So. I'm doing my practicum in counselling at a mental health outpatient clinic. It is terrifying and incredible and I love it and question myself/knowledge/abilities every single day. My clients are incredible people who have all been through a crazy amount of shit. Sometimes when I talk to the PhD student (I'm doing my masters, and she is a wonderful mentor/person to debrief with), I'll start describing a client and say something like, "she has a lot going on," and she bursts out laughing...because the nature of our program is such that EVERYBODY has a lot going on. (You have to be referred by a doctor with at least one diagnosed Axis I disorder, treatment is covered, the waitlist is often as long as a year, and we have no limit on the number of sessions available. Consequently, everybody who is referred is REALLY in need of ongoing long term therapy, and our program is a hot commodity). As students, we try to pick the "simple" cases, which is always a bit of a joke, because there's no such thing. Everyone has attempted suicide at least once. ALMOST everybody has a history of trauma or abuse (true for 10/12 of my clients).
Anyway. I have two supervisors. One is an expert in the type of therapy I'm doing, and the sole focus of this practicum (Narrative Therapy), but because she "only" has a Masters in Nursing (HA! "only"), I also have to be supervised by a registered psychologist in order for the hours to "count" by the standards of regulatory bodies (namely, the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centres, and the College of Alberta Psychologists). The registered psychologist who supervises me is an amazing guy, very talented and kind, but comes from a very different background (cognitive/integrative).
I spent the morning with a new client who has dealt with enough abuse and injustice to last five lifetimes, and then with a another client who is presently really affected by depression and anxiety in spite of her admirable accomplishments (seriously. She does shit I could never, ever do. But depression and anxiety are presently doing a great job of minimizing that).
So today during supervision, my supervisor was initially pretending to the "difficult" client from that morning (difficult only in the sense that every answer to questions regarding unique outcomes - those that broke the script of anxiety and depression - was essentially, "yeah, but...."). I spent fifteen minutes trying to explain what I would do next and why. He kept "yeah-but"ing me. Eventually I got to a place that he was pleased with (such is the nature of Socratic questioning?), but afterward he started really challenging me to defend/justify certain narrative practices.
No Socratic questioning here...he isn't a narrative practitioner, he didn't have an intended destination for his questions, he just wanted to know how much I knew. He asked about the language used in questions and statements, and why. The rationale for approaching particular practices in certain ways. He wasn't being malicious, but he was definitely being tough. He shot down almost everything I was able to come up with, and I felt like an idiot. The purpose of the exercise, of course, is to make sure I understand the narrative approach wholly. That's great! And it's important. But I ran out of answers, and I felt totally ineffectual and dumb and generally inadequate.....and I burst into tears.
Unfortunately they weren't pretty actress slow-rolling tears that make your eyes sparkle in a way where you end up seeming sadly poetic and self-reflective. It was the kind of crying where you hyperventilate, making you seem like a four year old asking for an a-ha-a-ha-a-ha-a-ha-a-pple j-huh-j-huh-j-uicceeee. In these instances I am much better at crying than I am at breathing. I'm also pretty sleep-deprived. There aren't enough hours in the day to finish the work AND get sufficient sleep, unfortunately.
Cons of crying in front of your psychologist supervisor: You melt your makeup off your face. You look like you: (a) really, really don't have your shit together; (b) don't know or understand as much as you should; (c) aren't doing a good job of taking care of yourself while you're caring for people who have survived really traumatic and wholly unfair life experiences.
Pros: he's a psychologist. He's totally cool with people crying and isn't reactive about it (e.g., "ARE YOU OKAY?!"). He's calm and collected and reassuring in that he is just....tranquil. "It's okay. Take some time to catch your breath. There you go."
I felt like an idiot. He was a champ about it and said that everybody cries in his office at least twice over the course of the year. Validated the fact that I have one million things to do for school above and beyond the demands of providing therapy.
I still feel embarrassed, and like I don't know enough....and that I'm a fraud. (HEYO, IMPOSTOR SYNDROME). Prior to my meltdown he had a lot of good feedback about my taped sessions, which is fantastic. But man. Guys.....
I'm still sort of processing the whole thing. I know it's okay. I got a lot of support from my PhD mentor/psych crush, who made me leave the building at the end of the day to cuddle with her dog who was waiting outside with her husband. I feel....okay. I am okay. But I'm not entirely sure what to make of the whole thing.
There is a weird paradox when you're in the midst of a practicum in mental health: you know your supervisors are experts in the field, non-judgmental, empathetic, and generally just lovely people (at least in my case). You also know that they are watching, challenging, and ultimately evaluating your performance, so you want to present yourself in the best way possible. You want to look competent and well-informed. It's a tircky tightrope and I haven't figured out how to cross it.
So....I'm just going to drink some wine and sew a skirt and peruse GT for the night in preparation for a weekend of academic lockdown that will now include a review of ALL THINGS NARRATIVE in addition to homework.
In short: everything is okay, even if it doesn't feel okay. But I'm looking forward to feeling better too.