July is the month we say goodbye to some regular writers who have aged out or are moving on to other projects. We’re extra thankful for Matt today—he’s been writing with us since August 2017.
Since the last installation of my confessions related to my current line of work, I have encountered even more atypical episodes during therapy. So, without further to do, I present the following tidbits from my brushes with the unusual.
I respect dogs, but I do not love them. I admire them, but it’s the kind of admiration I experience when witnessing a nuanced piece of art done in an unconventional style: I shrug my shoulders, grin, and think, “neat.” My clients who own dogs, however, adore them. They cling to them for support and credit them with their current survival. So, as any good therapist ought to do, I give my greatest effort to show my appreciation. One of my clients, whom I have seen for several months now, has lovingly described her pitbull to me, assuring me that I won’t encounter her because if the pitbull and German shepherd were in the same room together, they would rip each other’s throats out and I would somehow have to describe this incident in both a progress note and incident report. You can imagine my surprise when, for what had to be the twentieth time, I stepped into my client’s living room and was greeted by a slobbering mass of muscle. My heart evacuated my chest, dragging my breath and soul with it, as I thought, “How will I be remembered? Who will recover my body? Who will watch over my family? Who will return my laptop to IT?” As I braced for my final moment, I heard chuckling as my client, more jubilant than I had ever seen her, introduced me to Maggie, who proceeded to lick and drool all over me as I guided her owner through the current week’s dilemma. Afterward, with careful maneuvering, we made sure the dogs remained separate, and the blood bath was avoided.
When I offered to take a client from my coworker’s waiting list, I had no idea that I would be driving off into the desert, jostling my car through washed out roads, and arriving at an alpaca ranch. Scooting down the long drive, I was watched by dozens of staring sentinels, necks craned out of their cages, eyes drilling through my window as they studied the intruder. At the end of the first session, my client’s mother offered to introduce me, and I, not wanting to seem prudish, agreed. If I cannot bring myself to behave like a sane human around a domesticated dog, what made me think I could handle a creature that’s only two steps removed from a Martian? I sidled up the cages, trying to play it cool as the eyes of a dozen alpacas focused on me once again. I stood my ground, thinking I had won, when the woman swung open the gate and urged me to step into the cage. I stepped forward, asking, “Llamas are the ones that spit, right?”
“Yeah, these guys don’t do that.”
She encouraged me to pet one of them on the neck, and as I did so, it swung its head around, leaned back, and hissed out a misty concoction of rank saliva.
I haven’t gone in the cage since.
Should you ever find yourself in Arizona with a hankering to head to San Diego, I bid you to factor into your drive ample time to visit the splendid metropolis that is Gila Bend, Arizona. The town boasts a whopping four fast food restaurants and an equal number of gas stations. Its main attraction is a space-themed hotel with a flying saucer statue. The signs on the way in boast that solar panels outnumber residents. And if that weren’t enough, you can even touch a piece of steel beam from the Twin Towers, given to the town because some old patriot wrote a letter and requested that the town be given it. I have seen a few clients here, some seventy miles from my apartment, and I daresay I have left my heart in Gila Bend.
Sometimes—many times—in this line of work, therapists have to recognize that they may not always have the good fortune to witness the fruits of their hard work coming to bear in the lives of their clients. I had been visiting a client and her mother for family therapy once a week for six months, and I had been told by my director that I was the last resort. The mother and daughter fought frequently, and the daughter was trying to finish school and build skills to live independently when she became an adult. If therapy didn’t work with me, they would seek help from another agency. This case made me laugh; this case made me want to pull my hair out. But they stuck with me, and I stuck with them. Then my client turned eighteen, and within a week, she was out of her mother’s house. I gave her a call, and she told me she was on a Greyhound, leaving town and going across the country. I wished her well, told her mother we would close her file, and let out a sigh. I still wonder where she is. I still imagine that living room. I can’t help but think there was something I could have done differently, some kind of technique I could have conjured up at the opportune moment to create meaningful change. But alas, she ran away, and I keep chugging along, hoping that what I offered was enough.
Matt Coldagelli (’14) majored in English writing and psychology at Calvin. He’s currently pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology with an emphasis on children and adolescents. He watches an absurd amount of TV and is a certified craft beer snob. His emotional wellbeing is overly dependent on Wisconsin sports, and thus he finds himself often in a state of disappointment. Matt lives with his lovely wife and daughter in Phoenix, AZ.