The session was scheduled to begin at 4 pm. The therapist, whose clients call him Dr. E, arrived early in preparation. Three minutes before start time, there was a knock at the door and before Dr. E could get up, the door opened. The client, Mark, took his seat and stared motionless for a few minutes. Dr. E began to get concerned then Mark bowed his head into his hands resting on his lap.
“I’m a horrible son,” he shouted while keeping his head bowed.
Dr. E waited a few moments; then softly and kindly asked, “Why would you say that”?
This question pained Mark even more and he quickly sat up. With tears in his eyes, he opened his mouth trying to speak but there was only the sound of a high-pitched, falsetto squeal. It went on for an uncomfortable amount of time, then suddenly, he took a deep breath through his sniffling nose and cried, “Twenty years ago, when my father was on his death bed, I promised him that I would take care of Mom and I’ve completely failed.” Then Mark continued his wails and gasps with more tears.
“Mark,” Dr. E objected. “That’s not true in the least. In the last twenty years, you married a woman with 3 kids, managed to keep a roof over their heads, put them through college, and have survived a devastating job loss. I’m sure your mother is quite proud of you.”
“Sure Doc,” Mark responded angrily. I promised my father I’d take care of her and what have I done? I haven’t been able to give her anything. In fact, I owe her $10,000.00. Sounds like a pretty big fat fail job to me”!
Mark’s head returned to his lap and his torso bobbed up and down in rhythm with his crying.
“You know Mark,” Dr. E said assuredly. “I know you’ve gone over to her house and helped her out with all kinds of chores. Remember that time you fixed her leaky faucet? She was ready to sell the house”!
“You’ve had her at your home dozens of times and your stepchildren call her grandma. I’d be willing to bet that she doesn’t feel that way about you,” Dr. E concluded.
Mark sat up but couldn’t look at Dr. E with tears in his eyes.
“Let me ask you a question, Mark. For one moment, pretend that a close friend of yours is relaying this story to you. You know he’s done countless kind things for his mother yet he’s always felt it’s never been good enough. What would you tell him”?
Abruptly, Mark stopped crying and switched his gaze towards Dr. E. Now Doc’s eyes were the ones tearing up and this worried, Mark. Thinking quickly, Mark said, “I’d tell him he wasn’t a failure in the least, Dr. E. I’d tell my friend that he’s awesome and he needs to know that.”
Dr. E raised his right hand and placed the heal of his hand on his forehead. With a few tears now in his eyes, he simultaneously cracked a tiny smile. Mark was dumbfounded and asked, “Are you Okay”?
Dr. E smiled broader and softly uttered, “For the first time in my 27 years of practice, I’ve finally felt, on a personal level, what I’ve been trying to teach all of my patients. I’ve finally experienced the emotional healing which I’ve been teaching all these years.”
“Your story,” Dr. E. continued, “Is just about the same as mine. I’ve never told you this but like you, I have 3 stepchildren and have always felt I haven’t measured up as a son. When I asked you what would you tell your friend, it hit me like a ton of bricks.”
“I was no different from you, Dr. E. remarked, “And there was no way I could continue to practice as a therapist if I could not listen to and heed my own advice.”
For the rest of the time, Dr. E and Mark shared stories, laughed, cried, and discussed how they both felt their emotional healing got a huge boost that day.
Telling others your deepest and most embarrassing secrets is helpful but there are other aspects of how and why emotional healing occurs. This is perhaps my personal favorite topic to discuss and I’m always interested in the experiences of others as well as the approach to how it’s done.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you approached your own healing or while working with others. Next week’s article we will discuss ways of how this happened not only for both Mark and Dr. E. but what the similarities are in many of these kinds of journeys. Until then, I look forward to your comments.