From a perspective of 15 years it is hard to sort out the many ways my journey with Judy impacted my own growth as a therapist. On this journey I learned to give up any illusions that I was in charge of the treatment process. I learned I could work in the moment, without a treatment plan, and that my responses could still be helpful and healing. She taught me that scrupulous honesty was not only possible but absolutely necessary to keep her trust.
Judy taught me about projective identification long before I had ever heard of the term. She desperately wanted me to understand how she experienced the world. When the words didn’t work, sometimes her outrageous actions did. Learning the meaning of those actions became an important part of our treatment process. Eventually her sculptures evoked her life experiences in me and in others.
I learned that there were some life experiences I have never had and could never imagine having. These were not only the experiences of abuse I had heard about from so many clients but the experiences of living in a different culture. Judy was clear that I had no survival skills for living in her world — “the street,” yet she was passionate about learning what I did know and generous, sometimes overly generous, in sharing her own knowledge.
I had to learn to set limits and explain and argue about rules and customs I take for granted. I learned how difficult it was to not impose my own culture on others. Most of all, I learned that when I did not know what to do, I could still love. In retrospect, I think that is what made the difference.
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