My work as a psychologist is fascinating, challenging, and gratifying. Every day, I have the honor of being allowed into my patients’ inner-most thoughts and feelings. From that privileged vantage point, I routinely witness exemplary courage and inspiring triumphs. Some examples will illustrate why I love my job.
1. I have many patients who provide care to two or even three impaired loved ones. These might be a spouse or parent with dementia or kidney failure, an adult child with emotional or cognitive limitations, or a sibling or in-law with depression or addiction. In some cases, the impaired relative has historically been quite unpleasant, making it hard for my patients to feel generous to them. They provide loving care nonetheless. As a result, they are often exhausted or overwhelmed, and at times feel hopeless about the future. Many struggle with the apparent injustice of their enormous burden and their lack of support or recognition. Nonetheless, they provide loving care. I am in awe of their courage and selflessness.
2. Many patients have low self-esteem due to a decades-long history of unhealthy relationships, marital failures, emotional neglect, or abuse. Some have never seen in any sphere of their lives a kind parent or a happy marriage. They therefore truly believe that these phenomena do not exist on earth. They gravitate into relationships with deeply dysfunctional partners, where they struggle vainly to find a scrap of support, respect, hope, or love. It is inspiring, and sometimes nearly miraculous, to witness these patients, through their work in psychotherapy, finally feel pride in their own strengths and achievements and come to see themselves, their situation, their future, and the entire world with new eyes and a newly courageous attitude. I am in awe of their capacity to grow.
3. A patient once told me about his mother, who worked for 30 years at the same clothing manufacturing company and advanced from the factory floor to management. Near the end of her career, the company hit hard times, downsized their workforce, and moved her back to the factory floor. The workers who had formerly worked under her spontaneously approached her with this message: “Any time you need any help at all, let us know right away. We’ll happily help you any way we can, because you were always fair and kind to us.” She therefore counseled her son to always treat people right, because “you just never know.” I am in awe of the character and integrity of such people.
4. Many patients believe erroneously that other people have much happier and more desirable lives than they. They compare their insides to other people’s outsides. I take great joy in helping my patients give up this self-destructive habit. I was wowed by one patient who, clearly getting the message, introduced me to the adage, “The happiest people I know are the ones I don’t know very well.”
I am so grateful for the privilege of doing this work. Every day, I see therapy produce real value, tangible improvement, and meaningful growth for patients.