A Naropa Wrap-Up: Reflecting on My First TCP Semester

Well folks, it’s Thursday of the very last week of the first semester of grad school.  As could be expected, I’ve been thinking a lot about how this past semester has gone, how it met or did not meet my expectations, and what I have gained during my time here thus far.

Might as well get it all down on “paper,” right?

So here goes.

The first thing that has become very apparent during my first semester is that Naropa is not a shining beacon of beauty, love, and unity for all beings.  Sure there’s more emotional connection and acceptance going around than I would expect to find in just about any other program, but it’s not an all-inclusive buffet of positive vibes.  Naropa has its shadow issues too.  These show up in many forms, but the biggest one that I have noticed is the way Naropa handles anger.  In Duey Freeman’s Human Growth and Development class, he says that when we are young, we learn spoken, unspoken, and secret rules from our parents that influence the way we live.  Well, Naropa is a young school, and it’s got its rules too.  In regards to the anger issue, Naropa’s spoken rule is that “anger is an important and useful emotion, as long as you don’t let it control you.”  The unspoken rule is that “anger is something you should work on yourself; don’t expect others to process it for you.”  The secret rule is that “it’s not okay to be angry as a student at Naropa university.”  That’s not to say that you’ll get in trouble for being angry, but people here don’t always know how to handle it, and they’d rather not see it unless you can keep yourself calm and collected.


Needless to say, this has caused problems.  It will probably continue to do so.  But every school has something, so I hardly think it’s fair to judge it based on this issue alone.  Naropa has a lot of great qualities as well, and it would be a mistake to ignore them.

The second thing that’s become apparent to me is that the faculty here have a subtle, but strong undercurrent of interpersonal and institutional politics.  Some instructors don’t like it when you disagree with them.  Some don’t agree with other instructors.  Some think that some other instructors’ courses aren’t necessary.  Once in a while, something you say will really trigger one of the instructors, and you’ll be left wondering why the thing you said was really such a big deal.  Grad school isn’t a game, but you do have to play to the politics of the school from time to time.

Bear in mind, I don’t think this is unusual for any type of institution.  All schools have interpersonal politics, as do companies, families, social groups, etc.  It’s impossible to get away from them.  But it’s important to be aware of them too.  Sticking your head in the sand and ignoring this important aspect of the Naropa dynamic can lead to problems.  Of course, I may have encountered this more than most, as I have trouble keeping my mouth shut in class.  I’m sure people experience this to varying degrees.  But it is a real aspect of attending school here, and worth keeping in the back of your mind.  And, having said that, the positive sides of the Naropa faculty far exceed the negative.  The instructors here are truly amazing people, and considering that they work for almost no pay, you know they’re teaching you because they want to be.  I am unceasingly amazed at the incredible knowledge and competence of Naropa’s teachers, and feel extremely grateful for having the chance to learn from them.

The third thing that I’ve noticed is that Naropa’s TCP students are incredibly mature.  Really.  I feel like a little kid in some of these classes.  I am, admittedly, on the low end of the age spectrum here, but it’s worth noting the incredible intellect, savvy, and skill that people bring to this program.  And for me, this fact makes every class an absolute delight.


Finally, my fourth observation is that Naropa has got something.  I know I’ve said this before, but this semester has really reaffirmed it for me.  There is an almost tangible X-factor here that changes you in some way.  Whatever it is, you can’t go through a semester of this without feeling its impact.  And the anger-related issues, politics, etc. are well worth it to have the privilege and the pleasure to attend this school.

So there it is–my first semester is over, and now all that’s left is to wait and see what the next one will bring.  However, I’m sure my experience is not universal.  How has your semester gone?  Feel free to comment on your own experiences during these last four months!


Shops, Schnapps, and Snowboards: The Best Boulder Christmas Activities

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…or at least it ought to be (the snow has been eerily absent this year).  I for one will be spending this Christmas in Oregon with my family for the first time in the 4+ years that I’ve lived here.  Unfortunately, my past 3 holiday seasons have been spent in Boulder, and I’ll be the first to admit, they can get a little bit lonely.  Somehow seeing your family’s holiday photos on facebook is not nearly as great as helping them set up a tree.  But my own few years of Boulder winter experience  have helped ease the frustrating prices of plane tickets and unwavering work schedules.

So without further ado, here are my own personal recommendations for how to enjoy your holiday season.  I’ve added links to my recommendations, if you’d like to check them out for yourself.  Also, I do not get anything for recommending these places/activities; they really are my favorites!

The first thing I’d recommend is to embrace the cold.  It does get pretty chilly here, especially for those of you from warmer climates, and it’s bound to snow sooner or later.  Luckily, the snow is about as much fun as it is cold, so if you’re feeling a little adventurous, it’s almost worth the discomfort.  The first, and most expensive, way to enjoy the snow is by heading up to Eldora.  You won’t have to drive if you have a few dollars (or a Naropa bus pass), because the ‘N’ bus heads straight up the canyon to the ski area and back multiple times per day.  You will encounter delightful slopes up there for multiple skill levels.  If you’re hungry and looking to round out the day, stop by the funky little town of Nederland on your way back down the mountain.  Try out the Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery, which has delicious BBQ and excellent craft beers…they’ve even got a vegetarian option or two.


A second snowy-day activity is to strap on some skates.  Boulder has a seasonal ice-skating rink at the One Boulder Plaza which, while somewhat small, is a great use of a few dollars.  If you bring a canned food item to donate to the Boulder Community Food Share, they’ll discount the cost.  The rink rents out skates and will hold your bags/purses for you, plus you can skate as long as you’d like.

If you’re hoping for something fun that doesn’t cost money, consider the many walking trails that Boulder offers.  I can personally attest to the beauty of the Boulder Creek Path, which runs along the often-frozen Boulder Creek.  Make sure to bring a camera, as photos of this winter wonderland will be a perfect way to make your friends back home jealous.  The best part is that the major trails (Boulder Creek included) are plowed early in the morning (at the same time as the roads!) so the walking is easy.  Just slide into some cold-weather-wear, throw some holiday songs on your mp3 player, and head out to breathe in the chill.

If you don’t mind the cold, and have presents to buy, the Pearl St. Mall is a great place for shopping.  It is home to many small, locally owned businesses that rely on much of their annual revenue from Christmas shoppers.  They range from the Boulder Book Store, Boulder’s largest independently owned new/used bookstore, to the Boulder Army Store, a great stop for winter and outdoor gear.  Plus, there are all kinds of holiday-themed events going on there, such as St. Nick on the Bricks and The Christmas Revels celebration at the Boulder Theater.


If you end up doing some Sunday shopping, head over to Conor O’Neill’s Traditional Irish Pub afterwards to enjoy their weekly Celtic music jam.  A variety of performers show up every week, producing the best possible music to pull you out of your winter blues.  I particularly recommend trying to snag one of the small booths, as these are quiet enough to have a conversation with a friend, but are still close enough to enjoy the music…just get there early, because they fill up fast.  Conor’s offers some delicious dinner options, and is one of the few Boulder locations that has hard cider on tap.  So set yourself up with a good stout, or one of their delicious Hot Apple Pie drinks, and you’ll soon be warm and cheery.

And of course, my final favorite: sleep.  Whether it’s after a long day of snow-related activities, or a warm drink with friends, the ability to catch up on some much-needed rest should not be underestimated.  Curl up in bed, on your couch, or by the fireplace (if you have one), and rest easy knowing that finals are over, next semester isn’t here yet, and you have nothing to do in the morning.


Finally, if you’re bored and lonely, I personally will be here for a couple of weeks and would love to spend time with you all in a stress-free context.  So if you’re interested, shoot me an e-mail.  I would love to see you.

So what about you?  Do you have a favorite winter activity?  Feel free to share!

Extracurricular Activity: Dating and Relationships at Naropa University

As we near the end of our first semester here in the Naropa TCP program, a lot of activity is going on.  Papers are due, finals are coming up, and stress and emotions are both running high.  This produces a variety of troublesome phenomena for the students here.  It’s around this time of year that people start to feel the physical demands of the workload, and many people get sick, don’t exercise, and resort to eating junk food because they’re always in a hurry.

It’s also the time of year that students start to get pretty lonely.  Think about it–family holidays are coming up, the novelty of a new town and a new school are wearing thin, and the weather is turning towards winter.  Overall, the atmosphere here in Naropa-land has become decidedly less like flying above the clouds, and more like falling through them.

Which means that at this time of year, people start turning toward their new friends and classmates here at Naropa, and not always just for a shoulder to cry on.  Naropa’s unique setting attracts unique people that often felt ostracized in their hometowns.  Upon coming to Naropa, many suddenly feel accepted for the first time in their adult lives.  Furthermore, the open mindedness that the school tries to cultivate means that it’s usually not hard to find a handful of people who match your sexual orientation, even if you aren’t straight.

Okay, so people hook up.  We’re all adults, we can handle our own sex lives without anyone’s interference, thank you very much.  Right?

Well, it doesn’t always work out that way…at least from the faculty’s point of view.  Don’t get me wrong, the instructors here are savvy, and they’ve worked with grad students for a long time.  They know how it works.  People in college date each other.  And yet here, in a population of self-sufficient, well-educated adults, it’s still pretty common to hear teachers advising against even casual sexual intimacy with Naropa buddies, much less forming relationships with them.

Which, upon first glance, seems pretty ridiculous.

But really, they’re well intended.  As much as I’d like to point out that many of Naropa’s instructors probably met their own significant others while in college, they do have a point.  This program is intense.  It messes with your emotions in ways that no other graduate psychology program ever will, and it does so intentionally.  If you sleep with someone, and it ends up being a mistake, you’ll probably have at least one class with them every semester for the next two and a half years, unless you intentionally (and collaboratively) schedule around each other.  The program is small, and some of the classes are big.  Many of the electives are only offered once or twice during the program, and then only have one section.  And couples often don’t survive Naropa.  I’ve heard instructors tell their students to start couples counseling on the first day of classes, because they’re instantly worried for their students’ romantic stability.  In a school of only a couple hundred students, it would be pretty easy to see your ex every single day without meaning to.

How do I know all this?  Well, some of it is from hearing all of those instructors’ warnings.  Unfortunately, the rest is from experience.

When I began attending Naropa as an undergrad, I was engaged.  After about a year, I was married.  About a year after that, I was single again.  Just like that.  Both of us were Naropa students, and saw each other every day.  It was terrible.  I cannot stress this enough…this program seriously fucks with you.  Having a relationship will be twice as difficult as it ever was, particularly if your significant other(s) attend Naropa too.

Luckily, there’s hope.  I am now in another relationship, with someone else who had gone through the undergrad program too.  And we’re both in the TCP.  And thus far, it’s been the best kind of hell.  We’re constantly falling apart and putting ourselves back together again.  We’re learning what it’s like to have a partner who is sometimes just too distraught themselves to be supportive.  We’re learning how to be individuals in our relationship, to trust each other even when we’re both wrecks.  We’re on this bull that is Naropa, and it is bucking like hell.  But we’re also incredibly lucky.  We get to be in a relationship in which we actively watch each other progress intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually at an accelerated rate, and we each know the other is experiencing this as well.

I don’t know if I’d honestly recommend this process to anyone…my partner and I are pretty stubborn people, and this has served us through the intensity thus far.  I have to admit, it’s often very uncomfortable, particularly when we have classes together.

Will we last?  Hopefully.  I have faith that we can, and I know it will be one of the hardest things we’ve done as a couple.  But even only one semester in, the results are astounding.  It really is a trial-by-fire, and we’re each melting down into something new.  It’s incredible, and terrifying, and amazing all at once.

If you choose not to date, good for you; you’re probably saving yourself a world of heartache.  If you decide to do so, good for you anyway.  You’ll learn a lot about who you are in relationships…and who knows, you may come out the other side still together and stronger for it.

Whatever you choose, I wish you the best, and hope you find a way to make it work.

Confessions of Naropaholic: My Flaws, Faults, and Failures

Hi everyone.  My name is Mari, and I’m a Naropaholic.

“What do you mean?” you may be asking yourself.  Allow me to explain.

This really all begins with a belief that a lot of people who meet me seem to have.  They tell me, “Mari, you really have your shit together.”  Well, first of all, thank you very much.  You have been a great reassurance to me and my insecure need to seem like my life fits into a neat little box.  But of course things are more complicated than that.  And since I can’t seem to shake this false image of general invulnerability (and also because I think I scare people off), I thought I’d take some time to share with you all exactly how not-together I am.  Because let’s face it, nobody is really that “together.”

First of all, I don’t get all of my reading assignments done.  I realize that this is an expected byproduct of being in grad school and also being human, but it bears mentioning.  I also sometimes finish assignments the night before, or occasionally right before class.  I don’t always give myself enough time to print papers, and so I’m often late to classes on days when papers are due.

Speaking of which, I am also not always on time for things.  I go to sleep late, then wake up late, and barely have time to shower and get dressed before I’m rushing out the door.  I end up buying food and coffee instead of making them at home, which means I’m pretty constantly broke.  While I’m usually pretty good with finances, I’ve been lax about it lately, which has caused problems in my general life stability.  This in turn makes me cranky.  I feel rushed and tired all the time.  I don’t take the time to properly care for myself.  My room is a mess, and my bonsai tree is dying because I haven’t had the time to figure out what the hell is wrong with it (or so I tell myself).

I’m also emotional, in a sometimes destructive way.  I’ve been known to get angry for no reason.  Usually there is a reason, but I’m more angry about it than is warranted.  I tend to blame people for things, even when it’s really my own damn shit that I need to work through.  I also don’t know how to express gratitude.  I don’t expect people to appreciate me, and when they do, I become awkward.  I often turn bright red when people’s attention is unexpectedly focused on me.

Which is probably why I’m writing a blog instead of saying all this in class.

And speaking of class, I talk too much.  Yes, I will be the first to admit this.  I’m sure part of this has to do with not really being heard when I was younger, but whatever the cause, I still end up talking disproportionately more than most other people that I meet.  Think about it this way: if you consider how much I talk in class, and how much I talk when I run into you, AND the fact that I have a blog in which I can just rant about whatever the hell I want to anyone who will listen for no real reason other than personal enjoyment, you will get the idea.  Thankfully, my partner talks a lot too.  We have lots of drawn out conversations in which both of us cut each other off and then get upset when it happens to us, and ultimately realize we’re both incredibly lucky to have the other around.

So that’s a start.  I could probably go on for a very long time, but I’ll cut it off here. You may be wondering how this relates back to Naropa.  Well, I’ll tell you. Naropa points these things out.  Not overtly, but it does.  Mostly it helps me notice these things about myself, and work on them.  And as someone who puts off this affect of “togetherness,” I really need that.  I need an external force to point out my flaws.  Because let’s face it, I’m bullheaded and I don’t always slow myself down when it’s warranted.  But the longer I’m here, the more I start to notice these things without other people pointing them out, and the more I progress.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Naropa teaches me to be a little less hard on myself for all of this.  It shows me that we all make mistakes, and that there’s wisdom in anger, and that I don’t have to take myself so seriously all the time.

So I’ll admit it to everyone.  My name is Mari, and I’m a Naropaholic.

Thankfully, this sort of “addiction” seems to be helping rather than hurting my spiritual, emotional, and intellectual growth.  So I think I’ll keep at it for a while, and see where it takes me.

An Unlikely Heathen: Attending Naropa as a Non-Buddhist

From its name to its sitting cushions, Naropa University screams Buddhism.  Its instructors and students alike sport mala beads and singing bowls.  Its classes begin and end with a bow.  Even its somewhat tongue-in-cheek mascot, the “Bodhi Cheeta,” references the school’s religious leaning.

Which is understandable, given its beginnings.  Naropa’s history involves a solid background in Buddhist philosophy and meditation instruction, and its early psychology department was perhaps based more in religious studies than traditional psychology.  Granted, the school has evolved a lot, and there is now a wider range of voices and opinions that come together to make Naropa what it is.

Having said that, there are a few Buddhism-related things about this school that must be considered.  The undergraduate psychology program requires several “Buddhist Psychology” courses, which contain a fair dose of religious “dharma,” and the TCP program requires at least four credits of meditation classes that can only be waived if one has gone through the undergrad program.  Are these classes useful?  I would say yes, although I have run into people who were less than happy about their mandatory status.  Nevertheless, Buddhism is here to stay at Naropa, and the psychology programs here will never be fully separate from Buddhist philosophy.

Now, knowing that Buddhism is essential to Naropa’s academic philosophy may be a wonderful discovery for the hopeful Buddhist applicant to this school.  But what about those of us who aren’t?  What about those of us who are Jewish, Christian, Pagan, Atheist, etc.?  What about those of us who don’t really want another religion forced down our throats?

Well, there’s good news and bad news.  The good news is that it won’t be.  Unless you apply to the religious studies program, you can be sure that the Buddhist philosophies that are integrated into the programs here will be tied back into the subject of study.  As a psychology student, for example, you will learn about the four noble truths, and then you will learn how the real-life manifestations of this concept result in your clients having a really rough time of things.

But, as I mentioned, there’s bad news as well.  That bad news is that you will probably feel a little weird in this school, because there isn’t a particularly large degree of focus on the other religions present here.

I have met a fair number of Jewish people here, and there is some Jewish presence in the Religious Studies department.  But the Jewish religion is rarely brought up in Psychology courses.  Christianity is almost less discussed, even though there are a fair number of Christian students here as well.  And if you come from a western religion that is not Judeo-Christian in origin, prepare to be largely ignored.

Bear in mind, you won’t be unwelcome here.  It’s quite likely that people won’t particularly understand where you’re coming from spiritually, and if you’re a member of one of the more traditionally evangelical religious organizations, you may be met with awkward silence if your bring up your faith in class.  But from what I’ve seen, it seems to be fairly uncommon for people to be outright discriminated against for their religious beliefs.

However, it’s important to remember that people are people, even at Naropa.  Prejudice, fear, and judgment are qualities that all of us are hard pressed to quash out all (or even most) of the time.  I myself identify as Pagan, but I don’t generally go spreading it around.  On the rare occasion that I mention this fact, I rarely receive any notable interest or response.  I don’t know if they’re worried about offending me, or trying to maintain an air of nonjudgment, but I get the feeling if I mentioned practicing Hinduism, or even Sufism, I wouldn’t receive such blank stares.  I am involved in Naropa’s student group PAN (Pagans At Naropa), and I occasionally meet other people who identify similarly.  But I can’t remember having ever heard an instructor bring up a nature-based religion, aside from the occasional reference to some form of Native American spirituality, and I’ve been attending this school for about three years.

I’ve come to terms with this fact, and it doesn’t particularly bother me.  But what will this mean for you?  Ultimately, it means that this institution has its philosophical leanings, as most private institutions do.  I certainly wasn’t driven away by this issue, and in fact, I chose to return for my graduate studies.  Even if you’re not Buddhist, you’ll be fine.  If you’re worried about it, you can bet that someone else will be having the same misgivings you are, and you may even form a new friendship over this shared concern.  No one will expect you to be Buddhist, and no one will expect you to convert.

And even though the Buddhist concepts in these classes may be strange, unfamiliar, or may even clash with your own beliefs, know that it’s okay if you don’t buy into it.  Take what is useful to you, leave what is not.  Your experience as a Naropa student will be worthwhile, if you let it.

Women, Women, Everywhere: The Missing Men of Naropa University


There are a lot of things you’ll notice within your first few minutes at Naropa—there’s nothing weird about wearing yoga pants for any activity here, hugs tend to go on for potentially uncomfortable lengths of time, and the school has its own vocabulary that is baffling to non-Naropans (including atypical definitions for “contemplative,” “container,” and “space,” just to name a few).  But probably the first thing that you’ll notice, particularly if you’re male, is that Naropa is dominated by women.

In fact, according to Naropa’s facts at a glance page, 61% of first year students are female, compared with the 39% who are male.  And while I couldn’t find any percentages for the TCP specifically, I suspect that the numbers are even more skewed.  Admittedly, these statistics don’t take into account individuals who do not identify as “male” or “female,” but no matter how you look at it, there are a lot of women here.  I’m sure that these figures won’t surprise anyone who’s wandered the halls for more than five minutes, but to the unknowing applicant, this may be somewhat surprising.

Furthermore, the men at Naropa seem to have a different sort of affect than many American guys.  While I don’t have any stats to back this up, my own personal observation has been that many of the men here are decidedly more connected with their emotions, more ready to engage in dialogue, and less inclined to assert the stereotypically qualities that are often associated with masculinity.

Which should be great, right?  Well, it depends who you are.  If you’re a woman, having this many other women around is probably pretty nice.  You can express your feelings with the knowledge that if someone complains about you being “too emotional,” that person is probably in the minority and will likely be socially castigated.  Plus, in the classroom, the discussions tend to be very accepting of women’s struggles in a largely patriarchal society, and acknowledgement of sexism is expected.

But what about the men?

I’ve brought up this topic to a few men outside of Naropa, and their responses have been invariably the same: “awesome.”  Yes, most non-Naropan men that I’ve talked to don’t seem to mind the idea of having two women for every man in every class (if not more).  However, the reality is not necessarily so cheery.  Because after a while, it gets tiring.

Think about it this way.  Women tend to have a sense of community.  We gravitate toward each other for support.  If a woman is crying in the bathroom, many other women will stop to see if she’s okay, and offer her a tissue.  Women chat with each other at bus stops.  When we’re clothes shopping, we can probably go up to almost any other woman and ask for her opinion about the dresses we’ve tried on, without worrying about it.  Women complement each other, help each other out, and generally look out for each other.  And when there are this many women in one place, we tend to form a pretty tight knit community.

But what about the guys?  What happens when you’re one of three men in a class of twenty five?  What happens when that class starts discussing sexism, and suddenly all of these hurt, frustrated women who have never been able to express this stuff in a safe setting let loose their stories of injustice?

Not sure? Well, what would it feel like to be the one of three women in a class of twenty five men who are discussing how angry they are at women?

No matter how you look at it, there’s bound to be some discomfort.  And this entire program is mostly women.  That means that men spend several days per week, for three to four years in a setting where they are bound to feel like an outsider at least part of the time, if not more often.  That alone would be enough to make a person’s life more difficult.

But as I said, women tend to have a sense of community that men often don’t have.  Of course, men have friends and colleagues that they get along with, and many men have female friends.  But it’s not quite the same in some ways.  Men aren’t used to looking to each other for emotional support.  Men who show vulnerability in dominant U.S. culture are often insulted and ridiculed, and sometimes just showing emotionality is considered grounds for physical violence.

I have spoken to a few men in this program, and while most of them don’t feel exactly unwelcome here, many do feel a certain degree of isolation.  This is particularly true for men who were raised in families or cultures where the “stiff upper-lip” mentality was prevalent.

Alright, so why did I choose to write a lengthy blog post about it?  Well, for two reasons.

The first reason is for the men at Naropa.  I can’t understand your experience, necessarily, but I do acknowledge it.  And I want you to know that I am choosing to be consciously aware of it as often as possible.  Please know that your presence here is important, and that I value your opinions as much as those of the women in this program.  I know it might be harder to speak up in class on gender-related issues, but I for one will always be interested in what you have to say.

The second reason is for the women here.  We need to be aware of this.  I know that we’re used to not having the privilege that men have, and that suddenly being in an institution where our sex is well-represented, both in the student body and in the faculty, can be incredibly comforting.  But please remember that not everyone here is comforted by this, and as the majority, we have a certain degree of power here.  We must use it responsibly.  I believe that it is our responsibility to keep ourselves from crowding out the men at Naropa.  So I’m asking you to let the men in your classes know that you value their opinions and their presence here.

Finally, I am interested to know more about the experiences of men here at Naropa.  Can you identify with this, or has your experience been different?  Please post your thoughts, if you feel comfortable doing so.  I am eager to hear your voice.

Therapy-Lite: Naropa’s Sink-or-Swim Approach to Counseling

This week, I found myself sitting in a chair across from someone else, with the hope that in the next twenty minutes I would find a way to make a difference in her life.  Although I have only been in this program for 6 weeks, I am already scheduling therapy sessions (albeit practice ones) with real clients who expect me to know what I’m doing.  No pressure, right?

Actually, right.

I think this is the hardest thing I’ve had to learn at Naropa so far, and I am by no means finished learning it.  Most American graduate psychology programs involve a great deal of theory, research, and general book-knowledge.  Of course, Naropa requires some of that too, but the vast majority of the work that we do here is experiential.  And the plain truth is that you can’t study for that.  Unless you go around finding extra people to be practice clients in your own time, you will invariably go into your first few (or possibly, first many) sessions feeling ill-equipped, inadequate, and largely like a bull in a china closet.

But here’s the catch: if you’re anxious about about seeming professional and about being a “good therapist,” this will probably keep you from succeeding.  Why?  Because therapy isn’t about you.

This bears repeating: therapy is about your client.  The therapist is merely a facilitator.  Your client’s responsibility is to be vulnerable, to explore painful and uncomfortable feelings, and to identify and alter the cognitive and emotional blocks that prevent growth.  The therapist’s job is to basically support the client through this process.  We aren’t here to make brilliant analyses of our clients’ defense patterns, or provide illuminating insight and epiphanies.  We’re here to make a connection with our clients, to provide that interpersonal x-factor that allows them to feel safe enough to become an emotional mess and then sort through it.

Are there techniques, guidelines, and skills that we can utilize?  Of course.  But those are secondary.  Study after study has shown that the type of methodology used is largely irrelevant if that therapeutic connection, that relationship between the therapist and the client, is not sufficiently strong and sufficiently intimate.

But wait…intimate?  You mean we should be mushy and vulnerable with our clients?  Well, yes.  The real key difference between a therapeutic relationship and a regular (non-sexual) relationship is that in a therapeutic relationship, the entire purpose of the interaction is for the benefit of one person: the client.

And that takes practice.   It is virtually impossible for a student at my level of training to get this yet…and I certainly don’t.  I have ideas, and vague sensations about what works and what doesn’t, but ultimately getting this requires time.

So how did my first therapy session go?  Well, I fumbled around a lot.  I said “um” no less than 64 times in 35 minutes, and I laughed at completely inappropriate moments.  I asked superficial questions that didn’t really relate to my client’s content, and I repeatedly felt inadequate, unskilled, and generally ineffective.  And that’s perfectly normal.  We aren’t therapists yet.  We’re just babies in this world of therapy, and we’ve got to learn to roll over, and then crawl, and eventually walk, long before we can run marathons.

So for all of you who are feeling like you’re blundering around, playing therapist as though you knew what you were doing, but secretly trying to figure out why you signed up for this program, trust me–you’re right on schedule.  And personally, I feel better knowing that we’re all learning the hard way, and that when our trial-by-fire is past, we’ll be better therapists for it.

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