I spent the weekend at my alma mater, Pacifica Graduate Institute, attending “The Writer’s Journey” conference. In a plenary given by Michael Meade I learned some Native Americans believe that if you don’t give away what you possess, what you possess will rot inside you.
When I heard this juicy, albeit necrotic perspective of the universal necessity of paying it forward, I had an ‘ah-ha’ moment. But this ‘ah-ha’ was not one of those moments that leaves you with a clear understanding and measured distance to life’s inevitable challenges the way some pithy maxims do. No, instead I felt the obsessive need I have to write, which if unfulfilled, can become a tightness in my chest, making me anxious if not paranoid. Some ghosts take flesh when not given their due.
Since I began the journey towards becoming a licensed psychotherapist about five years ago, writing has been like a drive-by vacation — lots of snapshots into vast canyons of ideas, but not much time to get out of the fast lane and stretch a bit, or get lost on an inviting trail.
My current psychotherapy internship ends in June, and I have yet to set up my next placement, which would be the practical thing to do, as well as an altruistic and direct way to ‘pay it forward.’ Heaven knows there are quite a number of people who need trauma-focused psychotherapy, and as a seasoned intern, I can say with confidence that I am both good and cheap.
But there’s something else I need to give away. Words. Bunches of them, interlaced with ideas and punctuation. Or else, I do believe they will start to rot, and take me down with them.
It’s not easy for me to step off the well-worn path to licensure, even if for a relatively short time. Healing and spirituality are the lenses through which the world gains meaning for me, and in the West psychotherapists are psyche’s healers, and my tribe. Even a hiatus of several months causes anticipatory longing.
As a psychotherapist, you have the privilege of bringing to a person the accumulated wisdom about the human condition and focus this wisdom on her or his creative process of repair, growth, and integration. And truly, it’s a privilege to support people as they begin to witness their unique selves unfold and choose their place in the human tribe. There is a gentleness and respect that settles into the practitioner of psychotherapy as well. All of us suffer. All of us struggle to make meaning of suffering. This just is the human condition. And sitting with the suffering of others makes it easier to notice the rhythms of your own suffering.
Practicing psychotherapy has also changed my sense of what it means to be a writer and a scholar. Like psychotherapy, writing is also a spiritual practice, requiring a certain faith in words to carry meaning. Writers are also a remarkable tribe. And like psychotherapy, writing is a practice that weds the individual’s particular perspective or story to the universal need to hear what goes on in the minds of others, if for no other reason than to know we are not alone.
Through practicing psychotherapy I have also learned to hear the unique call of the writer in me. Now I listen to the chaos in my chest that tells me things aren’t just right, rather than the voice in my head that for years has said, Just write! Our gifts are those practices we embody and the values we live by. And when we start to live from the heart, which psychotherapy demands, what we feel becomes much more captivating than what we think, even if our thoughts carry our best intentions.
© 2013 Laura K Kerr, PhD. All rights reserved (applies to writing and photography).