“I can’t work with someone who’s broken,” he said calmly.
The young man had just read my Disclosure, a description of rights that, as a Marriage & Family Therapist, I’m legally required to give all clients. Although it isn’t necessary, my Disclosure also relates that I have multiple sclerosis; I don’t want clients to wonder whether my stumbling is about a liquid lunch.
Broken, he said. Broken. I never imagine anyone thinking of me as “damaged” – hell, even in my most self-pitying moments I don’t think of myself in that way.
I was temporarily speechless; did he really say that?
“Tell you what,” I said when I was sure my response wouldn’t betray my hurt, “think about it until next time.” Then I went home and cried.
At our final session he admitted what had evidently been in his mind for the three months we worked together. He was glad he’d given me a chance. “I found out I was broken, too,” he told me.
That young man understood that no one is perfect, not even therapists. That healers can be in need of healing, too. By making it “normal” to have flaws — even serious or disabling ones (his anxiety and my m.s.) — the young man was able to let go of the stigma of emotional distress, the impossibility of being perfect, that was behind his anxiety in the first place.
I still disclose my disability to clients although the passage of twelve years has made symptoms apparent that were once easy to hide. I fundamentally believe that clients who come to therapy often do so because they feel alone with how they feel; as Roy Orbison sang, the feeling is that we’re the “only one” who experiences the depth of pain we do. How secretly pleasing to know that the someone who slips-up, isn’t always self-assured, or doesn’t always behave the way the experts’ books say is your own therapist!
How healing to know you’re really not the only one.
Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in couples work, especially with those whose relationships are impacted by invisible disability or chronic illness. She’s been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for over 35 years. At home in Colorado with David, her husband, and their two hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy, no one in their household believes in Kathe’s perfection. Find information about the Skinners’ upcoming Couples Communication Workshop at www.beingheardnow.comand Kathe’s other dynamic practice and programs at coupleswhotalk.com.