I live in a medium-sized town where I run into a minimum of ten people I know every time I go to the grocery store. Often, these people are past or current psychotherapy clients. More often than not, I have my children with me. My clients have seen me in restaurants, in a bathing suit at the swimming pool, marching in the fourth of July parade with my daughter’s junior girl scout troop. One former client was my daughter’s favorite camp counselor. I have attended parties where clients were fellow guests. They see my name in the paper as the new member chair for a local secular-humanistic Jewish family group. In other words, unlike some therapists, my life is no mystery to my clients. Seeing as my practice currently involves no individuals, and I see strictly families, this is less of an issue than it might be for some. Families like to know that I am a mother. Couples and individuals like to imagine I am simply their therapist.
To be fair, I’m pretty visible around town. People know me as the biracial—black, white, Jewish, family therapist. I’ve done talks on parenting, Multiracial Jewish Identity, Body Image and Talking to kids about Race. People know what I think … about some things.
But a novel (un-agented, unpublished, but a novel all the same) exposes a much deeper, weirder piece of me: some form of my own reality skewed by the warped lens of my wildest imagination. Writers of good fiction are supposed to take big risks. How can I do that while responsibly adhering to the NASW Code of Ethics? A fiction writing therapist opens herself up to all kinds of questions.
Are my characters based on my clients? (Deliberately? Never, ever. Subliminally? Maybe.)
Do I really think like my characters? (Some part of me has to, right?)
And what about this blog itself? Where I’ll be writing about my ballet-dancing, eating-disordered past (which inspired Birch Wood Doll, my novel), as well as the more complicated aspects of being biracial? In order to write at all, I’ve had to free myself from these worries. I am not a private person by nature, which serves me as a writer, even if it presents a challenge for me-the-therapist.
My therapy practice, like everything else I do, has to be compatible with my personality. I refuse to be fake and constrained with my clients, to answer their questions with the artful dodges we were taught in social work school.
Client: have you ever used drugs?
Therapist: I’m wondering if you’re asking that because you’re concerned that I might not be able to help you if I haven’t shared your experiences of drug use.
As long as I’m writing fiction and blogging, I won’t practice individual psychotherapy—where your relationship with the client is the most important part of the work, where clients hold onto their own stories about who you are. Families generally like knowing I am a whole person with a family and experiences of my own.
The best thing to do—the only thing I can do—with my writing and my life, is be honest and open and me.