Sunday, September 26, 2010

We never cry in my Family: First Entry

Years ago I realized that if I live long enough, I would eventually have to lose everyone I love. It's a very disturbing thought. Having experienced many losses in my life, you would think one would become used to it. But that's not the way it works.
Yesterday was the anniversary of my mother's death. It's been 34 years since I lost her. Having mourned her extensively, her death has lost its sting. I'm convinced that what happens is that if you allow yourself to feel the pain over and over, while the wound remains forever, it losses its ability to control you.
For years after her death, the loss dominated my decision making. I tried to avoid the pain. I learned every trick in the book, to not feel the hurt. But in the long run, they didn't work. I did feel the pain, deeply and repeatedly. I believe this saved my life. If I had succeeded in avoiding the pain, it would have consumed me. It would have continued to dominate my decision making.
I can remember a few months after she died thinking, "family is good. I really appreciate having had a family. I will have to have another family someday." It was over 10 years later that I began having a family. Yesterday, I spent the day surrounded by my new family. There were the usual fights and skermishes. But it was indeed a blessing. My new family is much more connected and loving then the family I grew up with.
The key for me is that by learning to let go of people I have lost, I learn to let in new ones. My heart has continued to grow over these decades and my life is much richer having learned to mourn and then let more people get close to me. This is a great blessing in my life.
I intend to continue trying to write about my loss and how I survived. I trust this will be useful.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Marriage & Family Therapists and Self Esteem

MFT Self Esteem

Marriage and Family Therapists often struggle with self-esteem. Most of us who have been in this field for some time have spent part of their career fighting for equal rights among the mental health disciplines. Again this year, our peers have had to battle in the Connecticut legislature not to lose the rights we have previously gained. I appreciate and commend our colleagues who continue to fight these battles.
The reality is that marriage and family therapists are incredibly well trained. We spend longer in internships and are more effective as therapists than other mental health practitioners. We have a longer academic life before we enter the job market. Even more important, because of our systemic approach, we understand our clients, their families and our institutions better than our peers from other disciplines. Yet, we still see employers hiring clinicians from other disciplines because they do not know what we are capable of offering. Frequently I find that my students wonder if they made a mistake by going into family therapy instead of counseling or social work. Sometimes it seems that they believe they are second class citizens when compared to other disciplines.
One of the ways I believe we can overcome this attitude with the next generation of family therapists is in their training. I believe we need to instill in our students a confidence and belief in themselves that we have earned as a field. I have begun sharing a thought about this with my students.
The other morning I was waiting to be interviewed for a radio show and I was scared. I had no idea what I would be asked, whether I would have answers that were reasonably intelligent, or whether I would make a fool of myself. While I was sitting with my friend at breakfast, he was surprised that I was afraid. He finally reminded me that no one knew my topic better than I did. The moment he said it, he took me back to a time before my orals for my Doctorate. My advisor, recognizing my fear at the time, had made a similar suggestion. No one knows your topic better than you do.
Now when my students have to present in an interdisciplinary treatment team meeting, or approach the psychiatrist about a client issue, or even ask for supervision from me about the family they are seeing, I remind them that no one knows the family better than they do. In the treatment team, they can offer a unique systemic perspective on the client and their treatment needs. Indeed, they are in the best place to offer a recommendation as to whether the client will be safe living at home.
I believe we need to keep reminding our students of the many advantages of family therapy. Family therapy is an incredible intervention that can have huge repercussions for generations. Psychotherapy has had over a hundred years of evolution. In the process of evolution, family therapy has proven to be the most effective and powerful tool. Perhaps by instilling this into our students, we will be reminded of how we ended up becoming family therapists.