Today I realize with astonishment that 50-something year-old therapist me has the exact same naive and open heart as 14 year old me encountering a troubled boy for the first time.
The first short story I wrote was titled “The Angel and the Hood”. It was terrible and ridiculous, of course, because I was 14 years old. But even then, I had the notion that my pure and true love could heal any wounded heart.
75% of my caseload are males between the ages of 19 and 25. Some are good at talking in the office, but most are not. I am a low-pressure therapist. Boys have their own way to communicate, and one thing I’ve discovered is that if I keep showing up, the trust will come. We run errands and get coffee, walk in the park, or sit in the car. Sometimes we just drive. I offer the aux cord and ask them to play me their favorite songs.
It takes time for an old woman to build a working therapeutic relationship with a young man. I choose the word “relationship” on purpose – because while insurance companies might believe that therapy happens in a session, the real therapy happens in the safety of the space between myself and my client, and that space is the relationship. All of it.
We all make mistakes, myself included. Disruption of the therapeutic relationship can feel like disaster – but then there can be repair, which makes the relationship stronger. These young men haven’t heard, “Hey, whenever you’re ready, we can talk this out,” nearly enough. They haven’t had adults willing to admit to having made mistakes. So many of their relationships end in ways they never entirely understand. How many of our relationships allow for anger and feelings of betrayal followed by honest conversation and forgiveness? Often they’ve never experience that, because “boys don’t cry,” and “boys don’t feel” and whatever.
I am lucky to be “of a certain age.” I can let myself love them with a big, endless, altruistic love. I can give them that, even though I am wise to the ways of my own heart – and I know they all must save themselves.
It’s a pity though, because my heart still wants to try.