Finally, the finish line is in sight: the soon-to-be culmination of almost nine years of constant work to become a licensed psychotherapist. I started graduate school in 2006, I started my internship in 2009, and I will attain my full license in the next two or three (thank heavens!) months. I could not possibly have anticipated what a transformative, deeply rewarding, and intensely hard process it would be.
I had no intention of becoming a therapist. It wasn’t something I dreamed of from a young age. Or even from a middle-age sort of age. As the idea came around at various points, I dismissed it almost immediately. My husband said many, many years ago that he thought I would become a psychotherapist. I laughed. And quickly moved on to the next topic in whatever conversation we were having at the time.
Many years before that, I had entered into my own therapy for the first time, seeking some kind of answer to the daily boredom mixed with anxiety that I felt. In the process of that first therapy experience, a lot of the “givens” in my life started to unravel. I felt like I was in one of those movies where someone finds out they have been living entirely in an artificial reality and all the structures they had just accepted as the Truth become suddenly and undeniably false.
I felt liberated but disoriented. I knew now, finally, that I had been contorted inside this box (I didn’t know at the time how many other boxes were still in place), but I still didn’t know what was right for me. An irreversible process had been set in motion, but it would still be a long time before I felt I had found MY path. At one point, I sent off for an application to a graduate school for counseling (Pacifica Graduate Institute, where I ultimately did get my masters degree). The application arrived, I looked at it, and then I stuck it away in a file cabinet where it sat for several years.
Even when I became pretty miserable in my old career and the idea of becoming a psychotherapist started to take on some weight, it still felt a bit crazy. I imagined my family saying, “You’re going to do what?” It felt completely out of left field. But then, what did it feel like to enjoy one’s work? To feel passionate about it? To even know what you enjoyed? I had no idea.
All I knew were Two Things. That my own therapy was the only thing, other than my marriage, that made me feel deliciously awake and alive. And that I really enjoyed helping others and it felt important to find a way to do that. From there, it felt like a leap of faith—did just these Two Things, all by themselves, mean I was supposed to be a therapist? There were pieces missing it seemed. Shouldn’t I know more clearly somehow? Wouldn’t there be some internal ding! of recognition if this were my destined path? I searched and searched within, for days and weeks, waiting for some click. I only told a handful of people, my husband and a couple of close friends, about my ponderings because I wanted to keep the decision as untainted as possible. And still, no click. No ding. Just flopping back and forth between the crystal clear feeling of how deeply my therapy thus far had mattered (and was still at work within me) and the equally clear, it seemed, sense of needing something more concrete to base my decision on.
But nothing else emerged either. No other ideas or inspirations raced forward to say, Here! Here I am! Ding!
So. Desperation born of emergent soul suffocation and the Two Things I Knew won out. I was in a completely dark cave, and I decided to walk toward the only light I could see. Light is light, after all.
Given that I am now a psychotherapist (and that I have found it to be such rich work that is a deeply authentic expression of who I am and my values), you might think that is where the story ends, that the act of starting school gave me the clarity I needed. Yes and no. Which is why I am writing about this here—because it is a helpful reminder to me (and hopefully for you too) that a path that is right and true doesn’t always present itself with banners waving and big, flashing neon signs. It might seem murky. Or impossible to imagine. Usually, it’s scary. And it can remain that way for an uncomfortably long time.
To be continued…
© Amanda Norcross and Learning to Listen to Soul, 2014.