I am a second semester FMHC student, I’m mixed-race and queer, and I go to therapy. I’ve stumbled over my words in class, dislocating my experience of living with depression and anxiety from my professional facade as both student and future mental health clinician. Self-disclosure is not only a contested act in a therapeutic relationship, but also a vulnerable and awkward admission in my classes. Recently, I’ve been entertained by the irony of a disrupted and often stifled testimony of self-care while in a graduate program training me to guide future clients in their own self-care discovery and maintenance. It seems as if discussing my own journey, plagued by the trials and tribulations of being human, is taboo and vaguely stigmatized when surrounded by peers and professors.
I’m not advocating for my classes to become pseudo group therapy sessions where we release our deep-seated fears and sensitive childhood traumas. I’m not hoping for classrooms bathed in confidentiality agreements, or the unpaid emotional labor of fellow classmates. But I do wish it was less uncomfortable to discuss the very real, very present life histories and experiences that led us to where we all are today. Why, in a room full of future clinicians and researchers, do I find it strange to vaguely mention my therapist? Perhaps I am alone in this perception, or my expectations are irrational and unrealistic. Maybe I have imagined the thick silence that follows a vulnerable statement or moment of self-disclosure. But I surely didn’t fabricate the shift from a normal speaking volume to a whisper when a classmate recently referenced their own therapist after learning I had one too.
I suppose my question is: can we model vulnerability and self-reflection for our clients when we struggle to do it with one another in our classes? The subject matter we are learning is shrouded in academic shadows and intellectual semantics, which, to me, feels disconnected from the power and value of our individual and collective lived experiences. I am always excited to read case studies that masterfully place clinical jargon into humanistic context. We aren’t all friends, but we are all peers, and there is a lot to learn from each corner of the world we have crawled from. I will continue to open myself up in vulnerable and valuable ways, not to seek support and guidance from those around me, but rather to give a face to the terms and concepts we read and explore every day. I hope to learn about and hear from my classmates and professors, if for no other reason than to more deeply conceptualize the experiences of the people who surround me. I’m holding space for y’all, with or without the accompanied silence.