mental health clinic that opens its doors to almost every type of New Yorker. My youngest client right now is 18, and my oldest is 74. I’ve worked with people from Ghana, Puerto Rico, England, Poland, North Korea, South Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, and even really exotic places like Sarasota, Florida. My current roster includes lawyers, photographers, flamenco musicians, fire-breathers, DJs, bankers, security guards, landlords, cashiers, copyeditors, accountants, painters, former drug dealers, and rock singers. I have many clients who are homeless or live in institutional settings. I have clients who have survived unimaginable pain, loss, trauma, abuse, eating disorders, and addictions. I have clients who have served half of their lives in prison. Clients who’ve made it through situations I can only imagine. Situations I’m almost certain I would have barely survived myself.
I’ve celebrated with clients as they become parents. I’ve mourned with clients after losing parents. I have clients who’ve lost businesses, spouses, children, jobs, homes and friends. I’ve met with people on the precipice of great change, in the middle of a crisis, at the end of a season. I see many, many people who are looking and longing for love.
I could be a real chump and say I do it simply because I love to help others. That my heart feels whole and happy serving my community. I mean, that’s true of course, but it’s not the whole truth. For every 10 clients who have found me helpful there has been one who didn’t click with me at all, who’s looked me in the eye and asked, “What am I supposed to get out of this? Because right now, I’m not getting anything.” It happens. You try not to take it too personally.
But there’s more to my clinic job that keeps me there than just the sweet social-worky notion of extending a hand. The relationships built between a therapist and a client are real, and they are built on a foundation of respect and unconditional positive regard. I like and enjoy my clients, and when they knock on my door, I am glad to see them.
But the real reason I stay in a clinic setting–when there is potential for more money and benefits elsewhere, especially in private practice–is because I am madly, passionately, ridiculously in awe of the variety of clients– of people--I get to share time with in my office. We draw a wonderful group of clients toward our clinic, and they represent what I love about New York City itself–incredible diversity. They share their most intimate thoughts and experiences with me, and continually serve as a reminder that life is a beautiful, weird, and often painful collective experience. My job is like seeing a new Humans of New York post every 45 minutes. It’s fascinating work that stretches me to feel nearly every type of emotion in an average workday.
(PS: These are obviously not pictures of my clients, but other lovely people I’ve spotted in NY:)…
The job I was interviewing for was in the counseling center of a very specialized university, which means that most of the clients would have been around the same age, and struggling with many of the same things. Naturally, there are always significant differences between college-aged students, but there’s no way it would have offered the range of diversity that my current job does. I’m completely at peace with the way everything turned out, and at the end of the day, I’m not 100% sure I would have accepted the new job had it been offered to me.
But, damn. How awesome would it have been to have my own bathroom?