At least once or twice a week, a client sits on the couch in my office and apologizes for their tears. They blush, try to hide behind their hands, or peel apart their tissue. The expression of weakness, sadness, or some other discomfort is experienced as briefly shameful.
About once a month, at least, someone expresses feeling sorry for me because I have to listen to their problems or their sad story. They appear guilty for making me hear something they feel is trivial or feel they are ruining my day with trauma or negativity.
And a few times a year, a client will ask me what it’s like to be a therapist. They wonder how I can tolerate hearing everyone’s story, and most express feeling they could never do this job.
My job does not carry the burden that many of my clients expect it does. It doesn’t even carry the burden that I, personally, expected it to. At the end of the week, a trash can full with tissues is beautiful evidence of progress. The occasional instances where I have found myself tearing up in sessions are never out of sadness for myself, or even sadness for my client. The instances that I remember having warm cheeks and wet eyes in my office are all from pride - pride that a person was vulnerable, they ‘went there,’ they were making new steps.
There is some wonderful magic that happens in my office. Somewhere in the valley between the client couch and my therapist chair, there is an exchange of weight. My clients habitually take ten, fifty, or one hundred pounds off their shoulders and pass the weight across the river that is my area rug. By the time it reaches my chair and settles on my own shoulders, it weighs no more than a pound or two.
I always feared that I would not be able to hold all the weight of my clients’ stories. I thought that I might strain to walk out of the office each day, carrying a hiking pack with six hundred new pounds. Instead I walk out feeling as though I just finished a brisk walk. Some days I do feel tired from the long walk, but other times it’s rejuvenating, and I end up wishing I had more trail ahead of me. Never do I regret taking the walks.
I truly don’t understand the magic in my office. I try not to overthink it (lest I somehow take part of the magic away). I expect it may come from the honor of being chosen as a stable fixture to help allow a story to come out. Like a lighthouse at the edge of my area rug, I provide a guide for the weight to follow.