Dispatch No. 7

Friday Quiet, The Past, More on Masculinity's Perils

Friday mornings are my favorites, for all of the obvious reasons and others. For one, Fridays are a half-day for me, making up for the evening hours I add to my schedule earlier in the week. Having an afternoon off to run errands, hit the barbershop, and kick off my weekend early is pretty stellar. Some of my favorite clients come on Friday, and it’s nice to wrap up the week on a positive note, celebrating the hard work they put in and successes they reap.

Less counselors work on Friday which means less clients and an overall quieter atmosphere. It’s usually pretty quiet, but I’m highly prone to distraction, and it’s nice to be able to leave my door open and still get some work done. Today the sun is peaking through the clouds here and there and its effects coupled with a nice quiet office is perfect for reflection.

So far in my therapy with others I’ve been operating from several assumptions about people and their potential for change at any given time, but I’ve come to realize recently that I’ve been overlooking the role of the past and how it keeps people stuck.

I have always made it a point to treat my clients as if they can go out tomorrow or the next day and apply for a job as a CEO or their dream job. I attempt through my actions, interventions, and my verbiage to sell them on the concept that they are wildly capable of positive change and accomplishments they can’t even imagine. I do this because I believe these ideas about human potential to be true.

That being said, I believe that I have failed to fully recognize and contend with the role of the past in keeping people stuck where they are. In focusing largely on where I believe people can go, I worry that I haven’t always provided the room or the direction for my clients to deal with their pasts and process them.

I think this has been my general style of counseling for a few reasons. Foremost is my own personal way of moving through life. I’m not a very past-focused person and tend to be much more present and future-oriented. I’m positive this is because I’ve led a very privileged life and haven’t been subjected to trauma or even major life disappointments that tend to root oneself in the past. And like any bias, I’m sure that my own personal experience and lack of hinderance for changing my own circumstances leads me to believe it should be that simple for others as well.

While I’m not especially proud of my own experience being a causal factor in this oversight, I think it has some benefits also. I know for a fact that some of my clients have been helped by my dedication to treating them as they could be, not how they are now or how they have been. In essence, I make a point not to treat my clients as sick people, but instead as capable and impressive, worthy of celebration. I don’t intend to change this aspect of my work and will maintain this overall attitude, but I plan to find new ways to engage the past with clients so that there is a bigger space in our shared work for it.

I also have to consider that my bias is likely influenced a great deal due to the fact that a large portion of my work is with boys and young men. As I mentioned in my last dispatch, excavating and mining the past for roots of ongoing issues and symptoms in counseling is not exactly most men’s idea of a good time. And in my efforts to make the counseling process amenable and tolerable for them, I don’t do a lot of prying in my sessions with them, lest I scare them off.

Through recent experiences and minor “breakthroughs” I’ve had over the past week or two, I’m finding that though men talk about it less, the past still plays a big role in keeping them stuck also, and just because it’s not put out on the table as quickly or willingly, it still needs to be dealt with for progress to begin.

Speaking of men, the NYT just published a great article on the American Psychological Association’s new recommendations on the dangers of “Traditional Masculinity” and its impact on males. I think the Times did a wonderful job summarizing and reflecting on the new recommendations, and in doing so gave better language than I find myself able to regarding the pitfalls of “manly-man” expectations for our youth.

As always, this practice of mine continues to grow and evolve, and I hope that I am able to better serve my clients as a result of this period of reflection.

I make it a point each week as I close my laptop for the last time on Friday afternoon to take in the fact that all of my clients are out in the world at this very moment. I gain a lot of joy and excitement thinking about them out in the world, living their lives, hopefully better from our work. Each one is going about their Friday, staring into the face of a weekend, just like I am. Perhaps with excitement and possibly with dread. Just like me, they have a future of infinite possibility laying ahead of them with unforeseeable achievements, experiences, and challenges to take on.

But they also have a past, and I will do more to attend to it in our time together. They are deserving of that attention and in need of it, whether consciously or not.