It is a unique experience to go through life as a therapist. (There were plenty of other words from the word bank to insert here. Could have been interesting, heavy, a privilege, a burden, fulfilling. I had to pick one for the sake of being concise, but it’s all of it).
I often feel like The Giver‚—the holder of all memories i.e. emotions.
Our bandwidth as therapists for observation around the human experience is so expansive, it’s hard not to go through life in constant awareness of subtleties. And it is hard to turn off the drive to understand all human behavior, because it I consider it the essence my work.
At times it feels like the best way to live; the meaning of all our lives–to understand one another.
At times it feels damn near impossible, extremely painful—cruel and unusual punishment to require of anyone.
But mostly I consider it a superpower that must be used for good, to help myself and others understand their own, and others’ experience on planet Earth.
Cut to scenes of Tuesday’s shooting
Cue the speeches, posts, narrative, debate, and cyclical response to these things.
As a therapist these are the things that make me feel as if it is the cross I bear to help humanity understand what’s happening. And all I can start from is my own understanding of what’s happening.
For all my reputation of being exhaustively wordy, I think I can sum it up in one word:
Ok. Let’s revisit crisis management 101. It is an area of my work that I have had to grow in bare minimum comfort. Not the kind of comfort that feels cozy. The kind where you don’t panic when the topic is mentioned (ahem, parents whose kids bring home that risk-kay language, topic, or music. Expert tip: don’t panic!).
What I’ve learned in my work with suicide risk is that there is a series of things that must occur simultaneously for someone to die by suicide.
There is an immense amount of despair,
at the same time there is an opportunity to act,
at the same time there is means to act.
Safety planning is all about uncoupling these things so they DON’T happen simultaneously, by providing hope, decreasing opportunity, and limiting access to lethal means. See https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/means-matter/means-matter/saves-lives/ for more info on how means reduction saves lives.
This can clearly be translated to shootings.
When we limit access to lethal means, we limit lethal events.
At the risk of now being labeled a liberal vigilante against bearing arms, I will adamantly say limiting access to guns is not enough.
To reduce access to lethal means clearly saves lives.
But these events cannot be separated from the humans that are involved. There is real suffering that would stir someone to act in this way, the same way there is real despair that leads to suicide.
Hear me now, though,
It is not enough to label people not stable enough to bear arms. It is too simple and ignores the human need. It dehumanizes the situation.
Access to basic needs and emotional support—
THAT is what reduces pain & suffering.
THAT is what provides hope.
THAT is what connects people in meaningful ways.
My heart aches for the terror any witness or victim of gun violence suffers.
My heart also aches for the depth of pain and despair anyone suffers that would move them to take such horrific action.
Yes, it is a mental health issue.
Yes, it is a gun issue.
But ultimately it is an ACCESS issue.
That is where the work should be. Two sides of a coin. NOT mutually exclusive.
A therapist who should know, but doesn’t