Happy Spring! As the Chicago weather transitions from freezing cold to hot to (kinda)cold again, it seems poetic that I am going through a transition in my career and moving from feeling excited to sad to nervous and back again! As many of you know, my professional “home” for the last 9 years has been in the Women’s Mental Health Program in the Department of Psychiatry at UIC Medical Center. This wasn’t my first social work position, but it was the place where I found my niche as a psychotherapist and was supported to develop a family systems approach to helping families transition into parenthood and dealing with the joys and struggles of this transition.
The decision to leave my position did not come easy. After being in one place for so long, it was hard to even imagine being anywhere else, yet I could also feel in my bones that it was time to move on. I experienced the “dark night of the soul” as they say for several months before making up my mind, but once I made the decision for myself, I immediately felt the darkness lift and knew it was the right decision for me to move forward and build my own practice full-time where I would continue to offer the same services, but be able to do so on my own terms.
Great, right? Well……then came the part where I had to tell people about my decision, and face the inevitable reality that not everyone felt as happy about my choice as I did. Understandably, of course, what represented an improvement in working conditions for me, meant that several clients would be transferred to new therapists in the Department and people I supervised would get new supervisors. It also meant saying goodbye to co-workers, my office, and my affiliation with the Women’s Program that brought me so much joy and so many opportunities to grow my expertise in perinatal mental health. All of the sadness I felt about saying goodbye reminded me once again of how vital connection is to our emotional health and well-being, and losing connection is one of the most painful human experiences.
One of the things we are taught in social work school, is the importance of honoring endings and giving clients a positive experience of saying goodbye when treatment ends for the myriad reasons that it will end. Often when a relationship ends, it is not positive – most of us have experienced painful endings, angry endings, or endings that came as a surprise. It is a rare and poignant event when both people know their relationship will be ending, and they have the chance to express how they feel about it, and what the relationship has meant to them. My last week at UIC was filled with one conversation after another of this nature, and my clients courageously showed up for these last sessions so we could honor our relationship.
My very last session at UIC was with a client who had experienced postpartum depression and anxiety and is well on her way to recovery. She came to our last session with her infant daughter now 7 months old. Seeing them together was amazing! This mom had really struggled with “knowing the right things to do” for her daughter in our work together, and here she was confidently feeding, playing with, and soothing her daughter who is clearly a happy and securely attached baby. In our final conversation, we talked about how psychotherapy helped her recognize some of her personality traits that had made the transition to becoming a mother more difficult for her. These traits still exist – she is a planner, she likes things done in a certain way, and she is a bit of a perfectionist – but now she embraces and accepts herself and her daughter and is able to laugh about the ways that parenting will continue to push her buttons (and all parents have different buttons!) but she wouldn’t have it any other way. I could not have asked for a better way to end my time at in the women’s program than with a mother who has found the delight in being a mother, and is no longer judging herself for the not-so-delightful parts of being a mother! This is the reason that I do this work – to help families get off to a good start, and have the skills to maintain healthy relationships with each other.