by Monica Ross
When I was little I lived with my mother and her mother, my grandmother, for several years in my grandmother’s house while my mother recouped from a divorce. The house was on a cul-de-sac near a small “canyon.”
The locals call it a canyon.
But if anything it’s not so much a canyon in the traditional sense--more comparable to what we would call the greenbelt here in Austin. It’s an undeveloped hilly area near the main park with a natural embankment. I guess it would be the New Braunfels version of the greenbelt.
At about 6 years old, this would have been before either of my brothers were born, I had been living life much like an only child. In the neighborhood I lived in there were several groupings of older couples, empty nesters for the most part who were more my grandmother’s age than my mother’s.
And I remember during the day, this probably would have been during the summer months, going from house to house and dropping in on people to visit. So the routine would be that I would come knocking on the door and these older adults who were by then retired would be going about their daily lives with a 6-year-old showing up wanting attention and variety.
They would let me in and offer something to drink. Depending on the time of day I might get a sandwich or something sweet to eat. And I’m not exactly sure how the conversation went but I remember just rapping with these older adults about life. I guess it would have been life through the eyes of a 6-year-old.
I bring all this up because it’s a really fond memory for me--these visits. It harkens back to a time when life seemed more innocent. A young child could be let loose in a sense to walk up and down the street on her own with the knowledge that her caregivers fully trusted the people she would be visiting.
And then these older adults, the generosity they showed at a time in their lives when they were for the most part done with childrearing. But it also leaves me with a sense of community. The feeling too of an era when people looked out for each other and each other’s children. There was a mutual respect there between neighbors and between a young child and an older adult.
Even at the age of six, I knew there was a reciprocity there in the arrangement. As much as I was expecting some level of entertainment from them, I knew at the same time I had entertainment of my own to bring to the table. It causes me to reflect on these age fringes—the very young and the much older ages in life that sometimes go unseen.
What does this have to do with therapy?
Well in a way, I’m just visiting with people still today. And I attempt to treat everyone that walks through my door, regardless of placement on the age spectrum, with the same level of respect and attention and care.
These therapy sessions that we have with all the therapeutic tools I have at my disposal are sessions where we just rap about life in all of its complexity. I offer support and encouragement and feedback as needed.
A google search on the word “visit” brings up the definition “go to see and spend time with.”
To see. To spend time with.
The reason why each of these especially resonates with me--to see and spend time with--is that it touches on one of the major love languages. Quality time.
What are we doing as therapists in seeing and spending time with people? We are offering validation. We are making eye contact, listening, showing up and being present for someone, as it were.
And time is such a precious commodity.
There is also a secondary meaning to the word "visit" —that this visiting is a temporary thing. That makes the time spent together all the more precious as well.
If we therapists are doing this therapy thing right we are working ourselves out of a job. I mentioned this the other day to someone and I wonder if it was taken in the way that I meant. It’s something that is thrown around all the time in school as kind of a joke. But it’s true. People come and go all the time in and out of therapy.
A person may come for weeks or months or years and then disappear sometimes. Sometimes we as therapists get the luxury of a termination session, as it’s called. Other times, a person may elect to come in “as needed” towards the end to leave a door open.
And then maybe someone may drop off entirely and end up not coming anymore at all without a word. People handle loss and separation in differing ways. And no one way is right.
Sometimes people feel they may best get their needs met someplace else at some point. And sometimes people drop off seemingly to find help elsewhere, or not at all, only to come back for a visit. Perhaps they just needed some time to think.
All of that is okay, too. Everyone is on their own journey and working through their own process. But, back to the point of the post which is really just a reflection on this concept of visiting.
It's something I’ve been doing my whole life it seems, this visiting with people. People who were formerly strangers are strangers no more. I seem to pick up conversations with people in the most random of places too—while out having breakfast alone or standing in line.
In those moments I try to make connections with the people I encounter and then if I can refer the person to another person for another connection, I try to do that as well. I guess that makes me the connector-maven archetype in Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point.
Life is largely about people and relationships and ideas. That’s one major way in which I myself brng about change.