Psychology

A Love Letter

When it was time for me to go to college (for the time, place, and family I was raised in, going to college was the mandatory next step after high school), I chose to go to Houston Baptist University. I was too scared, too sheltered, and too un-believing in myself to venture out of Houston. I liked their small campus, small class sizes, and the continuation of the sheltering. I also liked that they required a double major at that time. The one thing I knew I was good at was academic performance and people-pleasing, so more of that, please.

I chose my majors based on what I was interested in and based on what my dad told my I was good at, in that order. Christianity and journalism. I chose Christianity because there were questions no one around me knew the answers to, and there were other questions that no one around me seemed even interested in considering. I also chose Christianity because the greatest commandment is to love God our Creator with all my heart, mind, and soul (and strength, depending on which gospel you're reading). My intellect was my greatest strength, so there I went.

 

I chose journalism because my dad had always been very complimentary of my writing and recommended journalism as the best route to use that skill. I explored this career in earnest, and after one semester working for the college newspaper, deadline was enough for me to not move forward in that direction. At this time, HBU also changed their requirements so that you could choose to major/minor, so I changed my second major to a minor in creative writing.

During my freshman year of college, I went to therapy for the first time. I had wanted to go to therapy since I was about 14 years old, but my family dynamics were such that it never felt safe to ask. At my university, counseling services were provided for free, and I didn't have to tell my family. That experience was one of the most beneficial things I'd done for myself, ever, especially at that time in my life. It was a gentle and safe experience, and at the same time created space for such a profound change, that I allowed it to change the trajectory of my path. 

 

During my sophomore year of college, when I was thinking about choosing a career, I knew for certain I didn't want to go into ministry, which was the typical path for someone in my major. I went back to the greatest commandment, and the second one that is like it: to love others as I love myself. I reflected on this and quickly saw that the most loving thing I had ever done for myself—the way that I had loved myself best—was go to therapy. 

Psychology is an amazing art-science, and when used through the vehicle of therapy, we can do profound things with it. I trained with my mentor Dr. Stephanie Ellis, learning a humanistic and experiential approach to therapy. This approach prioritizes validating clients' emotions and experiences, and using that as the therapeutic foundation. This is vital, because many of us grew up having our experiences and emotions invalidated by our caregivers and those who were meant to keep us safe and loved.

Having an experience of being deeply prized, witnessed, and seen helps us co-create a secure relationship in which the nervous system can begin to relax. With a sense toward the interconnectedness of all things, I also pursued education in yoga and hypnotherapy. Integrating all of these disciplines created experiences of embodied safety, both conscious and unconscious; the kind of experience we are able to articulate in language and also the kind that is so deep and felt, it escapes our abilities of description.

The throughline of relationships always took a high place in my approach and understanding, as well. It was my experience both personally and clinically that even if you do everything you can to get your own, internal experience "in order," without taking an honest account of the health of relationships in your life, we can't get very far at all. After doing therapy with couples, individuals, adults, teenagers, and families, I felt almost compelled to specialize in attachment theory.

Attachment theory is the study of attachment styles, which are the way we relate to ourselves, others, and the world. They are our embodied perception of safety and trust, and they come from our early environment and experiences. What they call "earning" secure attachment—in other words, going from a place of feeling completely dysregulated, overwhelmed, and detached in relationships to a place of feeling safe, secure, wanted, and free—catalyzes therapy to help us experience change from the inside-out, rather than the common feeling of endlessly chipping away at unwanted bits and pieces from the outside. 

I coupled this with the study of polyvagal theory, which explores the neurological process of our social engagement in relationships. These pieces felt like the missing link to me. Understanding these processes opened up my understanding of how growing our individual ability to love ourselves can and should spread out to create a loving world around us—one that is being loved out the harm inflicted upon it, and one that is loving to us in its synergy.

I grew up with an alcoholic father, who told me stories of abuse that happened in his family when he was growing up. This, of course, informed both my approach to therapeutic work and my desire for my own sense of peace. I intuited from a young age that treating each other chaotically, violently, and hatefully is not how things should be. 

What I learned was that the research on safety, neurological development, and relationships all validate what I have always known, in the felt way of knowing. By repairing and stopping the trauma we cause in relationships, we can love on both micro and macro levels. Relationship trauma is at the heart of perfectionism, fear, family dysfunction, generational trauma, collective and human-made trauma, viewing people who are different as a threatening "other"—racism, abuse, toxic genderism, LGBTQIA+ phobia, anti-fat bias, ableism, and systems based on holding power over others. 

 

Likewise, secure attachment is at the heart of joyful connection and relationships, bravely speaking truth, open-mindedness, excitement, curiosity, playfulness, empathy, compassion, and systems based on collective empowerment and equity.

Therapy and the study of psychology have given me a gift that I absolutely would not have otherwise. I have myself. I have peace, and I have joy. I have care and love for the world around me. I have the space within myself to help others who are hurting and want help. I have family, and we have joy together. I understand my place in my family's history, and I have stopped generational trauma from passing through me. I have community, and we have vulnerability, trust, and fun together. I am able to be present and grateful in this world, and I am able to trust each person's journey of discovery. 

Therapy is a sacred thing. It is a time and a space removed from the rest of life, a pocket universe of safety. Therapists and counselors do difficult work; the best therapists and counselors do their own work. If you are one of them, thank you. I, myself, am no longer practicing therapy. A new season of my life is opening before me, and I am wanting to experience something playful and joyful. I am loving what I have here and now with my family. I will be maintaining my license so that I can still have access to the continuing education that I love, and because I know one day my path may wind this way again.

 

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