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Trusting the Process

As a rookie psychologist, I knew I had much to learn. Burdened with perfectionism, I had self-doubts about technique and process. I so wanted to do it right.
One day I was assigned a young client—a girl of no more than twelve, whose grandfather was anxious to have her seen by a therapist. His wife was dying, and the child’s mother had no interest in raising her. To complicate matters, the relationship with the grandmother was full of resentment on both sides. Not ideal in any way. 

I saw my young client every week for several months. I found it hard to engage her because she wasn’t really interested in being in therapy. She didn’t want to talk about home, or her mother or her grandmother. So I encouraged her to talk about school, and make-up, and boys, and anything she wanted. I had severe doubts that I was doing anything therapeutic.

The time was coming for my internship to end. I had the difficult task of informing her grandfather that I would no longer be working at the agency. Nor could I continue with the child elsewhere, according to agency rules. He was very upset.

During our last session, my young client just prattled on as usual, seemingly without any sense of loss due to our impending termination. But not me. Tears coursed silently down my cheeks. I couldn’t stop them. I couldn’t speak. I felt like a total failure as a therapist.

At the time I was also grieving recent knowledge of my own infertility. That this child had no more mother figures and that I could not have a child of my own were intersecting aches in my heart.

Later I went to supervision and confessed my failure to maintain proper therapist decorum. My supervisor quietly said, “That may be the first time in her life she had a woman cry tears of compassion for her. You’ll never know if you had any impact or not. Trust the process.”

In the decades since I have cried more than once while witnessing the pain of clients as they revealed traumas, losses, heartaches and injustices. Sometimes I cry because they can’t. I don’t try to hide tears. I don’t apologize for them. They are signs of solidarity, compassion, and love. We’re all in this together.

Gretchen Gundrum
Seattle, Washington