Being a therapist is one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had in my life. When I think about the fact that people entrust me with their deepest most vulnerable thoughts, feelings, and experiences, I am sometimes taken aback.
When I first began my graduate program, I was young, naïve, and had my own ideas of what I thought therapy, and my clients, would look like based on my own worldview. I never could have imagined what being in the therapy room would feel like once I began working with clients who were trusting me to be their safe space. Throughout the 15 years that I have been sitting with and holding space for clients, I have learned so much from them about life and how different people can have different human experiences of living in our country. I have also been shown how important my role is in being someone’s therapist and the significant impact the symbiotic relationship can have on both client and therapist. In allowing myself to be open and to learn from my clients, I have also learned where my worldview needed to shift, and in turn my eyes have been more open to the struggles that so many people have been forced to suffer through due to their own life circumstances both in and out of their control. This is where empathy comes from, it comes from allowing ourselves to see and hear people for who they are, not for what we want to see or believe about them.
Throughout the past few years, discussions in the therapy room have become more complicated as mental health struggles have become so interwoven with the politics of our country. Whether people want to believe it or not, our politics have significantly affected clients lives and therefore their mental health and stability. Because of the complexity of these topics, as therapists we have been pushed into the political arena in a way we never could have anticipated. I never could have fully understood the breadth and depth of the pull I have now to be an advocate or voice for my clients. I see the ways in which our political climate and how our country makes decisions affecting people’s well-being in real time. When people begin a statement with, “those people” I get so angry because in saying say “these people” they are not allowing themselves to see the humanity in the people they are speaking about. As a therapist, and as a person who has taken the time to see through generalities and generalizations that many politicians want you to believe, I cannot help but become frustrated with our politicians’ lack of seeing the people who will be directly affected by the laws. Instead, I see the human beings with faces, names, family, and trauma that the politics are leaving behind and burying alive.
Some of the most intimate and vulnerable discussions my clients have had with me that are directly related to our current world have been about their reproductive health, sexual trauma, and abortions. I can tell you that the Supreme Court revocation of Roe v. Wade has evoked emotions and resurfaced trauma like I have not experienced before and has rocked a sense of safety, security, and stability that used to come with being an American in a way different from the many other hot political topics recently. Whatever their reasons, women deserve to have full bodily autonomy and make decisions regarding their bodies, and this includes whether their body, and life, is ready to grow, birth, and support a human.
My clients have been faced with decisions regarding pregnancies for varying reasons including their age, socio-economic status, relationship status, their physical health, the babies’ health and viability, and any trauma that may have led to the pregnancy. Some of these pregnancies were never wanted or expected and some of these pregnancies were all that these women have wanted and prayed for, for years. Some were babies that had already died or would die once they were born, and the medical abortion was necessary to prevent infection so that these clients would have the possibility of having more children in the future. Some were decisions made to prevent babies from suffering and dying slow and painful deaths if they were carried to term. Some were pregnancies that were never viable for whatever reason, would never have led to a true pregnancy, and if my client and her doctor did not make the decision to have necessary procedures, she may have died, leaving behind families and friends that love them.
Some of my clients’ stories are complicated by trauma and since the very beginning of my career, clients have processed through their traumas of rape, incest, and intimate partner violence. Most people would never believe the frequency at which women are faced with sexual trauma, and the fact that two of our current Supreme Court Justices have been accused of rape is not lost on me, or any woman who sees through the misogyny of this recent decision. And, unfortunately, because these attacks on women and girls of all ages happen as often as they do, I have sat with and supported my clients through inevitable decisions about abortions. These women and girls are forced to decide if they will keep or terminate pregnancies that have been forced on them by men who have hurt every fiber of their beings and violated any sense of bodily autonomy that they thought they could have. I can tell you that there is nothing like sitting with a mother of a 12-year-old who finds out this 12-year-old is pregnant by her father/uncle/grandfather/cousin, and therefore must decide what to do with the pregnancy. There is also nothing more painful than a woman who finds herself pregnant after being forced by her partner to have sex, only for that partner to threaten her with physical violence, or with leaving her and the children they already have together because he does not want to “deal” with another child if she decides to keep a subsequent pregnancy that was the result of his IPV rape. Or the woman who was raped and fears how she could ever spend 9 months carrying and then love a child that might look like the man who raped her and took away any sense safety she thought she had.
I cannot wrap my brain around how people discount the decision to have an abortion as a throwaway. That people do not understand that when women must decide between having an abortion or not, that the decision is most likely the most difficult decision she will ever face and that she will think about that decision for the rest of her life. I know this is not the case, because I have clients that process their decisions to have abortions years and even decades after having them with varying emotions and responses. Never though, have their said that they would do it differently. While they continue to mourn the loss of what may have been, they recognize why they needed to make the hard decision that they did. People want to judge these women while discounting the importance of their life as the mother. It is terrifying how people hide behind their ignorance and their pulpit claiming that lives are what are important to them when they do not care if the mother’s life would be lost, and what would happen to the life of the baby once it is born.
Hypocrisy is one of my deepest struggles and the hypocrisy of all of this is startling. How can a person claim to be pro-life when they state that a mother’s life has no value? How can a person claim to care about the life of an unborn baby, when they stop caring about that child once it is born? These same supposed pro-lifers who scream and yell and claim there is a shortage of children who need to be adopted are not signing up to take these children into their homes, and they are the same people who say that we should not offer support to the mother of a child who is struggling financially. These are the same people who are against affordable childcare, free preschool, and universal healthcare. If you are not paying attention, start. Those who claim to be pro-life have voted against legislation to improve the baby formula shortage and are the same politicians that are willing to let mothers die on operating tables when there are medical complications that put the mother’s life (and therefore the baby’s life) at risk, but are not willing to say that something needs to be done about babies being gunned down in schools.
Do not let them fool you. This is not about being pro-life. This is about patriarchal power, control, money, and politics. Just look at the fact that none of this legislation will punish the man that is responsible for the pregnancy. None of this legislation leads to men with felony charges or forces them to pay child support at conception if the law is technically saying that the fetus is already a person. This is hypocrisy at its worst because it is fueled by misogynist discrimination against women.
These stories of my clients, and so many more – these are the real stories, the human stories, that are at the core of the outrage I feel, and the outrage felt throughout our country right now. The uneasiness of the lack of balance, lack of power to change and control, and lack of voice is completely disarming. I can tell you that I have been moving through the stages of grief, back and forth, feeling the emotions, struggling with a path to move forward. I feel a pull to be a voice for the women who are afraid to use their own. I feel powerless, not knowing what I can do, but continue to feel driven to do something and hope that my platform will somehow help to raise the volume for these voices that have been silenced.
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I have been practicing therapy for 15 years and have worked with countless individuals, families and couples. While I do not want to claim to be an "expert" on all things therapy or life (because I always believe that there is room to grow and learn) I have noticed throughout my time connecting with my clients that similar struggles and repetitive patterns present themselves that affect how clients experience and see life. I wanted to take this experience with my clients and the knowledge I have gained and share it here, so that maybe it can touch others lives the way it has helped my clients.