Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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More Purpose

Last week I wrote about purpose. This week on Facebook I posted a quote from my psychology magazine. Today I noticed that the headline of the article reads “Fulfillment of Purpose.” Hmmm…

I am going to repost that quote and add another from the same article by Mark Hubble, Francoise Mathieu, and Scott Miller. The article is talking about the purpose of therapists. “In the end, we don’t fulfill our purpose by providing caring, empathy, and compassion, no matter how lovingly extended. We do fulfill our purpose, however, when we consistently engage in the kinds of therapeutic practices that objectively promote the client’s improvement. Further, genuinely and demonstrably helping people improve is the entire point of therapy and, in the end, the best of all ways to show that we really, deeply care.”

I had mixed feelings when I read this. Often times I am amazed by the way my personal life dovetails with what is going on in my professional life. This is one of those times that as I read those words, I can’t separate how I feel as a therapist, with how I feel as a client myself, or how I feel as a human being in general.

The ultimate goal is progress, change, growth. When I run groups, I stress that. We are here to support each other, but if we aren’t working toward change, then you are paying for a bitch session. Come and spill your guts, get validated, but then let’s talk about how to move forward.

When that happens (i.e. we have an “aha” moment and actually move forward) in therapy or in life, it is very gratifying and satisfying. Knowing that things actually “work” is a great experience. But what about when we are stuck? And what if that statement is even wrong? Being “stuck” implies that you should be moving forward. What if we are just meant to be where we are? What if right now is as good as it gets? There also seems to be wisdom in that Eastern thought of contentment exactly where you are.

I recently had a talk with one of my clients about this before I read the article. I’ve been seeing her over ten years. I’ve been seeing her husband less than that, but still for several years. They were having one of those repetitive arguments where they both had good points. He said, “We’ve been talking about this for years.” She looked at me, shrugged her shoulders, and said, “I got nothing.”

I was listening to them, thinking the exact same thoughts. They both have good points. I don’t know that they can/will change. I have no idea how to help them past this one. (Wasn’t a life-changing argument, just one of those annoying living with each other things.) I looked at them, shrugged my shoulders, and said, “I got nothing either.”

And they pay me!

Later, she and I were talking in her individual session. It was one of those conversations about angst and the circular problems of life. You do everything you can, but fundamentally things don’t change. I could totally identify with her. I said that sometimes I feel like I would do her a better service if I referred her to someone new who had more wise things to say other than validate her frustrations. She emphatically told me that she would end up walking away from a therapist like that. One of the reasons she has continued all these years, is because I am genuine and real, and she feels like I really get it.

I’ve been seeing my therapist for 15 years. People ask me sometimes if I should change it up. I guess what I’ve concluded is that even if my life doesn’t radically change, I feel good for that 50 minutes I am there. He knows me inside and out. He challenges me and tells me things that are hard to hear sometimes. But overall, it just feels better to have a compassionate ear.

All that flies in the face of what that article says. I guess I don’t fully agree or disagree. I think ONE of the purposes of therapy IS to deliver compassionate care. But another very important purpose is to help people change and grow. I guess that is the bigger purpose. Perhaps the steps to get there require the caring.

In my own life, and my professional life, my purpose is to grow and change, by providing compassion and love. And when the change is slow or non-existent, and I am left with people who care, I prefer not to think of that is failure. Sometimes that is as good as it gets. And if you truly have that love and understanding, that is pretty damn good.


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Purpose

For the first time ever, I had a request. Last week someone posted on Facebook and asked if I could write about feeling like you have no purpose. I was actually very honored that someone was interested in my thoughts. So I hope I don’t disappoint her 🙂

I thought I would start by looking up Webster’s definition of purpose, but I decided that was too cliché. I just started thinking of ways we commonly use the word. The first that comes to mind is, “You did that on purpose.” Or when we apologize, we say the opposite. “I didn’t do it on purpose.” In that context, purpose implies intention. Action. Plan. Deliberation. Forethought. The opposite of accidental.

The second thing that comes to mind is, “And what was the purpose of that?” I guess its really a nuance of the first use, but it is slightly different. More emphasis on accomplishment. Goals. Achievement.

As I thought about this, purpose is a lot less sexy of a concept than I thought it was. What do I have to do today? Who is counting on me to do what? What do I expect of myself? If you’re a woman, there is probably a list of people who depend on you for several different things. Sorry, guys. Not trying to be insulting, but it’s biologically built into us to take care of others.

My purpose is easy. The list is endless. I have to pay the bills to keep a roof over everyone’s heads. I have to see clients to help them. People read my book and tell me how immensely it’s helped them. I weed the yard so it doesn’t get backed up. I buy groceries so there is food in the house. I put that stupid bag over my foot so it doesn’t get wet when I shower. I shower so I don’t smell so bad or look so bad. The purpose of what I do isn’t so hard to figure out.

The much trickier part- and my guess is, it’s the part my friend is struggling with- is who the hell cares? Why bother?

I think sometimes in our lives, knowing the purpose is enough. Knowing how you impact others motivates you. Knowing what you’ve accomplished keeps you going. But what if you don’t think what you are doing makes a difference to anyone? What if you struggle with depression and knowing how you’ve helped someone else doesn’t really do anything for you internally?

I’ve been there. More often than I would care to admit. And I’m not actually sure that I have a good response for that. I just have this vague kind of response/answer that can’t be pinned down. It’s like being so depressed that ending your life makes much more sense than continuing with yet. And yet you don’t do it. Because you just know that it’s not an option. You just know in your soul- somehow- that you must affirm life. You must keep going.

I think the same thing about finding meaning and satisfaction. Sometimes it just isn’t there. But you get up every day anyhow. Somehow you just know you have to. Somehow you just know there is Something bigger and greater than you are. I think of it as some kind of God-spark. It’s a sense. It’s knowing with a capital K.

So my dear, dear friend. Dig deep. You have that God-spark in your soul too. I know you do. Even though it defies reason, even though it is lacking emotion. You have purpose. And more importantly, you have meaning. You matter. Whatever makes you get up every day and keep surviving- it’s Divine. And it’s 100% you.