Docsplainin' -- it's what I do

Docsplainin'--it's what I do.
After all, I'm a doc, aren't I?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Woman on a Mission

Yesterday while surfing I found a great blog, "Made A Difference For That One: A Surgeon's Letters Home From Iraq" at

I used to carry a hot pink key chain (harder for this ADD therapist to lose!) that said "Woman on a Mission" on it. A colleague asked me one day what the mission was, and I said that it changed from time to time. His reply was a snort and a statement to the effect that 'that isn't much of a mission, then.'

Wrong, boychik. Missions, once accomplished, must be replaced. And even missions in progress, especially if there's any hope of accomplishing them, must be amended as conditions on the ground change. But mine, at bottom, has always been to leave my little corner of the world a little bit nicer than it was when I found it.

At the time of the above conversation, it was "Changing the World, One Woman at a Time" in respect of the fact that my entire caseload was female. I don't know why: In a supervision group I used to attend, we joked about the Gods of Therapy, who knew just what to send you and when. So I just respected that the universe wanted me to work exclusively with women for awhile, and I put my all into it.

One of my earliest clinical supervisors, back when I was working on my first Masters degree, warned me that I could not measure the value of my work by my clients' progress. She said that what I had to do was first, do good work and second, know that I had done a good job. And I have found over the intervening decades that she was to a large extent correct. There are so many times you can do good work and see absolutely no result for the simple reason that personal growth is an inside job. You can't make it happen for the client--the client has to do it. And some days, they just won't.

Days like those, I only know I make a difference by being part of something bigger. As a psychologist, I am one of about 98,000 nationwide. And believe me, 98,000 people, organized, can make one hell of a difference.

On the other hand, there are times when you can make a difference. A tiny difference, but a just noticeable difference nonetheless. And I find that most days--sometimes even on my day off--I can achieve that.

Yesterday a client called as she was planning a relapse. It was my day off, and I had been sleeping in. But of course I got up and made myself a pot of coffee and called her back. We spoke for ten minutes or so, and when we hung up she sounded more centered. All I had done was remind her of coping skills that she already had but had forgotten in a moment of panic, yet when I hung up I could pump my fist and say to myself, "Made a difference to that one!"

That comes from a parable about a woman walking along a beach who finds a starfish stranded above the tide line and throws it back into the sea. Another walker comments that there are so many animals stranded that way every day for miles up and down the beach, why bother? What difference could it possibly make? The woman replies, "It makes a difference to that one." Which tickled me, because I am the dotty old lady who is forever pulling over to the side of the road and gimping out into traffic to move a turtle to safety. (Made a difference to that one!) Or picking up strays and boarding them at my vet's until I can find their owners.

So when I think, What can I do? I come back to 'I can make a difference for somebody, or some thing, somewhere, somehow, today.' And that's my mission these days: "Make a Difference to That One!"

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