Witnessing people get better is very rewarding. It’s wonderful when someone finishes up working with me and then returns on occasion for an as-needed “booster” session or no more sessions at all. The treatment termination experience is often bittersweet. But, just knowing that healing has occurred and, hence, will be shared in the world by a transformed, happier being supersedes with gladness and relief in me any sadness over missing connecting with them in my office. Butterflies are meant to fly.
The movie SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963), starring 1960s B-movie ingenue Constance Towers, is one of those campy flicks with an often shoddy script. However, it’s punctuated now and again with touching scenes of men in anguish over different social and political struggles (e.g., racism, the Cold War, and patriotism) and how these adversely affect one’s sanity and relationships with others. Borrowing blatantly from the earlier cinema genre known as “film noir,” the movie was filmed in black and white, has several night-time scenes, and highlights some of life’s undersides, such as a strip club. It is there where Ms. Towers’ character dances for the gawking fellas, all to make an honest living while her journalist boyfriend goes undercover as a mental patient in order to investigate an unsolved murder.
Trying to be focused and allegorical, the bulk and heart of the movie take place in a locked psychiatric ward. The stark set is believable but the kinds of mental problems the patients have are laughable, due to clinical inconsistencies of actual symptoms and seemingly arbitrary diagnostic labeling. The script writer has people suffer from a hodge-podge mix of PTSD, schizophrenia, and OCD– to name a few of the diagnoses that come to mind. Clearly, he had done, well, zero research about mental disorders. On the other hand, there were far less clinical studies completed by the mental health academe then that have long since been done. Also, other forms of psychotherapy beyond traditional psychoanalysis were not yet very widespread in 1963. So, I guess I should cut writer and director Samuel Fuller a bit of slack. If you can turn most of your brain off and watch for sheer period piece early ’60s entertainment, the film is sometimes atmospheric and fun, if often, perhaps, unintentionally so. Preview hint: I’m thinking especially of the scene in which a male patient somehow gets trapped in a room full of raving nymphomaniacs. What was the director thinking (other than him clearly being a sexist pig)?? Oh, that’s right, the movie is campy, and we can leave it at that.
I now see two clinical supervisors once a month each, one for IFS (Internal Family Systems) and one for EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), the latter methodology in which I am working towards certification. Having two terrific seasoned supervisors to help support and guide me along in this calling feels so invaluable and fulfilling. It is both sad and, dare I say, somewhat impressive how when I worked for an agency a while back, I went for years at a time with little to no direct clinical supervision, an exception being the occasional crisis. Back then, clients got decent care from me, but, now, they definitely get much better. I experience what I do for a living as both a craft and an art, whereby I am always apprenticing whilst healing others and myself.
While in graduate school and then at an agency for many years after that, I don’t recall hearing the clear message: “You don’t have to work with a client if you don’t want to.” There was no consistent conveyance of trust and acceptance that we grad. students, and then new mental health professionals, already were open to working with most clients that came our way.
No matter the mental health professional, there will always be a few certain clients that simply are not a good fit. And this is not a reflection of some concerning shortcoming of who one is as a professional. Period. That should be understood and clearly affirmed by professors and supervisors alike.
Narcissism messes with my head and drains me of energy more than any other presentation of perspective and sets of behaviors. It’s like I can smell it a mile off and feel the urge to run the other way. Being around this phenomenon emitted by an occasional few promptly irritates me, almost like an allergy.
I find it challenging to lead with compassion for those suffering from this problem, and narcissism truly is a problem. It continues to be one of those unpleasant life teachers for me now and again, though the current U.S. “president” forces me to endure more frequent exposures to these unsavory teachings or lessons.
One clear lesson I’m still grappling with is, when directly faced with narcissism, first reminding myself that I am a vessel of compassion and curiosity. For, too easily, in moments of fluster and irritation with the narcissist, I often forget.
A primary aspect of healing is when one comes to the understanding that, no, you weren’t somehow crazy or wrong, but, just the opposite. Your perceptions and feelings actually made deep sense in the face of painful, even confusing, happenings, including invalidation of one’s own senses and subsequent conclusions. A large part of leaving a sense of victimhood is finally trusting and believing the accuracy and validity of what one heard, saw, smelt, felt, sensed in one’s body, and thought, regardless of who says otherwise.
Much of life, including my work, keeps me humble. I know I am good at what I do. But, since there is always more to learn, I don’t know if and when I’ll ever say I’m “great” at it. As I personally understand, along with believing in and stating one’s “greatness,” the risk of inflated pride arises exponentially, which then results in falsely thinking that one doesn’t have to grow and improve any further. Of course, that will never be the case, certainly not for me. The best I can truly strive for being and doing is participating in moments of greatness (often, greatness of healing) with another or others and, with concerted efforts, increasing the duration and likelihood of such moments.