Having recently attended the Care Management Conference in Albany, NY, I had the pleasure of seeing William Kellibrew tell his story. We may call him a “person with lived experience,” a “peer,” a “person who experienced trauma,” or even, “an incredible young man.” When I listened to him, watched him walk through the room, his eyes meeting those sitting in each seat, I saw someone connected: Defined not only by his experience, but by the integration of his experience. Most importantly though, I felt as if he had created something bigger than himself. Due to the actions of personally integrating his experience and his ability to affect others, he changed the room.
All through the conference, I carried him with me as I thought of my own experiences, my own traumas and my own perspectives. We all have our lenses, and I am no different. No matter what position I hold, what kind of day I am having, what challenges come my way, my actions come from my ability (or lack thereof) to integrate my experiences.
I am not unlike many others. I have experienced personal trauma. From the effects of growing up in poverty, sexual assault, and a path of recovery that included self-help groups and therapeutic intervention, my mission has not been to “rise above,” or “get over,” my experiences, but rather to integrate them so they fuel the work I do. My experiences impassion me and, sometimes blind me.
When I sit across from someone in a room, my goal is to provide space for them. I don’t feel I am there to “fix,” someone (see article I Cannot Fix You), but rather to help them uncover something that already exists within them. Having been “on the couch,” myself, so to speak, I know my perspective affects the way I engage with others. When I was a new therapist, that was something I struggled with: hyper-sensitive to affecting the session, until I realized I am supposed to affect the session. The person sitting across from me does not sit in the room alone.
I listened to William talk about his therapist as a child, a woman who changed his life in the brief amount of time she worked with him. When he was able to call her years later she shared something that he perceived to be powerful. At the time he came to see her, after losing his mother traumatically, she had also recently lost her mother. She was unable to share that piece of information due, most likely, to the thinking of that time in our psychotherapeutic history. William was affected, but wondered if he may have been even more so knowing she shared an experience.
Not unlike William’s therapist, at least I can assume, I was taught in school to “be a blank slate,” to self-disclose only when absolutely necessary, to keep my clothes plain and my jewelry modest and absolutely no personal pictures in my office. I was not only taught what a great tool transference (the person receiving services’ projection onto the therapist) and counter-transference (the way the therapist feels about the person giving them insight about how others may feel about this person) were, but I was also thoroughly warned about the dangers of these things.
I am not diminishing the therapeutic tools taught, and I understand I take a risk when I share details about myself, but at this point, that is a risk I am willing to take if it helps someone else to connect. I recognize, once I share a detail, it colors the way people see me. In the end, however, I prefer to be colorful.