I have always dreamed of having my own private counseling practice. That was what I had always planned to do once the kids were in school. I dreamed of a quiet office in a little old house, full of character and love. I'd have a nice big desk and a place on the wall for those hard-earned diplomas and awards. It would be peaceful and relaxing, complete with a big chair and yes, the therapist’s couch. (Little known industry secret: we don't hate it too much when we have a “no-show” appointment because that presents a perfect opportunity for a nap!)
But back to my dream. In my dream, I'd love to work. I'd love my clients, and I'd love my office-mattress. I would go home at night exhausted but fulfilled in the knowledge that I had helped someone that day.
I'm here to tell you that dreams come true. Prayers are answered. Things might not look exactly the way we pictured, and the roads to get there might be longer, curvier, and more arduous than we’d like; but dreams can and do come true.
There was a time there, a few years back when I thought the dream was over, that I might just as well let it die. Even if I was able to physically get to an office and hand someone my business card, who in their right mind would dream of hiring me as their counselor? Some folks would immediately dismiss me for the assumption that my disabilities would prevent me from doing my job, or doing it well. Others would take one look at me and run out the door because of the assumption that I'd judge their struggles as too petty or small next to what I've been through. Ironically, I was projecting my own doubts.
But, no, I'm a fighter. And fighters like to win. And winners hate to lose. And this is my dream, so butt out, doubters and demons!
These days I am seeing more and more how my traumatic experience, my pain, my suffering, my difficult journey back to life, even my daily struggles with ornery robotic hands - they all have purpose.
I've discovered that the struggles I've endured give me a window into the experiences of loss, pain, frustration, fear, shock, denial, guilt, shame, anger, blame - the myriad of emotions that I “get” in ways I'd rather not.
But these new understandings help me empathize and sympathize, because there is one feeling no one should have to endure. And that is loneliness.
Now, as a counselor, I can struggle with clients. I can more easily sit with them in their pain, uncertainty, and disappointments. This is empathy. This is a way of being present that you can't learn in any textbook. I had studied, trained, practiced, and, to some extent, succeeded as a therapist before. (Getting a license in Counseling is no joke). But sepsis, amputations, pain, loss - these have been my teachers.
What happened to me in 2013-2014 was (and still is) horrendous. But God makes good of all things. Indeed.
Being a counselor, in my own office, is joy. It fulfills me like nothing else. Recently, I was catching up with an old friend on the phone, telling her about my business. (We hadn't talked in a long time so she obviously didn't know I'd gone back to work.) Like me, she had recently rejoined the workforce after a hiatus to care for her young ones. Our experiences of going back to work are hilarious in their similarity - we were completing each other’s sentences in no time at all.
Through the course of our conversation, we developed a terrific analogy (I love analogies), and nothing better describes my experience of living out my career dream:
I love being a mom. I've been incredibly blessed - I've gotten to (mostly) stay home with my babies for fourteen years! I cherish that time with my little ones, and I'll always treasure the years I've spent at home.
But going back to work? It's been nothing short of exhilarating! And it feels like I am leading two separate lives. I'm still the mom that the kids have always known, and I am extremely lucky that, on most days, I am here to welcome them home off the school bus, help with homework, and drive carpool. Not much has changed in their world. Little do they know that I have a secret identity - I'm actually a superhero! Sshhh!
Sometimes I announce that it's time for mommy to go to work! I'll leave the house as their sameoold mom, but then I stop at the nearest phone booth, change out of my mom jeans and into clothes that match, and then “Off she goes to save the world!” - one client at a time.
I'll head to my sanctuary (aka my office) and meet with several clients, using all my superpowers... My head and my heart!
All too soon, the latest dames and damsels in distress are taken to safety, and it is time to return to my other identity. So I change back to wife/mom mode, messing up my hair and makeup for effect, tiptoe through the back door, and finish out my day without anyone being the wiser.
Ok, so admittedly, this fantasy is a bit much. (And a bit hokie). But the exhilaration is real. I truly do feel like I have secret powers - skills and knowledge that no one knows (or remembers) I have. Not even me. And I've worked hard to get to superhero status. So I deserve the costume and cape, right?
So, for my newest baby’s (my business) six-month checkup, so to speak: the results are in!
Kristan Seaford, LPC, PLLC is a healthy new business! Her growth is slow and steady, just my speed! I'm still speaking to groups large and small, so keep sending opportunities my way. But, for now, my focus is on counseling.
My clients have had issues ranging from chronic pain to general anxiety and panic disorder. I'm working with several couples on strengthening and enriching their marriages. And I seem to be developing a specialty with high school and college students who need help managing stress and anxiety in this world of pressures that my generation never had to face.
I accept most insurance plans and am contracted as a preferred provider with Cigna and United Healthcare/Optum. My schedule is happily filling up, and I have even managed to successfully submit claims electronically and receive payments from both companies. (For those who have not worked with insurance from the provider side: this is quite a feat!) I also work with Open Path for uninsured and underinsured clients, and I happily accept private pay clients as well.
Last week marked the four-year anniversary of my hospital homecoming. Everyday, with every step I take, I'm reminded of all that was taken away from me and of all the things I can't do anymore. But this. This is something that's been given to me.
My job reminds me of how blessed I am. I can still listen. Be present with a person. Grieve with a person. Calm anxieties, increase self esteem, help people make changes in their lives. In short, I can help a client reach his/her full potential. Now that I can do. After my illness, God not only left me with the ability to be a counselor, he left me better equipped to be the counselor I had dreamed of being.
God makes good of all things. Indeed.
Every day I get the honor of knowing someone deeply; and, as I earn their trust, clients often share things with me that have never before crossed their lips. I get to see the world from new and different perspectives. I learn at least as much from my clients as they learn from me. I step outside of myself and whatever struggles I might be dealing with that day. I change the channel from the endlessly looped list of my own worries and stressors, to my client's channel, whatever it may be that day. Oftentimes I'll sit down, and the next time I look up, it will have been over SIX hours! Time flies when you love what you do. On top of that, I almost always wish I could stay at the office longer. But when the clock strikes dinnertime, working moms of five turn into pumpkins. (Wait, wrong fantasy world…)
When a client session comes to an end, I often marvel (get it, Marvel?) when someone pulls out their checkbook to take care of their copay. All this, and I get paid to do it! I feel so good when I can hand Brook a little pile of checks at the end of the week. I'm starting to do my part! Oh that feels good. Dreams really do come true.
And God makes good of all things. Indeed.