In my own life experience and work, I have seen many examples of people become happier, and their relationships became more fulfilling once they truly learned to be real. One notable experience comes to mind from my early career as a psychologist. I had completed my doctorate but was interning at the college counseling center to benefit from the supervision of the center’s director. I had a few clients in the summer session, usually young students stressed by their new college life away from home or the hurt of breaking up with a significant other.
My counseling seemed helpful and showed me that I was a good listener and able to normalize their experiences. Through client-centered counseling, I could assist them in gaining insight, new behaviors, and a transformed mind-set that helped them feel more empowered and ready to get back into life.
An Early Counseling Experience as a Young Therapist
One day I got a call from a young woman who said her friend had told her I was a good counselor. She wondered if I could meet her. I said of course, so we set up an appointment. When she arrived for her appointment, I asked what brought her in.
She said, “I’ll show you.”
She proceeded to take off her shoes and socks and then pointed to her feet. They were covered with cut marks. She looked at me with a blank stare and said, “I cut my feet and then pour muriatic acid on them.”
Later in my career, I learned that this was an effective way to feel pain and then immediate numbness. This is often the goal for someone with an abusive history and who feels lost, alone, disconnected, or invisible.
Inside, my stomach turned, and my mind was in shock, but apparently I did not show that on the outside. While showing only a calm, caring demeanor, I asked, “And what causes you to do that?”
She asked, “Why are you not horrified at this stupid and repulsive behavior?”
I asked, “Why should I be?”
She proceeded to tell me that it seemed to be a way of numbing her feelings of loss in her life. Eventually she shared with me about being beaten often as a child in an alcoholic family. Later on in my career, I would see many cutters in my office and usually uncovered their stories of sexual abuse as young girls.
A supervision session with my director followed my experience in this first session with her. I felt I had to be naked now. Had I done the right thing? Said the right words? What was she going to do next? If she came back, what would be my protocol for treatment? My supervisor asked me how I felt about my session. And I said I guess it went okay. I had listened and did not react with disgust or shock to my client. My neutral response seemed to give the girl a safe place to be vulnerable and trusting with me, whom she had just met.
My supervisor told me I had done very well, and we talked about details of the case and ways to proceed. I had over twelve sessions with her that ultimately turned out very well. She changed her destructive behaviors, became more involved in activities, met some new friends, and seemed to be on a path of healing. Her revelation to me and my support assisted her in unloading a heavy burden. She no longer needed to instigate self-abuse in order to feel numb. My therapeutic process with her became a huge stepping-stone on my own journey of becoming real.