Article by Wendy McCance
Ok, I’ve talked about this for a while and I’m happy to post the first of many, “A Day in the Life” posts. I know you will enjoy getting to know Andrea Mathews and what a day in the life of her career is like. Please remember if you would like to contribute a piece for, “A Day in the Life” please view the page above where it says opportunity to be a featured writer for all information related to submitting an article. Thanks, and enjoy!
Piecing together the various components of my life is the variety-junky’s nirvana. I am a Psychotherapist in private practice, a freelance writer, an author and a Corporate Trainer/Motivational/Inspirational Speaker. So in a single day, I might be working on any or all of these jobs, and I often am.
It starts like your day starts, with an alarm clock jangling nervously on my bedside table and all that usually comes after that before one arrives at “work.” For me, the work could be my upstairs office in my home, or my counseling office, depending on the schedule I’ve arranged for myself that day. Often clients are scheduled in the morning, so I go to my office. Today, it’s Gary (a fictional name, character and problems due to confidentiality issues). Gary has come to see me because he thinks his wife is going to leave him. He’s an alcoholic and spends a lot of his money on gambling. She’s reached the end of her rope, according to him, and “I can’t blame her, I’ve put her through hell.” He’s tearful and has trouble making eye-contact with me. And he wants a quick-fix so that he can make sure she doesn’t leave.
I ask him if she is willing to come to therapy and he tells me that she’d made it really clear that he was the one with the problem, not her. We talk for a bit about the benefits of couple’s therapy. I know that unless she is really planning on leaving, one of the worst mistakes a spouse can make is to refuse couple’s therapy. The partner who comes to therapy is likely to grow and even outgrow the partner—so that he might leave her before she ever gets around to leaving him. It’s also true that I’m likely to get more information about the depth and gravity of the problems by having both of them in the room. The assessment phase of his treatment continues and he tells me that he will talk with her about coming to his next session before he leaves. He’s also agreed to start attending both AA and GA meetings and to report back to me on how he is impacted by the meetings.
The next client is Rebecca (equally fictional) whom I’ve been treating for approximately six months. She’s working hard on trying to get her life back from the jaws of the childhood abuse she suffered. The way we are doing that is not by having her troop bravely back through her childhood and re-experience those traumas, but by helping her discover her own authenticity. Today she does a piece of really difficult work. She is slowly realizing that a huge part of her identity to date has been made up of feeling like somehow she was a bad person—because other people, who were supposed to love her, abused her. She cries as she relates the number of times she cut herself off at the knees because she didn’t think she deserved love, respect, even jobs and relationships. And she’s angry, really angry for the first time. This is progress for Rebecca, whose previous belief that she was “bad” meant she was not allowed to feel anger. But what I know is that this anger will help her create better boundaries in the future. It’s her she-wolf and it will protect the nascent pups of her vulnerability in the future. So, we spend some time today on that anger.
For the next few hours I’ll focus on the book I’m writing—a business book about bad bosses and something I call Authentic Leadership. Authentic Leadership is one of the series of Corporate Training seminars I lead. I’ve written to several of my connections all over the world and asked that they send me stories of their own experiences with bad bosses, and I’m editing these to create a fictionalized version of same in order to protect their anonymity. I need the stories about these bad bosses to make the point that while we have an increasing rhetoric about leadership, there are still far too many bad bosses out there, and their errors in judgment and abuses are impacting the national and even international economy. And I need them to create a backdrop for the other half of the book on Authentic Leadership. I’ve got another book, a spiritual book, coming out later this year, and yesterday I did the finishing touches on its edits. So, today, I can really settle in and focus on this book. I feel a flush of enthusiasm run through my blood as I lay my hands down on the keyboard.
It’s always that way for me. Whatever I’m working on whether it’s an article, a blog or a book, I’m 100% in it. And I stay in it until the next client comes, or until it’s time for dinner—whichever comes first. I’ll grab a light lunch and chow down while I’m typing away. Sometimes I can’t even remember later, whether or not I’ve eaten—so focused am I on the work at hand—which is also a joy at hand.
My next client, Mary (again completely fictional), comes at 3 pm. She’s also someone I’ve been seeing for a while, and she’s reached a stuck place in her therapy. For the past three weeks, she’s come to therapy repeating the same exact complaints. So, since I’m seeing the pattern now of her inertia, I mirror this back to her informing her that I’m aware that she’s said pretty much the same thing for the past three weeks, and though I’ve given her some homework assignments about these things, she’s not done them. Of course, I remind her, “you are not doing these assignments to measure up to some standard of mine—you are doing them for you, so I’m curious about this stuck place you seem to be in.” She looks down—a little sheepishly and I immediately feel that internal conflict I always feel when I’ve had to confront someone with their own reflection in the mirror. I don’t want her to feel ashamed or feel that she’s failed me—which so often clients tend to do when they’ve agreed to do an assignment but haven’t done it—but I do want her to see that she’s not moving.
I say nothing as she processes for a few minutes. And then she begins to tear up. And she says, “I think this is it.” I wait till she can catch her breath and quietly say, “What do you mean?” She says, “This is where I always stop. I’m so afraid that I’ll find out that it was all my fault!” She’s referring to the childhood sexual abuse she endured. Her father was the perpetrator and she told her teacher so that her father was ultimately put in jail. Slowly, we begin, ever so gently, to unravel her fear. And that enormous work is what we do today.
After her visit I get the mail from my waiting room and open an envelope I was expecting, hoping to see that $500.00 check from the insurance company, which should be paid for services I delivered to clients last month. But instead I get a notice that tells me why they haven’t paid it. I didn’t put my name and address in the “Facility” section of the HCFA 1500 forms I sent into them as a bill. I am not a Facility, I’m a private practice and my name and address have been put in the private practice section, so why do they need it also in the “Facility” section?
I know I can’t call this company because they don’t take phone calls, only emails. So, I email them with my question and very professionally ask what the heck is going on, knowing that I won’t hear from them for a few days, and that I’m not likely to see that $500.00 till next month—because it will take them that long to turn it around. And I definitely needed that money to pay my office rent this month. I’m furious, but there’s nothing to be done for it, but to keep on keeping on.
So, I take my last client’s notes, do the billing to her insurance company, and then I know that I need to take this last hour to work on the Corporate Training Seminar I’m doing tomorrow morning. So, I take out the PowerPoint Projector and I review and edit the curricula I’ve written for the training. And then it’s time to go. I’m meeting some friends for a cocktail party after work tonight. I’ll take the different business cards, just in case I run into someone with whom I can network for either my freelance writing, my Corporate Training or my therapy practice.
First person I run into at the party is an old friend, Joanna, whom I haven’t seen in a few years. She asks me how things are going in my life and in particular asks about my practice. I tell her it’s going well, and she says, “I don’t know how you do that. I couldn’t sit and listen to people’s problems all day every day.” I laugh because I get that a lot. I tell her that I really do enjoy my work with clients. I don’t take on their problems—because if I do I’m not doing them a service. They need to own the full impact of their problems, because if they do, they are more likely to be motivated to do something about them. If I take on that energy, and they can say to themselves, “Well, I’m going to therapy” as if all they need to do is walk in the door sit down and talk—then they are not feeling the full impact of their problems.
See, I believe that people can do that. They can give their problems to others. They can just pass the emotional energy of that problem on to others so that they won’t have to carry it anymore. That’s why both Rebecca and Mary feel like it’s their fault and/or that they are bad. They picked up their abuser’s emotions and carried them as if they belonged to them. And empathetic therapists are also good candidates for picking up the emotional content of a client’s issues without even knowing they are doing it. I’ve had clients come into the office who seem, on the surface to be completely calm, but as we sit down to talk I start feeling this amazing jitteriness. I might feel it for a few minutes before I begin to realize that this isn’t my stuff. So, I literally say, I’m giving this back to you, it doesn’t belong to me—not to the person, but in my own mind. And suddenly the person starts saying, “I’ve been so nervous lately. I mean, like right now I feel like I’m about to jump out of my skin.”
If I’d held onto that emotional material, we wouldn’t have been able to work on it together. But since I gave it back, the client is immediately aware of it and we can then begin to come to terms with both the nervousness of today and the overall self-talk that puts the client into a panicky place frequently.
I try to explain this to my friend at the party in but the briefest of terms, but she’s busy looking across the room at the guy she dated last year. She grabs my arm and says, “Excuse me, I’m going to go talk to Sarah before she gets away.” Sarah, of course, is not going anywhere, but is standing right next to Joanna’s Ex.
When I get home tonight, I’ll need to make a note in my calendar to work tomorrow on my blog on Psychology Today.com. It’s called “Traversing the Inner Terrain,” and I have a good time writing it, but with so many projects to do, sometimes I have to put it on the schedule, or I’ll get behind on it. As I’m driving home, I’m wishing that I had all the money that goes with all these projects. And I’m thinking of ways to market my Corporate Training and how I might get some freelance writing contracts. Writing books is great, and having them published is even better, but unless it hits the big time, once the agent is paid, you get about $1-2.00 per book sold. That would work really well if you sold a million books, but most of us don’t. Still, I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I must write in order to breathe.
So, how can I get the word out there? My publisher tells me I’m a really good writer, and those I train tell me I’m really good at getting new insightful, even life-changing messages to them, and Executives tell me that what I offer in terms of Authentic Leadership and other Corporate Training seminars makes a real difference. So, I believe what I have to offer is good, but it’s frustrating trying to figure out how to monetize what I do. And on the way home tonight I worry a little. I wish I could afford to put an ad in the paper, or get a publicist! And then I remember that I’m slowly building my numbers on my social media sites and hoping that will help with all of it.
As I get ready for bed that night, I remember to write my blog note in my calendar, and as I’m meditating, as I always do before bed, I offer a little prayer for an increase in income for the work that I do. But I know that tomorrow morning I’ll wake up and do it again—because I simply love it and I can’t imagine ever going back to doing what I don’t love.
BIO: Andrea Mathews has almost 20 years as a licensed professional counselor, the last 15 in a thriving private practice, and over 30 years overall in the mental health field. She is the author of two books, with a third coming out later this year, and several national and internationally published magazine articles. She also writes a blog for Psychology Today online called Traversing the Inner Terrain. She hosts the internet talk-radio show called Authentic Living. Mathews is a Corporate Trainer and Motivational/ Inspirational Speaker with over 25 years’ experience (www.InnerWings.com). Learn more about her and her work at: www.AndreaMathewslpc.com.
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