“Stuart, you hear about my stuff every week, and you must hear a lot more besides from others too. You’ve surely got your own stuff going on as well, it must get draining……”
“All true”, I reply.
“…..So why do you do this job?”
Hmm, yes, good question.
The answer came when I realised I don’t consider counselling psychotherapy a job. I don’t have to commute, I don’t have a boss in the traditional sense, and I don’t keep regular 9-5 hours. But more than that, a job for me is something that I pick up at the start of the working day and leave behind when the whistle blows for quitting time; I’ve done that kind of thing and was happy to walk away from the factory floor and not have to think about the task again until I returned to my work station the next day.
The day’s sessions can stay with me beyond the work day’s end, sometimes for weeks or even years after, because there is very often something for me to learn from those sessions. There’s an endless variety of perspectives and approaches to the everyday and whilst I believe there are some strong themes and similarities between our lives, and that we all paint from roughly the same palette of emotional colours, there is still something unique about how you approach those situations and about which emotions are inspired by and make those situations meaningful.
More than that, as we sit in my consulting room and talk through your life and feelings, the experience between us is itself unique, offering further variations through the idiosyncratic meandering of our conversation as we speak and respond to each other.
And all the while I’m learning. I’m learning about you, a completely different person to me, and how you’re trying to live your life. You may be coming up against particular obstacles at the moment, and I may offer some theory as to what’s going on for you, but no theory really ever fits your individual circumstance, so we have to look beyond the textbook and understand what’s happening in reality for you. And for me, that’s a kind of experiential learning about life that I’ll never find in any textbook, and it’s a learning that helps me understand my life, too. If it weren’t for the many different people I meet and the honesty with which they tell me about their lives, so much experience would remain unknown to me; I don’t know how I’m going to be when I hear what you have to say next, but I’m really interested to find out, and then for us to find out what it’s like for us to be finding it out.
My very first day’s work was screwing bolts into the rear of street signs. It was boring, repetitive and all I learned was that I didn’t want to put bolts into street signs for much longer. That was a (short lived) job. I consider psychotherapy my vocation, because each day is fresh with new opportunities which keeps me learning and engaged. Yes, the “work” does get tiring but I’m far from being tired of the work.