Throughout most of my PhD program, I provided therapy two days a week. I liked this setup: I enjoyed the empathy, compassion, and interpersonal acuity of therapy, then on the other days I found satisfaction conducting research, teaching, or engaging in some form of mentorship or advocacy. The flexibility of my schedule helped me avoid getting stressed; I could go on a jog at 2pm on a weekday and work on my research during the weekends
instead of dating and settling for a mediocre man, reading multiple books by mediocre white male authors, knowing how to put together furniture, etc.
Now, on residency, I provide therapy for more than two days a week. I still love the therapy and want to keep at it after I get my PhD, and at the same time I want to go back to a more research and teaching-focused schedule after this year – which aligns with how I have applied for a ton of academic and research positions starting in summer or fall of 2023. While I feel comfortable with my path, over the past few weeks I have talked with my friends and supervisors about the question: does not wanting to do therapy full time make me a bad person?
It’s obvious that this question is a cognitive distortion for many reasons. First, I know many people – including e-friends I’ve made through this blog! – who are not therapists full-time or part-time and are kind, thoughtful, social justice-oriented, etc. I also know people who are therapists full-time who act in mean or oppressive ways in their personal lives, who have been cruel toward clinicians they’ve supervised (e.g., perpetuated racial microaggressions, abided by white supremacy culture), or who have mistreated their clients. Still, I question what it says about me that I would prefer not to work as a therapist full-time.
Upon reflection, I think my concern relates to my relationship with my father. In my childhood, I always heard people praise my father’s intelligence. My grandparents once said that of their four daughters’ husbands, they liked my dad the most because they perceived him as the smartest of the batch. I prided myself on feeling different from my dad and my mother and brother, all who focused their studies on math and science. I liked books and psychology, which in my mind set me apart both from Asian stereotypes and from my family of origin. I read my dad as intelligent and detached, so I wanted to embody emotional self-awareness and warmth. Ironically, at 27, I’m now finding multiple similarities between myself and my father: a predisposition toward abstract thinking and academia, a great interest in reading (he, science-fiction, me, literary fiction about relationships), and a steely work ethic. Of course, my “intelligence” comes a lot from my privilege too; due to my father’s relatively high-paying job, I rarely worried about money growing up and could focus my attention on school
and trying to avoid my abusive mother, write NSFW fanfiction, and gossiping about fictional characters with my childhood friends.
I also feel like my whole “what does it mean if I’m not a therapist full-time” angst comes from pressure surrounding my trauma, too. Coming from an abusive home environment, I’ve at times felt this pressure to prove my goodness – that I’m compassionate, empathetic, and unlike my mother who hurt me. Now, though, I’m recognizing there are many ways to contribute to bettering society that aren’t therapy or even interpersonal in nature. Like, I got a friendly dinner with this queer Asian person from my Boston Asian book club who helps troubleshoot people’s wifi and I was like um thank you so much without wifi I’d literally perish into the abyss?? Anyway, I’m trying to honor how my second long-term therapist C told me “You can be messy, Thomas!” whenever I confided in her about literally anything that fell outside of my general type A perfectionistic empowered bottom vibe.
I suppose I can have both my father’s intelligence and my grandmother’s care and sensitivity. Maybe I am vers after all – a gaysian with a brain and a heart?? In fact, I think intellect and emotion can build on one another. For example, perhaps my father’s influence motivated me to conduct my freshman year undergraduate research project where I analyzed eating disorder memoirs and stumbled upon Caroline Knapp’s Appetites. That memoir then bolstered my emotional health by empowering me to say fuck no to patriarchy and heteronormativity and fuck yes to self-love regardless of what I look like, what I wear, and if I ever date a m*n. Even though my father had quite a few shortcomings, in moments like these I will say that I’m content, perhaps even grateful, to be his son.
How do you reconcile the legacy of your parents with who you are, especially if you had a not entirely positive relationship with your parents? How do you contend or treat with self-compassion the features of yourself you find undesirable or not the most appealing? Why do I have to apply to jobs and work even though I’m already attracted to men and therefore should receive enough financial compensation to afford a one bedroom home with my mortgage paid for me every month?? Anyway yes, still applying to jobs, haven’t heard back from anywhere yet though most of the places I’ve applied to haven’t notified for first round interviews so. We’ll see! General reactions to this post? Anyway until next post yay.