Updated: May 3, 2020
I am leaving my job. I work as an LAC in a private psychiatry practice and even though I've been here just 9 months, quitting is so much more difficult than I thought it would be.
In my short counseling career I have already been humbled by the lives we counselors hold in our hands. People from all walks of life come to me. They sit on my couch or sometimes the 'really comfy chair' and they tell me their stories.
From children as young as 9 to adults beyond 65, they speak words that some have never before spoken. They reveal details they'd thought they could forget. They cry tears no one is allowed to see, and lay bare the shame and burden of self-perceived flaws and imperfections.
And all that as I watch and listen and hold space.
They come here believing they are safe. So without having to do anything to prove my value or earn trust, they open themselves. And maybe that is why this leaving thing surprises me. While I worked hard to get where I am, to pass tests and exams and obtain the license that allows me to sit in this chair, I've done nothing more to earn the confidence they bestow me than to simply open the door and call a name.
As counselors, we do hold lives in our hands. Pieces of them anyway. As they sit before us struggling to find the right words, breathe through a memory or even admit a painful truth, we listen. We hold it for them and we keep it safe. For us it's part of the job, something we 'just do' 6-8 times a day. But for them…
For some, the trust they give in the first hour of our meeting is more than they've given to another soul in all their lives. And while for me it is a common experience marked by either my first or second cup of coffee, for a few of them it is a solitary moment signifying a momentous and yet fragile leap of faith.
As I considered leaving this job I knew it would be hard to say goodbye. I thought of my patients and tried to anticipate who would struggle and who would simply wish me well with a handshake and a smile. That girl, I'd think, the 8th grader with the long brown hair, she'll be ok. She's so guarded and I don't think I've done much for her anyway.
At least that's what I told myself.
But on some level I knew she was hearing me. I knew that despite the vague answers and deflections, she was giving me tentative glimpses of her hidden self. I knew that despite my pushing and probing, this was the one place she could come to escape, to leave the crushing weight of her anxiety in the waiting room. I knew that while we listened to music on her phone and played Mancala on the floor, she accepted me, something she doesn't do with everyone.
So it was a thinly veiled surprise to me when she pulled her knees to her chest and cried softly, ending the session early. No talking, no processing, not even a word about how she felt as I handed the referral list to her mother, who upon seeing her daughter began to cry too. "She needs this so badly..."
Will this girl be ok? She will. I am no one's savior. I have done nothing her next counselor will not do. And yet I recognize the ancillary, but poignant role I played in her life. And I do not take that lightly.
In her book Sacred Contracts, Caroline Myss writes about the Buddhist idea of "noble friends". People we make contracts with before our birth, to show up for and help to learn valuable lessons. I like this idea of a noble friend because it speaks to the meaningful and yet fleeting connection I have with my patients. It honors the magnitude even 5 minutes can hold when people are open and willing and ready.
Relationships, especially professional ones, come and go, and that's ok. As I look forward with excitement toward the next step in my own journey I do not feel guilty for my decision to leave. I am honored for the people that have come into my life. And am genuinely grateful to those I must say goodbye.
Originally posted March 2, 2018