A tribute to the elders

I am indebted to a string of professors, supervisors, colleagues, and mentors that have profoundly shaped my academic and professional career. I was fortunate enough to enter the field as an undergrad because my university had a specific social work program that included a clinical field practicum. I adored my professors, all with a wealth of experience offering direct care in a variety of settings or facilitating research. I was inspired by the team of experienced and mostly older, licensed social workers within my practicum site, which was a psychiatric inpatient and community-based program for people needing pretty comprehensive care. Though I worked with my own clients in the program (hoarding, Trichotillomania, Borderline Personality Disorder, developmental disabilities), my graduate school practicum allowed me to dive deeper into more formal individual and group psychotherapy with a caseload of clients struggling with very complex needs.

Upon graduation, I worked within a gifted circle of professionals that provided me with licensure supervision as well as rich mentorship that created the foundation I draw upon today. As the years passed, I continued to work alongside talented colleagues providing major influence to me. In more recent years, I’ve received consultation from professionals that I consider truly OG (original gangsters) of both the addiction and trauma and dissociation fields. I have similar feelings toward the yoga, meditation, and spiritual teachers I’ve been luckily enough to learn from.  

When we lean into healthy guidance and support by others that came before, we feel empowered and more skillful. We trust the safety net enough to venture into uncharted territory and take risks. I’ve cultivated such rich experiences in my career because I had a secure base to return to, checking-in with my internal process and receiving feedback. This is reflective of the power of secure attachment in attachment theory research. We only develop a healthy sense of autonomy and confidence when there is proximity to a consistent and safe attachment figure. Therefore, it feels very curious to me when the importance of staying tethered to our field’s leaders is discounted.

I don’t always feel connected to the typical private practice psychotherapy community because it’s often comprised of people my age or younger. The strong entrepreneurial spirit is inspiring! And while that serves a need for me, I also have a fondness toward older psychotherapists that enrich my experience and bring forth their own good medicine. One of my mentors is still seeing clients in her late 70’s and the other retired a couple years ago. The OGs in our field often don’t have flashy websites. They place less emphasis on marketing, assigning reasonable costs to their services or billing insurance to help maintain the longevity of the therapeutic relationship through increasing access to care. They see themselves less as business owners and more as psychotherapists or social workers doing their life’s work. Often, even if they own a private practice, they are still working within teams and active in professional associations or serving on boards. Living in accordance to their values and fostering collaboration is more important than self-promotion. Sure, there are evolving aspects of our field that these folks aren’t quite as hip to, but their wisdom is what I cherish more than anything, specifically as that quality of presence becomes more rare.

The dialectic at hand is one of self-empowerment vs. humility. How do we manifest new ideas while honoring the backdrop of wisdom that came before? The role of student can be such a nourishing one. Personally, cultivating and maintaining relationships with supervisors, consultants/mentors, and yoga + meditation teachers anchors me. Elders provide a reality check when the Ego is taking up space, placing too much emphasis on what we think we need to be “successful”. Conversation in these circles often include more levity and permission to take this difficult work less seriously in some ways. Wisdom knows we never have as much control as we’d like to believe.

A deep bow of gratitude to all the elders, past and present that have laid the groundwork for recovery, healing, and social change. As I continue to walk this path, may I know that I’m never alone. May I trust that I am channeling the medicine you’ve given me out into the world with the essence that is me.

“I come as one, but I stand as 10,000.” -Dr. Maya Angelou