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Category: Psychotherapy

Seeds and Psychotherapy

Every spring I spread a handful of my now 8-year old arugula seeds over the early spring soil.  And every year a small lawn of arugula emerges. It looks like nearly every seed germinates. Hardy, more impervious to weather and moisture fluctuations than a lot of my greens, they haven’t yet failed to sprout.

Every year I think the same thing – surely by now these old seeds are dead. And every year, I’m wrong.

A client who worked as a farmer brought me those seeds. She’d barter part of her fee with grass-fed meat, organic eggs and a wonderful variety of vegetables.  And once she brought me this hefty quantity of arugula seeds hand-harvested from the farm.

Is there a point to this story?

Yes, thanks for asking – there are several – one broad and one personal.

Spring is when we are most aware of life popping from dead-looking limbs, seeds and earth.  Spinach, arugula, lettuce and coriander are growing in my raised bed right now even though it still freezes at night and has occasionally snowed since I planted them.  Seeds are amazing if you let yourself think about them. Rattling around in seed packets, they look absolutely lifeless, inert.  When planted in proper conditions, they break open and reach toward light. 

(Look for a blog post coming soon about that little phrase “breaking open.)

But never underestimate the power of a seed – the literal seeds for planting or the metaphoric seeds waiting in you.  Many clients begin therapy, not only when something painful or challenging has happened or is happening but when they “know” that something has to change.  This knowledge is a seed.

Second, please consider that you are never too old or worn out for change and growth.  

I recently turned 60 and it was a big deal emotionally. I think I thought I’d be all grown up by now. When I took the time to explore why I was so sobered by entering my 7th decade, I discovered regret, gratitude, reminiscence, sadness, hope, acceptance, and then finally, a deep belief that as Stanley Kunitz writes in his poem, The Layers, “I am not done with my changes.”   (This is a poem worth reading, especially if you are in middle or later life.)

I have some ideas and dreams for my 60s – seeds still wanting to germinate. And I’ve worked with many clients from their early 20s into their 70s who bring seeds, that while initially dead-looking, are embedded with potential and hope.

Pain, loss, death, transitions, anxiety, depression, past trauma – none of these easy – can all be seeds.  These experiences and symptoms point us to something that needs attention.  When we are willing to go in the direction of our difficulties with care and kindness for ourselves, we find those seeds more ready to break open, stretch toward warmth and grow into new life.  Easy? No. Possible? Yes.

What seeds might be wanting to sprout into something new, healthier or invigorating in you?

Brenda Hartman-Souder    May 2022

What’s a First Session Like?

Meeting a therapist for the first time requires courage. You request help for symptoms or challenges. You show up and know the therapist will ask questions that might be hard or painful to answer. And you don’t yet know your new therapist, so how can you know if they are trustworthy or if their questions are good ones?

Or maybe you don’t know anything about what beginning therapy is like.

When I started therapy in 1990 (yes, it’s a long time ago!) I was certain I was irrevocably messed up. I was worried my new therapist would label me or pronounce my pathology as severe.  Back then, I didn’t know anyone who had actually gone to therapy. I was awash in an unspoken taboo that therapy was for the weak or very ill.

But I was suffering from serious anxiety that affected my functioning AND I was studying to be a therapist. Feeling desperate, I called a favorite professor and asked her to recommend several local therapists. And then I picked up the phone and scheduled an appointment.

My therapist was kind and listened non-judgmentally. He helped me feel safe.  He was not in a hurry to dig out answers to questions about my entire life history.  Rather, he asked good questions and reframed what I believed was negatively going on inside me. By reframing, I mean he understood my symptoms as messengers and taught me to pay attention to them, respectfully and with curiosity.

Instead of trying to get rid of symptoms, I started to understand the marvelous way our mind, body, and emotions work to communicate important information.  Therapy changed me.  I still say therapy saved my life. I was not suicidal but I was caught in destructive beliefs that would have spun me deeper into despair had I not reached out.

Starting Therapy With Me

Before I meet with a new client for the first session, I schedule a ½ hour no-charge video or phone consultation. I want at least a thumbnail sketch of what’s going on and what you are looking for by contacting a therapist.  Talking briefly before we schedule the first appointment helps us both know if we are a good fit for each other.  I will also answer questions you may have about therapy or my theoretical framework. 

What’s It Like?

A typical and good question potential clients ask is “What happens when we first meet?”  

Every therapist will answer that differently because we are as diverse as our clients.  But here’s my answer:

When I meet with a client for the first time, my sole goal is that you’ll leave the session with a sense of safety and hope.

That’s it.  Everything else is, as they say, “gravy,”  Because without feeling safe and hopeful, therapy can’t progress. We’ll talk about whatever you need to in order to feel safe, understood, and hopeful that change can happen.

Therapists are trained to gather information early and health insurance companies and agencies often expect therapists to document history in early sessions.  Learning about your current situation, your family of origin, relationships, coping skills, strengths, and pivotal life events are all important, in time.

As a self-pay therapist without insurance or agency-inflicted rules and regulations, I have more freedom and I take it.  First I want to really listen to you, create safety in how I interact with you, and start to understand what’s going on, what you need, and what you hope might change.  We’ll get to everything else in time.

Brenda Hartman-Souder, LCSWR        February 2022

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