This canvas hangs in our office suite. It’s a simple canvas – I did not purchase it for the office, but it looks to be one of the canvases you could find at Hobby Lobby or even Target. It’s nothing fancy. To be honest, I didn’t really pay much attention to it when I moved in a little over a year ago, but recently, it’s caught my eye almost everyday at work.
As a therapist, I am privileged and blessed to have a front row seat to amazing stories of healing, growth, and transformation. Like most therapists, I entered this field because I wanted to witness these incredible miracles. I never thought that sitting with someone in the midst of them experiencing intense shame, anxiety, depression, and grief – sometimes to the point of being near the brink of death – would be a blessing also. Don’t get me wrong – when clients tell me of these unbearable experiences, they do not make me happy. Quite the opposite! I find myself pulled in, often having to address my own personal fears, anxieties, and insecurities.
But I come back to the phrase on this canvas. These painful experiences (including my emotional reactions to my clients’ pain) are a part of the human experience. If you believe in the Bible, then you know that it makes clear that this world is not functioning the way God created it to function because of human sin. If you don’t believe in the Bible, then I’m sure you learned growing up (and have experienced) that nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes. “To err is human,” says Alexander Pope.
In my seven years as a therapist, I’ve come to see the beauty in the pain clients bring to my office. And yes, even the pain I experience after they leave my office (“How are they going to feel tonight/tomorrow/in five minutes after this painful session?” “Are they going to be ok?” “Do they have good people they can lean on for support?”). Our culture is one of quick fixes and long-term solutions. Sometimes, I think we experience shame for struggling because our shame tells us we’re doing something wrong if we are struggling. But I think we can all agree that struggle is a part of the human condition, and that no one experiences a struggle-free life (and if someone claims they do, they are lying).
The beautiful part comes in when we realize that we are indeed struggling. And not only do we realize it, we share it with someone else. We embrace the whole experience of being human, even the messy parts, instead of cutting that part off or pushing it aside, pretending it’s not there. When my client has a particularly difficult session, yes, I experience all the feelings I listed above, but I also feel a sense of “this person is courageous in experiencing what it means to be truly, wholly human, and so this is beautiful.” It’s also why I became a counselor – I want people to have a safe place to be an imperfect human. I want them to experience acceptance and kindness in the midst of struggle, in the midst of being human at its least glamorous, seemingly-put-together state. That, to me, is beautiful. Fully embracing where we’re at, raw, and honest. Author Ann Voskamp puts it beautifully: “Shame dies when stories are told in safe places.”
I’m rereading what I just wrote, and realizing how scary it is for me to write this because…um…I need to preach this to myself over and over and over again! Because I too fall under the traps of quick fixes and solutions and shame for struggling. I too am tempted to push pain aside or pretend it’s not there. Which is why I’m thankful for my clients (not to mention, my own personal therapist!), who model the courage of sitting with pain and push me to do the same.
If you are considering counseling, I’d invite you to contact me for more info regarding the services I provide. Let’s sit together and be fully human and beautiful.