In high school I, like many of the rest of us, was required to take a language in order to graduate. I took a year of Latin and two years of Spanish because my Latin teacher ended up retiring after my first year of a language. Regardless of the language, I struggled. I think many of us do when learning another language. Others however seem to learn another language more easily. It is hard not to judge myself as being less worthy than these individuals.
This week my therapist equated the emotional aspects of therapy (both in providing therapy to others and to receiving therapy) to learning or using another language. Some of us, many of us, grow up in a “bilingual” household. Some households are more fluent in this other emotional language than others. I feel as if I grew up in a household more unilingual than many and so I struggle with the emotional language. I have a firm knowledge of the rules and shoulds, the “grammar” of the language, so to speak. Applying this knowledge is more problematic. I struggled growing up with using this other language. For reasons, there were many times I did not feel as if it were safe. It’s kind of like an immigrant who struggles to assimilate into an adopted culture. After a while a child raised in this new culture forgets his birth language and is only vaguely familiar with it (and sometimes ashamed of it) when he or she becomes an adult. They use their birth language clumsily and often without comfort. This is me with regards to my emotional birth language.
Now, this is hugely problematic when it comes to providing therapy and providing therapy as an art therapist. For me many times there is a sort of “lost in translation” effect. I know the rules and the grammar but I don’t know the subtle nuances. I don’t know the individual dialects because I am as of yet unfamiliar with my own. There are times I doubt whether I will be. This doubt, the amount of effort I have always had to apply to learning another language, the unfamiliarity, the discomfort I experience in not fully comprehending this emotional language is discouraging to say the least. It creates doubt in that I’ll ever be a competent therapist. Will I ever be able to do my clients justice, provide them with the help they need, if I cannot reconnect to my own emotional birth language and learn to recognize it in others?
My therapist has asked from time to time why I chose this profession if it is such a struggle for me. Why would I not choose something with which I am more comfortable? My answer to her: “Because I need this.”