Updated: Jun 13, 2022
The other day I was talking with a friend about all the work it takes to be a master therapist, from reviewing tape to monitoring outcomes to deliberate practice exercises and she said something that made me pause.
“But Jordan, I have to be able to do this job when I’m grieving.”
Photo by Claudia Wolff on Unsplash
Like a slow tolling bell that gets louder over time, the truth behind what she said is resounding.
Deliberate practice is the path to mastery, but we need to be very careful. Deliberate practice comes from the field of top performers like athletes and musicians. These top performers are always trying to perform 1) at their peak 2) in peak conditions. For example if you’re a US gymnast you’re training so that you peak during the Olympics. You’re training to give a peak performance in peak conditions.
Therapists are the opposite. We have to perform when we’re not at our peak and not in peak conditions. We have to perform our jobs when we’re tired because our kids didn’t sleep well, or when we’re hungry because we missed lunch returning client phone calls, or when we’re grieving.
Ultimately this means we need to shift our metaphor. We therapists are less like musicians preparing for some major recital and more like physicians who have to help people day in and day out in changing conditions. This also means we need to be very clear on what we offer people. At the base layer the most important thing we reliably offer people is to be present to their pain even when we are suffering.
If we can do that then we have a shot of doing this job well, even when we’re grieving.