Above All Do No Harm

I was ten years old, standing on my cousin’s bed in New Jersey. For the record we were only standing so that we could see our slouch socks in her mirror, carefully layering them to make sure they were perfectly fluffed. The pink on top and yellow on the bottom on the right foot, and then the yellow on bottom and pink one on top on the left. We wobbled a bit, balancing on the twin sized bed. The sun was setting behind us in the window, casting a shadow across the bedroom that forced her to turn on the light. There was still time. 

We looked up. Ran a quick check on our bangs, and we were good.  “I’m going to be a doctor or a scientist or a mathematician,” she said to me with confidence, “What do you want to be when we grow up.”

I plopped back down onto her bed, “I’m going to be a psychologist,” I told her. I imagined myself brooding over textbooks and autobiographies of famous psychologists. She leaned back on the pillow and probably envisioned drawing complex math problems on a university wall.

We looked at one another and nodded in agreement. It was a plan. 

Before I go forward; the funny thing, the funniest thing of all- is that it turned out we were exactly right. 

I dragged my dad to old bookstores and begged him to buy me books on psychology. He showed me names I had never heard of, who created theories I would soon rattle off of my tongue for the rest of my life. I read as we walked out of the store. I read on the car ride home. I read with the rain pouring down the window in my own room, and I felt the stirrings of something good. Something real. Important. Admirable. Brilliant. Dusty worn out pages do that to a young kid. It had been decided. I was going to spend my life thinking about thinking. But really- thinking about people. And my heart soared.

I could spend pages talking about heartbreak. But I don’t need pages. I only need one.

Psychology was my first love. And it broke my heart. What began as a beautiful thing got so quickly watered down. Now, ok, hang on. Everyone who has ever wanted to help others knows that their heart is true. It’s why you’re there to begin with. But as the years rolled by and the pages turned and my coursework piled up, it didn’t become stronger, it became looser. By the time I got to college my love had strayed so far from its original roots. And my heart ached for the loss. Do I think Freud had it right at go? Ha. No. Not even. He just took a stance and helped us get the ball rolling. I wrote papers upon papers agreeing and disagreeing with every God given theory I had ever come across. That was the journey, it was the process. It was to make inroads in my mind until I found the place where it all made sense for me. And it was beautiful.

But we shredded it. We watered it down. We supplied no money for the field to grow to accommodate the changing times the way we needed it to. And now, I’m not proud of it anymore. Now I hear myself saying condescending things, I hear myself echoing vacant comments when loved ones are going through the worst times of their lives. I find myself using the verbiage and the theory to shield myself from the real time pain others are feeling. 

A grief counselor told my husband last week, “Now just remember…!!! You need to be modeling how to grieve, for your daughter!!!” 

In medicine they say, “Above all, do no harm.” 

Now that statement up there two sentences ago, no matter how well-intentioned; did harm. 

We talk about taking care of our bodies, but our minds deserve to be taken care of with equally careful measure. 

I stepped away from this work because it had been my first love, and it had broken my heart. I didn’t grow the way my clients deserved. I didn’t feel that I was doing justice to this work in the paperwork high, insurancely motivated world we live in now. And I stepped away. 

But we know the truth- our hearts and our minds ACHE. And our hearts and our minds impact our bodies. We know this. And we have got to do better. Because this work isn’t just for the early traumatized child anymore, it’s for every damn one of us. 


2 thoughts on “Above All Do No Harm

  1. Well said. Unfortunately, the mental health field has one of the highest burnout rates when it is so vitally necessary. It really begins to feel like banging your head against the proverbial wall. You risk your own mental health.


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