The number one thing which haunts your therapist.

All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream

-edgar allen poe

I have dreams about clients. From time to time tiny doppelgangers of clients roam around my head at night. It’s understandable. We therapist spend more time with clients than with co-workers therapist. Of course clients roam the hallways of our minds.

Not to long ago I had a client, Kyla, roaming around my head. I’ve not seen Kyla for a few months. She discharged from the treatment center where I worked and within in a week relapsed. Her dad found her in a car cradling a bottle of vodka.

I didn’t get to see her off. I had to go on a training the week before she was discharged, but before I left she and another client gave me a gift.

After I got the call from his dad I looked up Poe and the poem. Something about it hit me.

I stand amid the roar
on a surf-tormented shore
and I hold within my hand
grains of the golden sand
how few, yet how they creep
through my fingers to the deep.
while I weep, while I weep.
Oh god, can I not grasp
them with a tighter clasp?
oh god, can I not save
one from the pitless wave
is all that we see or seem
but a dream within a dream?

Maybe if I had been there instead of at the training … maybe if I had requested an additional week…. maybe if I had known then what I know now… maybe if the system wasn’t designed to fail…

There are many clients I have not helped. I’m not ashamed to say that. I feel guilty not being guilty, but that’s about it. I simply wast trained nor given the guidance to help certain people with problems when I first became a therapist. So I don’t feel bad about the past because I couldn’t have done anything and I don’t feel bad about the present because I now know my limits. That helps me sleep at night. If clients I failed to help are ghost, then most of them are of Casper’s brood. Friendly.

Yet there are some that linger. There are some that haunt me. Some that wonder around my dreams and I wake, wondering if there were nightmares.

There was little Jamiel , abused by his grandmother, who was deemed a lost cause by his foster mother. That haunts me. In my dreams Jamiel’s forever frozen in that frame, squatting outside in the summer heat, with a stick in hand poking at the dirt, while foster mother sits inside and barks at me about how she’s sending him to a state home because at night Jamiel sneaks from shadow to shadow, rummages in the dark recesses of the cupboard, and devours whole boxes of Little Debbies in the dark of the night.

There was Jamie,the cousin of a client, a little on the slow side, I saw while helping both with their math homework.

“What’s this?” I asked looking over a math problem with her.

“I don’t know” Jamie answered.

“Count it out.” I prompted.

“1,2,3,4,5,” she started, “6, 7 ,8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, … 100?” because, of course, anything past what she could count must be a very big number.

Some times in my daydreams these two come back to me. They are older now. The boy is in jail. He’s been in solitary confinement several times for being violent. The girl has several kids. She dropped out of high school and never went back. They just stare.

“I’m sorry!” I plead. “There was nothing I could do. I didn’t know how.” But they don’t respond. Their stare is enough conviction.

how few, yet how they creep
through my fingers to the deep.
while I weep, while I weep.

The thing about the failures is not that I failed. Failure, in and off itself, is painful. But failure doesn’t haunt me. Failure is washed away with the next success. The thing about failure is the nagging feeling that because I failed, they will never have another opportunity. Because I couldn’t do it, the hopes they had for their future are now merely a dream.

Maybe to think this way is hubris or craziness. I don’t know. All I know is that life works because we make it work. Because we go out there and make change happens. If we don’t there is no guarantee someone else will come along and fix it for us. No, I am not the last hope for Kyla, Jamiel, or Jamie. But someone has to stand up for them, and there is no guarantee that someone else will.