No Labels at Our Table

Released into the sunshine to work in pairs, we were grateful to leave the small confines of the conference room that held 10 therapists for an Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprossessing (EMDR) training. Our exercise was to identify a lie we believed and think of resources that could be internalized to counteract that as part of a standard EMDR protocol. Our trainer had used the example of bringing out her inner Queen Latifah when she felt small in a group setting. I was skeptical but hopefully curious.

A while later, she roamed our way to see if we were having any problems. I reported my inability to find a resource that countered my false belief. How do we handle our clients’ lack of identifiable internal resources?

“What is your false belief?” she asked.

“That if my community knew how broken I am, I would be cast out and they would never want me to work with their children.”

She leaned forward with firm sincerity, “You can’t counter a belief that isn’t false.”

Wait. WHAT!?

“Are you speaking of a faith community?”

I nodded.

“Then you are likely right. They would cast you out. To see how the process works, you need to find an actually false belief.” Her gentle tone didn’t lessen my deflation. I had assumed this was shame, not intuition.

What she didn’t know is that I’m a therapist 3 days a week and a client twice a week. My therapist uses words like “trafficked” to describe my relationship with my father. I’m not quite up to owning that because it doesn’t feel like it was done to me. I know the clinical words – false complicity, Stockholm Syndrome, manipulation of attachment needs. My young heart just knows I loved him and wanted to please him. And that I did.

Would you give your child to a therapist who might be more ‘disordered’ than their client? Of course, I’m intentional in how I relate to my disorderedness – I have a therapist who specializes in trauma and regular supervision and consultation with several others. I consume Continuing Ed. trainings and read voraciously. I am purposeful in my self-care. I have a supportive family and small circle who know my story and are invited to speak into my life.

But is it enough? Can I ever do enough for both to be allowed to be true – I am an intuitive, high-functioning therapist who also struggles deeply with her own trauma. Some of what I offer therapeutically I haven’t experienced personally yet. If you really knew, would you cast me out?

I’ve been sitting with this question deeply. The feeling of leading a double life is chaffing. I want to be known in my community for more than what I offer. I don’t even know what that means pragmatically. The nebulous group, ‘they,’ say that the glory of God is more dazzling against a dark backdrop. I believe it absolutely, for others. For people who aren’t therapists, obviously. But where does that leave me, and you? We all contend with disqualifying labels.

What are yours?

What does it cost us to allow our dignity and darkness to both be true at the same time?

What are we denying when we disqualify ourselves? Who are we denying? How do we enter into our world with a still higher level of authenticity and integrity?

I will never wantonly throw around the specific details of my earliest years. It wouldn’t be kind to myself or others. At this point, it wouldn’t even be safe. So, what does it mean to be more truly known? To challenge the belief that if you truly knew me, you would neither love me nor want me. To not let either label, ‘therapist’ or ‘trafficked’, disqualify me from being a vibrant struggler in my community.

Many that I know question their acceptability. I am unsure of the path, I don’t know all of what it means to be more authentic but I do know this: Sometimes we have to set the table we hope to sit at. Here is where I’ll start: I commit to hosting a Red Tent Dinner in the next 60 days to create a space in my community and not just my office. Someone has to go first.

Will you join me?


The above writer is a Red Tent woman who is engaging her own story with courage and authenticity.  To honor her process of stepping into her community slowly and with integrity. We are honoring her request for anonymity.