Therapists are an unusual bunch. We spend all day listening, cautioning, affirming, and putting out fires with clients who are feeling out of control, suicidal, despairing, or wildly stress-ridden. By the end of the day, the therapists’ calm, soothing demeanor is being eroded by a bubbling caldron of others’ feelings. We are containers for the stories we hear, even though our best intentions are to be a mirror that reflects back to the client. But traumatic stories get splashed daily on the mirror of our psyches, and a few handi-wipes or soft, soothing cloths are needed for our psyches too. Thus the need for The Pocket Therapist.
The author, Therese Borchard, doesn’t hide her own struggles with mental health issues. Her self-deprecating yet brilliant openness relieves the rest of us as we face and overcome our own challenges while serving our clients at well. A delicate juggling act! One in which Ms. Borchard handles with humor, truth, and honest humility. Whew! What a relief! What a good guide she is. We’re not supposed to be Sigmund Freuds nor Salvador Minuchins but rather our own experienced, broken and healing selves. She offers encouragement, hope, and words of wisdom as we work with clients with all the same issues we face — that all human beings face.
The broken are not as broken as we think. They have insight (they know they are hurting and are seeking help for it). They have courage (they are facing the darkness of their stories or their circumstances). They are vulnerable (they still have dignity although asking for help). They are wise-men or wise-women seeking the star to guide them out of their desert experience. When they finally reach a therapist, they may even think or hope we are the star. We’re not. We’re fellow seekers and sojourners as well. Our advantage: we’ve trudged the desert only a few feet ahead of them and have the benefit of knowing they are safe in their search. We know the star is just ahead.
We respect their feelings and accept whereever they are in the journey. As therapists, we’re not the star, nor the savior, nor the wisest of the wise-men or women. We have them look up to a broader perspective, to see the star is still there, bright as ever, and welcome them to follow it. We still encourage their journey and point out that their seeking will lead them to a wiser place.
And amid our stumbling, and their stumbling, and a few good, hearty laughs, we see it isn’t all the death-defying seriousness of death when we only fall in the desert sand. We can get up again.
The Pocket Therapist does this by sharing several journeys, side trips, falls, sinking in the sand, and laughing all the way to the destination of greater wellbeing. The author of the book allows readers to find their way with the GPS of laughter, common sense, strong insight, wrapped in a humor-filled, intellectual map of signs. Just a few of them are: “Don’t mistake intensity for intimacy,” “Do what’s in front of you,” “Act as if,” “Build on your strengths,” “Remember the first Noble Truth,” “Get up eight times,” “Greet your inner loser,” “Don’t forget to have fun,” “Hang on to hope,” and “Believe in redemption.”
As the reviewer, I really appreciated her short bursts of insights, pithy sayings, wise statements, and humorous outbursts. Comedian Robin Williams once said he had the attention span of a gnat on speed. Fortunately this book, with its brief paragraph chapters, keeps our attention. And when (because of mental health issues, high stress, distracting circumstances) we are unable to stay focused, we’re done reading her “saying for the day” and we can actually remember it and put it into practice. In addition, we can go back, peruse the book, and find the thing that saved the day.
When we’re in emotional pain, the first thing that suffers is our sense of humor. It gets lost in the blistering rock in our shoe. We can’t laugh, we can’t dance, and we don’t even want to keep walking forward. Ms. Borchard makes us laugh, smile, distract, and actually come up with solutions. Sit down, relax, take the rock out of your shoe, look up at the skies, find the fun in sun, take a deep breath, heal the pain, massage your soul, and use softer shoes….
Therapists as well as clients will deeply benefit from this book. It lacks lengthy diatribes, haughty intellectualism, or dry roadblocks. Instead it offers clear signs, maps to strength and joy for the journey, and a continual pointing to the star of mental wellness. If you need to find your way and laugh along the way (as well as get to your destination), this book is for you!
The Pocket Therapist: An Emotional Survival Kit
By Therese Borchard
Center Street: April 2010
Hardcover, 224 pages