Small Talk

You’re getting a Master’s degree in psychology.  People want to know what that means.  They ask you if you’re going to be able to write prescriptions.  They ask you if you’re going to be testifying in murder cases.  They ask if you’ve been offered any decent jobs by the FBI.  They want to know if the things they heard on mushrooms last month mean they are schizophrenic.  They want to tell you about their love stories with “psychotic” exes (you explain that they probably mean “psychopathic,” but that that’s unlikely, too).  Often, they want to hear that not remembering most of your childhood is ok and normal and does not mean that they’ve repressed recollection of a ritual sex ring.  So you explain that actually what you’re training to be—what you’re already doing, only in internship so you don’t paid—is family therapy, or, if it seems more prudent, youth counseling.  Sometimes the fire of interest withers in their eyes at this point.  Sometimes they tell you how wonderful you are (especially if they also ask how much you’ll make).  Often, they want to know the harrowing details of your clients’ lives.  If you share anything, they want to know how you do it, how you leave your work at work and protect your heart.  You do fine with all of this, usually.  There is only one thing you do poorly with: when people—almost always older adults with grown children—express head-shaking sympathy for the poor parents of these fucked up kids that you serve.  Then you want to tell them in no uncertain terms what it actually means, this whole “family therapy” thing: that the state of a kid’s mental health is, nine times out of ten, a response to the family he or she lives in.  That we are only as “sick” as the family systems we form a part of.  That the next time a parent brings in a skateboarding “defiant” fourteen year old boy or a purging, self-harming sixteen-year old girl for you to “fix,” you’re going to have to take some deep breaths before responding.  

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