When I think about this journey in mental health, I am often brought back to its origins which proceeded my conscious memories. I have always known I wanted to be a therapist and I cannot remember a time before this thought. Yet when I considered the people along the way that have been pivotal in guiding me, actively mentoring me both professionally and personally, I am directed to the beautifully rich mentorship I have had in Michelle – Doc, as we called her in high school.
I first met Dr. Michelle Reardon as a junior or senior in high school as part of our school’s peer counseling/mentorship program. We were the mentors – part of an initiative that paired peer support with other students who were failing or were otherwise identified as in need of someone to come alongside. Our own learning occurred in a magical space at the end of a long, wide hallway that resembled that of a counselor’s office — couches, dim lighting, days of sharing and days of learning to listen well. Entering this environment, Michelle saw past our exteriors and leveled the playing ground in that room for each of us to have the most human experience we could as the athletes, the homecoming king and queen, class president & the class ‘clown’ and the shy, quiet girl who had many thoughts but rarely felt the freedom to share them. I learned that though we had different backgrounds and various access to resources outside of that room, neither of us were immune to experiencing hurt and pain. We had our own brand of the breakfast club. I grew a great deal in that season, simply because my inner qualities were seen and I found a new way to see into others.
Fast forward fifteen years and I ran into Michelle, right as I was about to begin my master’s program. I was so encouraged to hear her offer to come to her anytime with questions as I begun this leg of my journey. Michelle, as promised was there for me, as I learned to shape and sharpen my clinical skills and for all of the nuances in building a business. She shared her knowledge freely with the firm expectation that I had every capacity to not simply follow in her well-earned successful footsteps but exceed them. This is the mark of a true #mentor. They see you and help you develop you.
The greatest lessons I have learned from Michelle were not gleaned from the practical side of counseling – they were from the messy ones. Early on when she found the helper in me overwhelmed she taught me to preserve my mental energy for my sessions and to establish boundaries so others in my world would cease the need to seek me out for impromptu “advice”. She taught me to take rest, reprieve and relax as needed and often. This field requires a lot from you, much of which needs to be replenished regularly to continue to serve and serve well. As a clinician we have the onus of developing the awareness to work through our own issues as we walk alongside others educating them to do the same. Michelle gently and lovingly helped me walk through mine. I saw the wisdom in her ability to allow the client time to see what she could so clearly see in session one. Many of my non-traditional ways I have found freedom in incorporating into my practice are because of her influence. If I have gone way over time in sessions, normalized your pain like no textbook could, met you outside of the counseling room because healing is not confined to a couch or celebrated your victories as if they were my own – you too can thank Michelle.
So, to all the mentors who find themselves in others and can get excited about the uniqueness that their mentee’s individuality brings – this is for you.
Thank you, Michelle, for your unyielding support, direction and belief in seeing the all the special things in me, even before I was prepared to acknowledge them fully myself.
Tag your mentors or favorite fellow mentors. I find our world is better when we share.