Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Breaking Through

There are those moments in one's career that bring things all together.

In December 2010, I was working for an outpatient substance abuse clinic, seeing adults for individual and group therapy who had been using drugs or alcohol, generally for a great many years. Substance abuse is a funny thing in that it's not generally the addiction that you're treating, but all the stuff that was done that fed the addiction - the lying, stealing, prostitution, homelessness, death, and loss of trust. There's a lot of guilt and shame in substance abuse, especially long-term use, that needs treating so those issues don't become reasons for using again.

Specializing in trauma, also prevalent in substance abuse, I attended a training for trauma and hypnotherapy. I was a self-taught hypnotist, but did not practice it. I thought it would be a good fit for me, and boy was I right! Knowing nothing of the training, the methods, or the trainer, I signed up for level 1 at what, to me, was a pretty hefty out-of-pocket price. There was so much information thrown at me that I went home after each of the three long days of training with my head swimming. Rapid Resolution Therapy is a way of conceptualizing a case through the lens of how you see the person as if they were to walk out your door completely free of their burdens. This seems like what every therapist should be doing with every case, right? But we're never taught that in college - at least I wasn't. Once you start seeing clients as whole and fixed, it it's just a matter of getting them there; but that is in Level 2, which I immediately signed up to attend.

I went home from that training, eager to try out the things I'd learned and start seeing my clients as resolved. Into my office that first week came an older-looking gentleman that we'll call Earl. Earl looked about 70, but was only in his mid-50s. He'd been using crack for over 20 years steadily and was referred by the justice system. My job was to get Earl to answer a grueling 2-hour questionnaire on his history of substance abuse and mental health issues. The more of the story he could give me, the faster I could make it go, but Earl was stonewalling me at every turn with yes and no answers, and sometimes just a steady silence. Working in community mental health is always a balance between getting the mountainous job down quickly and really getting the good work done. I needed Earl to go more quickly, but pressing him wasn't going to get me anywhere. I turned aside from the computer and said "Earl, I know the court's making you come here, and you're trying to get yourself out of trouble, but if you could change one thing about your situation, what would you want to do? How can I best help you to get where you want to be?" Earl looked at me for a long while, saying nothing. You could see his gears turning. As a trained therapist with almost a decade under my belt, I was going to ride out his silence - and if the questionnaire didn't get finished in time, we'd reschedule and I'd own that to my supervisor.

Then something happened, as we sat there in silence, sizing each other up. Earl broke down crying. "Miss Autumn," he said, "do you really care?" "Earl," I told him, "you're stonewalling me left and right. I see you have a lot of defenses up and I don't know why, but it's not going to do either of us any good. There's something going on with you that you're here for, not just court. If you're willing to tell me what it is, I'm willing to help see you through it." He looked at me again, a hard clear look and began to tell me about his daughter who was "about your age", though she was about 10 years younger (I get that a lot) who hadn't spoken to him in years due to his drug use, lying, and stealing. "I stole from my family," Earl said simply, and it was clearly the worst thing he could think to ever do. I helped Earl see himself as free from drugs, as clear of mind, as happy and himself again. We finished the questionnaire in record time. "I don't know what you did to me, Miss Autumn, because I don't tell nobody about my daughter, my life." But he left smiling.

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