Thursday, December 12, 2013


This is the door that I walked through with 9 other people every Wednesday afternoon.

That door opened a lot.  It held open the space for the "right of passage" class for everyone in the Masters of Marriage and Family Therapy program.

The door opens to a room that is usually just a regular classroom, but in this case, so much more.

On the last day of class, I snapped a picture of the door because it had grown significant to me.  It  had come to represent more than the threshold to an open space.

In order to be approved to begin clinical practicum in the MMFT program at U of W, you have to complete a component of the program called "Self in the Family Laboratory".  "Self", as it's regularly called by students and faculty, is a gigantic massive hoop that you have to jump through.  Only you don't just jump through it.  You put your feet into the hoop and stay awhile.   For four hours every week you stand in that hoop and muddle around with 7 other souls who are doing the same thing you're doing.  Standing around the hoop are 2 faculty members who are guiding you along, protecting your space, and sometimes shaking things up to see authenticity rise to the surface.

Describing "Self" to people who aren't in the MMFT program is difficult.  To many people, it sounds a bit like torture.    Entering a lab with 7 fellow students that you haven't chosen and in some cases, don't know, and then proceeding to engage in some of the most in-depth and vulnerable research and work you have ever done, doesn't necessarily sound like a good time.   It doesn't sound or look much like what someone traditionally thinks of when they consider what a Master's program is like.  The goal of "Self" is to examine your own family of origin and the stories, secrets, and patterns it holds, and makes sense of your role within it.  This examination involves talking.  Lots of talking.  Calling up family members, sitting across tables from them, pouring over record books and genealogies and becoming just a little like an investigator.  But more than the talking is the listening.  Your ears are primed to uncover repeated patterns, core issues, and keys to unlocking parts of your family's story that you may not have ever considered.

There were 7 other students in the lab, and we were all women.  We came from incredibly diverse ethnic backgrounds.   We ranged in age from mid 20's to mid 50's.  There had been a lot of living in those years.  We got to hear each other's stories of the living (and often times, the dying) in that classroom.  There were tales of confessions, disappointments, heartbreak, and great pain.  There were stories that made us laugh out loud.  There were memories  that hadn't been recalled or contemplated for decades.  Yet, there they were... on display for the bodies in that classroom to hold and consider.

When it's your turn to present your self within your family of origin to the class, the last part of the session is holding therapy for your "family".  You choose classmates to play family members who they feel somewhat acquainted with from the writing and presenting you've done.    Every time I was chosen to play a role, the weight of it felt heavy.  It was a great responsibility to find my place in another's family.  Playing this role meant engulfing myself into the story and emotion, and responses that I imagined them to have had.  Every time, I felt it was sacred, and like I was holding a gift or valuable artifact in my hand that I had to protect and watch over.  To treat it well so as to honor its worth.

When our class met for the very last time a few weeks ago, we sat around a beautiful dining room table sharing a meal.  Our instructor held up his glass and toasted us all to bring ending and conclusion to something that words can't adequately describe.  We joined the toast and clinked glasses with each other to mark the end, and to celebrate the beginning.    We had finished "Self", and we were grateful.

Now when I look at the picture of that door, I feel brave.  I feel rich, too, for my body and memory hold the sacred stories of the 7 who walked alongside me.

They hold mine, too but  I don't mind.
My load feels a little bit lighter now.

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