One of my first jobs in libraries, was working as a reference librarian in a small public library. It was a fascinating job, as nearly every patron came in with a different information need. There is one man whom I will always remember… he was probably in his mid to late 50’s, and very intelligent. He approached me with confidence and told me what information he needed… “Where are your books on how to build an aviary”… taking him at his word, I showed him to the aviary construction books. As he was enjoyable to talk to, and unfamiliar with the inner workings of the library; I walked with him over to the books. As we walked over, we started talking. After a fairly short, informal discussion, I found out that he’d never owned birds before, and was looking at different aviary designs so that he would know which birds to put together, and how to care for them. I immediately knew that he didn’t need aviary designs yet… he needed bird care books, which are in a totally different section of the library.
When I talked about this incident with my manager, his immediate response was “don’t blame the customer… no matter how intelligent they are, they don’t know how to navigate our systems, or to identify what their real information need is”.
Later, when I was working in a tertiary library; I worked closely with many highly respected academics. Despite their skills within their own area of expertise; they would regularly ask me to come in and teach their students how to find information, and for help with their own research. One academic called librarians a “guide on the side”… that is, we were there to guide the user through the maze of information retrieval and management. We help the user to gain skills so that they too can learn how to retrieve information… and therefore become a “lifelong learner”. This academic was vocal that her expertise was in academia, and mine was in information seeking… she saw them as complementary, rather than conflicting, skill sets.
Why I mention all of this seemingly irrelevant waffle; is that I realise that I place absolutely no value in Allison (or any therapists) ability to be a “guide on the side” during my healing process. I don’t trust their skill, intelligence, or abilities. This, despite researching their qualifications, seeing their skills in action, and being nearly six years into therapy. Part of this is because I have seen a couple of therapists whom I didn’t respect their intelligence… basically, I could destroy them in an argument. But a greater part of the problem, is my need for control. I don’t trust anyone else to tell me what to do – that got me into too much trouble when I was young; and, more importantly, my ability to escape into my head was my saving grace as a child. It’s where no one could touch me, and where I could control what happened. It became my coping mechanism… I entered school and realised that intellectualisation was something to be valued… suddenly there was something I could do that would get me approval on a grade sheet… My imagination, coping and intellect became something that I could control, and now a therapist wants to come in and mess with that? No way was that going to happen!
Then, last week, I had a Twitter conversation which helped me to rethink how I was viewing Allison, and all therapists… I made the leap from thinking of therapy as this thing that happened “to” people, to being an interaction that I could relate to… I put it into context of the intelligent gentleman who came and asked me about how to build an aviary. Something clicked internally, and I could see that I was walking into Allison’s office as that man… I came in wanting to “have a life worth living”, and I was walking over to the “life” section of the library; but what I really needed, were the sections about self soothing, nutrition, boundaries, physical health, etc. Without all of those basics, the “life” that I built would always be hollow and meaningless. I would always be falling back into dysfunction, and struggling to find meaning in what I was doing.
What does this mean? Well, Allison has said several times that it’s her job to guide me through the healing process… my response has been to roll my eyes, and go do some more research… difficult, me? Never! Yes, this is the sort of thing that the poor woman puts up with every week. I now know, that what I have to do is ease back on that control, and put some trust in her skills. I need to realise that she is my “guide on the side” in healing… I can, and will, still question everything; but I need to listen, and have more patience.
Sounds pretty simple for a sarcastic, control freak… right?
A special thanks to my Twitter buddies who helped me realise this… probably without even knowing what you were doing!