My Youngest Supervisor
As a therapist; I’m always looking to grow. This means reading books, attending trainings, and engaging in clinical supervision and case consultations. As a mother; my hands are full, both literally and figuratively. This means washing dishes, changing diapers, sitting on the floor playing games, and of course multitasking. The newest form of multitasking I have come up with is one that combines these two roles. For I find that more and more in my position as a mother I am exposed to the basic foundation of what humans are comprised of; to the innate capacities of a person. And merely by paying attention to my kids, I am getting hands on training in human psychology (and no I don’t mean this as a substitute for supervision).
Now, I know I’m not the first to come up with this. Jean Piaget, as well as many other theorists, based his theory of development largely on observations of his own children, (which does make me wonder if he also struggled with a shortage of available babysitters). So without any claims to be original, I will share my own psychological observations gleaned from two small people in my life and their peers. And as a mother I will use my fairly well-honed story telling ability to illustrate my points. For those among you who are more clinically minded, feel free to consider them case studies.
Case Study #1
Last week, we spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon as a family in the park. The kids ran through the sprinklers, went on the swings, and then sat down for a picnic. Afterwards they were running around while my husband and I sat watching them with the sun beating down on us. It was really hot, as evidenced by the children’s red faces and my own discomfort. But I ignored the heat since I was engaged in the moment, talking to my husband and watching the kids. It was only when my eighteen month old son came over saying “Watah!”, and I reached under my carriage to get out his bottle, when I realized how thirsty and hot I was too. It struck me then how in tune he is with his body, more than the rest of us. He honors his body’s needs to the exclusion of other things. It seems that as we get older, we live more and more in our heads and less in our bodies. We get used to ignoring cues for hunger, thirst, and even the need to use the bathroom, when we are engaged in other activities. While this ability not to be completely bound by our physical needs may be necessary and functional, it comes with a price. We often miss out on being able to fully experience something, because we are so busy in our heads. Go walking down the street with a small child and see how many things they notice that you don’t. In therapy we talk about mindfulness, grounding, self-care, and somatic awareness. We think of these as skills that we teach clients to develop. For some people it might be a real struggle. For many, especially those who’ve experienced trauma, there is a large disconnect between mind and body. But when I think about teaching these “skills” to clients, my eighteen month old son comes to mind. Nobody taught him to be grounded in his body. He just is; reminding me of the capacity of a human to be in touch with his/her own needs and advocate for them, and the importance of trying to hold on to that as we go through life.
Case Study #2
A few weeks ago I attended my daughter’s kindergarten graduation. As I sat watching, I noticed one girl in the class who was very small and fragile looking. When it was her turn to say her part she got up and whispered it, with a smile on her face. I was struck by a sense of wistfulness and surprise. How many adults would agree to have a part, knowing that they would whisper it? There would be too many “should beliefs” there: I should be loud in order to have a part in the play. I should be able to say it as loud as the next kid.” For this little girl there were no preconceived beliefs. She wanted a part in the play, she wanted to whisper it, and she was perfectly fine doing so. Possibly she would have preferred to say it loud, but it didn’t bother her enough to deter her. It struck me then that being shy is not what holds people back. It’s the beliefs around being shy that hold people back. The same holds true for the little girl who is overweight and proudly wears the same white shirt tucked in to her navy skirt as the others. (This stands in sharp contrast in my mind to teenage girls I work with who are self-conscious about their weight and therefore constantly layer up and wear sweaters, even in the summer). The girl with a lisp, proudly lisps her part. The girl with frizzy hair has a big bow in her beautiful frizz (not the flat-ironed straight look that takes the frizzy haired high school girl two hours to achieve). And I learn something important from this girl, and from my daughter’s wonderful class of 4 year olds. I learn that our beliefs about who we are, and not who we actually are, are the source of problems that bring depression, low self-esteem, body image difficulties, anxiety etc. Psychology might have a lot of names for different aspects of this phenomenon: cognitive distortions, reframing, negative schemas etc. This little girl didn’t know any of these concepts or interventions. She just knew that she wanted a part in the play and that she was as entitled to one as the loudest girl in her class. That is an innate belief; one that I hope and pray she will hold on to as the years go on.
Often in our work with children, adolescence, and even adults, we are helping them mature and develop and grow. Yet, at the same time, it seems that a big part of what we really need to do, is help them access their innate capacity to believe they are valuable, to be connected with their bodies, to be mindful and grounded, and to accept themselves. Those tasks can be difficult, especially when working with people who have lost access to those aspects of themselves. But I think of my eighteen month old in the park, of my daughter and her classmates, and I know that somewhere deep inside everyone that capacity still exists.
Tzipora Shub, LCSW works as a supervisor at the JBFCS adolescent clinic in Flatbush and in private practice.