New Leaf Counseling Group I Professional Counselor & Therapist Team I Charlotte, NC
When I think about the moment that I understood what it meant to be a therapist, I don’t think about any career counseling, any straight line in my life that led me to the profession, or even any of my own therapy sessions over the years, as helpful as those have been in my own personal development. I think about a single moment from my sophomore year of high school.
I went to an elite boarding school, but I was a scholarship kid. I got there sheerly by academic scores, but I was so very out of place – I am the child of a minister and a social worker, and when I was young we depended on the vegetable garden my grandparents grew to sustain us through most of the hard times when money was tight. I loved my grandparents with a fierceness and a purity I can now, almost twenty years later, never fully explain. For anyone who has lost a loved one, you understand that when someone dies, you become frustrated that you cannot properly convey them. I could talk for hours and never fully describe my grandparents: my grandmother’s persistent Southern cooking, her constant humor, and the way everyone in the entire neighborhood came to their small house to absorb her open heart. Or my grandfather, who was so very patient, and irascible if you turned the tv away from NASCAR. I was a wild child, with so very many emotions that my more restrained parents could not fathom, but I was always so very loved by my grandparents, even the time I spontaneously shaved my head. And then they died. My grandfather, after several hard weeks with hospice in the house. We had a funeral, and all of us were there. I was there. Then, several days later, my family had a birthday party for my grandmother and me, because both our birthdays are in January. I remember her birthday hat, and before I went to bed, I talked to her in her room, and we held hands, and she told me to take care of myself. She died that night in her sleep.
So what made me be a therapist? I returned to my boarding school the day after her funeral. I had no words and I had left my family. I was sitting in the polished wood of the library, in one of two armchairs facing the windows, and I was in one of them looking outside watching the rain. I was thinking that my grandparents would never see rain again, or the sun rise. And this is the beautiful gift that I was given by my best friend Jamie. He was walking through the library and saw me. He sat down in the chair next to me and didn’t say a thing. He was present but didn’t speak. We sat together, as I was grieving, crying, for almost an hour. But I learned then what the presence of another can do, in the act of witnessing another simply by holding space, by allowing them to be who they are in that moment without asking for anything else. He held me, just by being there next to me, while the grief was so piercing I couldn’t move.
Holding space doesn’t take words. It doesn’t take someone trying to fix you, or placate you, or telling you it’ll be better eventually. What my friend did in that moment was to see me. To be with me, without intruding. He showed me what I later understood to be the highest goal of therapy. As a therapist, my calling is to be a witness, to be present with pain. I have grown comfortable with sitting with suffering, to call it by its name, or to sit in silence, as a way to honor the gift that, when I was fifteen years old, was the kindest and most compassionate thing anyone had ever done for me. I continue to strive to create spaces for my clients where all truth is honored, all pain is given space, but met with compassion, or humor, or silence, according to what I sense is needed. Regardless, I want you to feel you are seen, and seen truly, for who you are in that moment.
My calling in being a therapist is also honoring my grandparents, who gave everything to the people they loved, and were the most selfless and generous people I have ever known, even if my grandfather did refuse to watch anything but NASCAR and my grandmother got terribly upset I couldn’t read her handwriting and almost put a cup of salt in a pound cake recipe. I feel gratitude that, even though our lives could not be more different across the years, I live every day knowing they would be proud of me.
If you are interested in your own personal growth, consider contacting our diverse counselor and therapist team of professional clinicians at New Leaf Counseling Group in Charlotte, NC at 704-774-3078 to schedule a free initial consultation - or click here to book an appointment online. We are ready and waiting with room for you to GROW.