Riding high on ‘first-day’ excitement, I went to meet my very first client, Alice. I was part way through my masters in Counseling Psychology. My clinical training was to take place at AgeSong, an Assisted Living community. I was to be learning about and providing psychotherapy for the elders who lived there.
“Hi, I’m Kyrié. I am your gero-wellness intern. I read your chart. It said you are new here. I am new here too.”
“Thank you, but I don’t need any help.”
“Okay. Would you like to talk or maybe sit together? We can do whatever you want.” My mind was racing with interventions and techniques I had learned, which I was anxious to try in the wild.
“Kid, I am kind of a loner. Now, please leave me alone.”
There I stood: a door in my face and 48 minutes of the standard 50-minute session remained. This internship was not starting as I expected.
After a few weeks of this, I sought guidance from my peers and supervisors. “Join in her world. Meet her there,” they counseled. I talked with the care partners who were with her day in and day out. They said she was most social at meals. The next night a particularly helpful care partner sat me next to her at dinner. Alice introduced herself, and we chatted. We dined together for six months. Each night I heard stories that varied slightly with her mood. And each night after dinner she would say it was nice to meet me and go to bed.
We were spending time together. I was learning about Alice and providing a container for her stories. And my intuition told me more depth was possible. I spoke with my supervisor. They agreed with me. The lack of depth was probably due to the agenda I was carrying with me into each engagement. My supervisor counseled me to be like a toy or book on a shelf ready to be accessed but not the initiator.
“Just go and be with her. Don’t try to DO anything.”
Trying not to do anything felt very strange. My whole life had been spent doing. I was good at doing. The first day I tried being Alice walked by me a few times but said nothing. The second day, I brought a book to read to help direct my attention away from expectations of interaction. As I sat reading, she sat down next to me.
“So, what’s your name?”
Some days Alice would walk past, but most days she would sit and talk. She would tell me stories of when she came to San Francisco. Alice shared joyful things and hard things from her past and present. We never had a traditional 50-minute therapy session where she came to my office. I was able to get to know her genuinely and, as a result, advocate for her. We connected on a person-to-person level (where transformation happens). I cannot speak for her and what she received from our interactions, but for my part, she taught me presence. Through an intuitive process of trial and error, I learned to be with her. I learned not to approach connection with an expectation of the other or ourselves. Alice was an immediate indicator of this. If I came in with too much expectation, she would be quick to show me. Being with her taught me how better to connect with others. None of us want the person we are connecting with to come in with expectations. When we shed expectations for interactions profound and transformational connection is possible.
*names and other identifying details changed to protect anonymity