Sometimes I like to make things active in a session. If a goal of the client is to get more walking into his or her routine, I suggest we have a walking session. Usually these are relatively quiet strolls around the block while discussing how things have been going. Recently, things got a little more exciting.
Let me introduce Ms. G, a petite, feisty, and quick witted woman as American as baked beans at a summer wienie roast. In her late 50's, Ms. G has been a caregiver for her husband for decades and has recently found herself in a rut. A creative, fun-loving, and energetic fireball, she's lost herself in the monotony of daily routines that are, for the sake of storytelling, about as exciting as watching the paint dry in her semi-renovated living room. She misses doing things for herself and would like to exercise more. So, I offer a walking session. Her eyes light up and she asks me if I'm up for a challenge. A little taken off guard, I say sure.
Something else that you should know is that I make house calls to Ms. G. Is this typical of a clinician? No, it's not. Is it typical of a psychologist in training trying to get as many diverse therapeutic experiences while racking up clinical hours to get into a competitive internship after her dissertation proposal? Yes. Actually, since I am currently in what we call the "Older Adult Track" my client load is primarily elderly folks who may be homebound. Ms. G does not fall into this category. I see her at her home simply because I misunderstood where she lived. She lives in a town that has the same name as a street that is 10 minutes away from where I live. Ms. G actually lives about 4 freeway trips north east of Los Feliz, a more rural-feeling, politically conservative, suburb with a down-home country feel.
I arrive to our session dressed to go for a walk. Ms. G greets me at the door in form-fitting slacks, a denim button down under a quilted vest, Easy Spirit walking shoes, and a long tree branch that I assume she uses as a walking stick (though I never understood the point of a walking stick as it seems to be just another thing to carry). I'm a little alarmed, to say the least. This little lady means business. "Are you ready to hike, my dear?" she asked me, beaming. "Uh, yes. I am, I think." She laughs and I follow her into her house, through the living, out the sliding glass doors to her back yard where hummingbirds are buzzing all around us. With the tiny birds zipping around my head and and the morning sun illuminating the plants in the yard with an almost aura-like glow, I have to admit, there was a magical quality to the place.
Ms. G marched to the back of the yard and climbed over a small wall through some brush and turned around extending her hand out to me. "Where are we going?" I asked. "Sherwood Forrest!" she replied. Like in the Robin Hood story? Hmm. I follow her over the wall and through the brush to an open field that felt like we reached the end of the earth. Nothing but rolling hills and uncultivated land as far as the eye could see. Two people were standing there; Ms. G's husband and Clark, their new friend. Ms. G's husband could easily be the sweetest man I've ever met. He's also somewhat petite, shrunken with age, and due to his progressing Alzheimer's his communications are always short and innocent sounding. Clark, on the other hand, is large and lumbering, and reminds me of Lenny from Of Mice and Men. His big red face lights up when we're introduced and I make sure my wedding ring is visible by rubbing my face with my left hand. Ms. G's husband and Clark were discussing going shooting, with rifles somewhere. They both wish us luck on our "hike" and I get nervous. What the hell have I gotten myself into?
Before I know it, Ms. G is racing up an uphill path into the wilderness. I have to jog behind her to catch up. She's huffing and puffing away up the hill and we reach a larger path, or dirt road, that we follow up hill for 10 minutes or so. I have my tape recorder in hand and try to get her to focus on how she's handling the stress of caregiving and what she's been doing to take care of herself. I'm out of breath, sadly, and I worry that this walk is way more involved than I would have hoped. But we press on while Ms. G discusses her new list making strategies, taking bubble baths, and how it's nice to have Charlie around to distract her husband. She stops in front of a small opening in some bushes and proceeds to climb through it, disappearing into a dark abyss of leaves and and dry branches. I stood there dumbfounded. Does she expect me to climb down this rabbit hole of a passage with her to God knows where? Yes, she does. She expects me to follow her into the woods because of the apparent intimacy that the therapeutic relationship elicits in clients. She trusts me so why shouldn't I trust her. The only thing is, I'm not supposed to trust her--she just doesn't know this. Most clients don't.
To be continued...