Jackie sat across the room from me beaming. Her four-month old daughter babbled in her lap and she wore a dress for the occasion. Today was “graduation day” from therapy, and Jackie wanted to honor the work she had done and the progress she had made with the counseling, education, and advocacy provided by The Women’s Center.
As a former Women’s Center intern-therapist, I had the privilege of working with Jackie for nearly a year. When Jackie began sliding-fee counseling, she was three months pregnant and in a challenging financial situation. Jackie and her husband had met 10 years earlier when he first came to the United States. They’ve always paid taxes and have been as active in their community as time allows. But the political climate has made the route to naturalization uncertain and created an additional layer of stress for the family.
When willpower isn’t enough
Jackie worried that her discouragement and fear were starting to impact her marriage and her two children under the age of three. She hadn’t been to therapy before because she couldn’t afford it. (Her Women’s Center fee was $5 per session.) Further, as she explained, “I thought that if I just tried hard enough, I could choose not to be discouraged or sad. I kept saying to myself, ‘You should just snap out of it.’ I know I don’t have things as bad as my mom.”
Jackie’s childhood had been difficult. Growing up in poverty with an absentee father and a mother who struggled with bi-polar disorder caused Jackie to have doubts about her own ability to parent. She describes her Mom as “consistently inconsistent. She could be alternately fun and scary. I never knew which version I was going to get.”
One of Jackie’s goals is to be the kind of parent (and grandparent) she never had. She also wants better communication with her spouse and a way to deal with what she describes as “the trauma of racism.”
Partners in progress
My primary job as Jackie’s therapist was to establish a safe and trusting connection. If she could feel safe with me, then she could use that secure foundation as a springboard for healing and growth. Jackie and I met in the evening, the only time that she had childcare. We talked about whatever she wanted to talk about, which changed from week to week.
Triumph over trauma
Without going into too much detail about her situation – although I do have permission to share her story – Jackie addressed some traumatic events in her past. She shared concerns about her children, and that she had essentially become a parent to her siblings and her own mother at a very young age. She gained greater awareness of her reactions to injustice and in what ways she could advocate for her family. And we practiced skills for communication, emotional grounding, and self-regulation.
Education about resources
When I talked with her about other resources, Jackie expressed an interest in parenting classes and in finding out what health insurance, in addition to MiChild, her family might qualify for.
A new beginning for both of us
Jackie’s “graduation” preceded my own graduation by one month. During my 16 months as a graduate student I learned as much from my 12 Women’s Center clients as they did from me. I also learned a lot from weekly consultation hours with 9 experienced clinical supervisors who have been engaged in therapy and social justice for years. They believe, as I do, that most people have the answers within them. They just need safety and support.
— Samantha, former intern-therapist and current volunteer