As I have gotten more leftist over the years, I sometimes feel increased guilt about my work within the system. I have room to grow, and I acknowledge my strengths: my therapy supervisors always affirm my clinical skills, I publish a decent amount of research, and my students tend to report positive things about me. At the same time, I often wonder if therapy should even exist. I wonder if academia should even exist. Or should we work toward building a society where we can take care of one another as a collective and prevent the traumas that call for therapy? Should we create a society where we can all contribute to the development of knowledge instead of a select privileged few?
When I question whether therapy should exist, I reflect on my own therapy experiences and the trauma I experienced at the hands of my mother. I feel like someone or some force could have prevented this trauma. If we lived in a society that did not glorify the heteronormative nuclear family, maybe someone would have intervened and stopped her from hurting me and my brother. Or if we took down toxic masculinity on a systemic level, as well as the xenophobia and racism experienced by immigrants of color, maybe my mother never would have harmed us in the first place.
At the same time, going to therapy did improve the quality of my life in tangible, beautiful ways. With my therapist L who I saw for a couple of years in undergrad, I gained skills to better honor and regulate my emotions, shared about my traumas in a compassionate and open space, and practiced direct communication when I felt angry which reduced my passive aggressiveness. Now, with my own clients, I see the palpable and poignant changes they manifest in their lives, even while I sit with how they should not have had to experience many, if not all of their various life struggles in the first place.
I feel the same about academia. Some folx have treated me in awful ways. In an ideal world we would have implemented systems-level reforms to have prevented those people from interacting with me how they did. However, I have also had kind, intelligent, nurturing mentors who role modeled what it looked like to have your life together so that you can support students and mentees in positions with less power. When I went through PTSD in undergrad, these mentors’ kind and affirming presences meant so much to me, even if they did not know the extent to which I suffered from mental illness at the time. Now, I try to treat my mentees and students with the same level of compassion and intentionality.
I feel like two somewhat opposing truths can co-exist: that someone should have prevented my childhood trauma and I deserved the opportunity to access mental health services after the abuse happened. Perhaps at this point in society we need both, people who can help heal those who the system has harmed and those who will fight to take down cishet white supremacist patriarchy and prevent so much pain from occurring at all. Maybe our roles depend on our own skill sets and privileges – I know I really like emotions and interpersonal relationships, so my position as a clinician and future professor makes sense. At the same time, I also feel like for those of us more within the system, we must maintain contact with and continue to support those who rally to tear the system down, so we can avoid perpetuating problems even if we think we may be addressing them. For myself, I will try to approach my work within the system less from a place of guilt and more from a place of curiosity, so I can align my work with defeating white supremacy and white supremacy culture, while showing up outside of the system in the ways I know how to, too.
How do you feel about working within or outside of the system? General reactions to this post? Even though I have a ton of work stuff going on I have quite a few blog post ideas because a lot of life stuff has happened for me in 2021 already (e.g., coming into my own identity as genderqueer and using all pronouns um yay, meeting the most beautiful man I have ever met which I’m sad about because [redacted], getting the first dose of the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19, and more). Until next post!