Let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance.
One of my professors in grad school quoted some marriage therapy guru as saying you don’t really become a good marriage therapist till you reach 10,000 hours of face-to-face contact. That was a little disheartening to hear. Ten thousand hours! What a lot of work. How could a person ever do that? I was doing 5 hours a week of therapy during grad school and then after my masters I reach 10 a week during my internship and when I start full time I’m hitting 20 a week and then the word gets out and I’m running 25 to 30 and, you know, numbers do add up, and I hit 10,000, hours sometime ago.
If you become a good marriage therapist around 10,000 hours, when do you become a really good marriage therapist? And how many hours do you need to become even better? Maybe the whole point is that any therapist or you, in your job, ought to keep learning.
I don’t know how many hours I have now, but I feel like I’m just reaching my stride, like I’m finally getting it. There’s these little “aha” moments, like, you’ve got to be kidding me? How come I never figured that out before? I still get confused. I still have my hotline to several other therapists with more hours of therapy than me. They are experts in certain areas and give me guidance when I reach a quandary. To these mentors I’m deeply grateful and more often humbled at my lack of knowing this or that. Or a client will say something that I’ve never thought of before and I’ll laugh at the serendipitous wonder of it all, like finding a precious jewel in grandma’s box of things in the attic.
It’s the stubborn clients that challenge me the most. At least I perceive them as stubborn. Maybe I’m the stubborn one. Maybe they are just hurt. Maybe they are hanging on to a principle or tenant or philosophy or spiritual nugget for dear life and I just don’t have a clue? Or maybe they are put off by me in some way? But they keep coming back? I keep trying. I keep failing. At least it feels like failing. Hmmmmm. What? And then….and then…something happens, something their kid said or mom or spouse or a friend or something they saw on TV or read or their pastor said, or, like the guy who told me his aha moment was seeing a family play at the beach together and it dawned on him that he was a selfish prick because here he was at the beach by himself when he could have been there with his family and I’d been telling him he was a selfish prick (in so many words) and he’d never get it and it wasn’t until he saw unselfish prickness in somebody else that his world opened and I had nothing to do with it but now he’s back and he’s teachable and we start over and we both learn and gain wisdom. And then I sit in wonder and ah.
Many times I have no idea what will resonate. In grad school a fellow student was having a terrible time with this client who was belligerent to the point of hostile. And then all of a sudden there was a complete change in mood, like night and day. We couldn’t figure it out. Another student was doing exit interviews for a research project and he sat down with this client and asked how the client perceived the session. He said it was the most awesome thing and that what had really spoken to his heart was when he got teary eyed his therapist had given him a Kleenex. He was so grateful for that little act of kindness. A Kleenex. So much for our great graduate training!
Or on recurring times I’ll be explaining a concept and the couple seems to get it and that week there’s starting to be some significant progress and the next week when I ask what was helpful they tell me it was some other off-hand comment I made, not the crux of what I was trying to get across. That keeps me humble. I see myself as a seed planter. I have no idea what they will water and hoe and what will grow and what will blow away.
I’m loving Rabbi David Levin’s book Thou Shalt Prosper. It’s a book about the principles that the Jewish people have applied over their 3000 years of history and why they do disproportionately well in business. One of the principles Levin discusses is the idea that you need to try even though you don’t reach perfection. Short of heaven there’s no such thing as perfection, but that doesn’t mean you roll over and play dead. You keep trying. You keep learning. And sooner or later things happen. So even though I’m not a perfect therapist, I keep plugging away. Once in awhile someone is helped. That keeps me motivated. Once in awhile I’m totally befuddled. That keeps me interested. One in awhile I’m no help at all. That keeps me challenged.
You don’t have to worry. I won’t be reaching perfection any time soon–at least on this side. I’m a work in progress.