“What do you do?” is a question I never know how to answer. When I try to answer it I usually get the same responses. The first response is a surprised “oh…” followed by the silence and contemplation that I can either read minds (I can’t) or that I am quietly psychoanalyzing them (I’m not). Another common response is a surprised “oh…” followed by the curious question of “what made you want to do that?” as if they have just discovered that I am a basket case and would like to know how to save their children from a similar fate.
To be honest it feels like the only people that understand what I do, are the people that do it as well. I think that’s why I do not know how to answer the question of what I do, because no matter what title I use or description I give, I still do not believe people know what I do. For that reason it’s not easy to talk about my professional life. Most of it is confidential in nature to begin with, and terms like “burn out” and “self care” are often not understood by common ears. Work is something you talk about with people in the same line of work, but even then the topic weighs heavy and you either feel bad for bringing it up or do not have the energy to talk about it. So what do I do? To fit a title I’m a therapist; not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or shrink. More specifically I’m a marriage and family therapist, but that is merely a title and I still have not said what I do. First off, do not let the title fool you. This is where the misunderstanding begins because my work is not limited to its title. I work with individuals, couples, families, groups, kids, teenagers, adults, alcoholics, addicts, or simply just people. I work with people with the understanding of the systemic power of the family system. And still, I have not explained what I do. In my attempt to convey what I do, I feel as if I am doing the field a disservice because I do not feel that my meager words can begin to describe what happens in a room filled with silent confidentiality and a seat reserved for the broken. In my explanation I offer no definitive understanding or universal truth for my profession. Instead I offer a glimpse from my own perspective of what I do and the things I sit silently with, at work and in my life.
I hold hope.
I can not think of a better way to explain it, and maybe it’s because I do not know what else to do. I sit and listen to stories of people’s worlds crashing down; I hear about abuse, heartbreak, violence, infidelity, abandonment, divorce, death, suicide, despair and hopelessness. I listen to the stories that not even Hollywood could write. And I don’t even flinch. I hear despair and sit silently while people bare their broken hearts and cry into their empty hands. I sit with the hopeless and hold hope because the circumstances of their lives make it hard to believe in. Any theory, question, or intervention I may use I consider meaningless without hope. I sit with the despairing and discouraged with the absolute belief that things can get better. When things are bleak and continue to get worse, as their worlds crumble around them, I hold hope. I hold onto the hope that people can change, their circumstances can change, and despite where they are now, the power of human persistence and perseverance can prevail. I hold onto hope not because it’s my job or what I believe; I hold on to hope because it’s what I do.