I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell. They are telling in the sense that they tell what is perhaps the central paradox of our condition—that what we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are—even if we tell it only to ourselves—because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing.
Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets
I know I don’t say a whole lot on here about my career, but suffice to say that working as a psychotherapist is never boring. And having done it for more than a few years now, I’ve really come to believe in everything this quote from Mr. Buechner is saying. Our stories—while specific and particular at times in their exact details—are also so common, so human, so universal: people try hard to do the right thing, but it doesn’t always work out; people get betrayed or left or hurt or shut out by other people and try to make sense of it; people want so badly to be needed and loved, but often get in their own way in an attempt to make this happen; people want desperately to be seen in this world, and to make meaning out of this life.
I don’t have answers, at least not usually. That’s not what a therapist does. I listen very carefully, I point out patterns and themes once I notice them, I suggest other ways of looking at things, I use the relationship the client and I develop to try and gain better insight into how they relate to others in their world, I keep listening, I support with all my might when necessary and push calmly on stuck places at others. It’s interesting work, rewarding and tiring both, often in the same day. But it’s allowed me such a wide expanse of knowledge about the ways in which people try to live their lives, the mistakes they’ve made and the way they’ve picked themselves up and kept on, sometimes brilliantly and sometimes with fully broken hearts.
Having been on both sides of the couch for numerous hours, I think what Buechner gets at near the end of the quote (“It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are…”) is as close to a fundamental truth as I’ve found, personally and professionally. It’s why therapy works. And it’s a reminder to all of us that it’s far too easy to lose our own way when we’re relying only on ourselves to light the path forward.