For someone who has been practicing and honing her skills for over 40 years, I felt profoundly gratified and extremely humbled at a recent awards ceremony in Miami, when, surrounded by friends, family and colleagues, I heard the following words: “The Life Time Achievement Award for her professional contribution to the South Florida Community in the field of psychology goes to Paula Levine, Ph.D.” (October, 2010.)
The ceremony itself brought back a flood of memories: the patient who hadn’t flown in 20 years, who finally agreed to fly to NYC with me, then spotted me the next night on Broadway, and yelled across Time’s Square for all the world to hear, “that’s my therapist…she’s the reason I’m here…I’d still be stuck in Miami if it weren’t for her!”
Or the patient with a contamination phobia of dogs’ feces, who used to hose off her kids’ bicycle wheels and shoes before they were allowed to enter the house and then throw everything they were wearing into the wash. I made a home visit, and wearing my best work clothes and shoes, volunteered to sweep her porch in order to demonstrate that I was not compelled to immediately change and wash my clothes. She now owns a home with a big yard and has four dogs.
Or the severely anorectic patient who kept her food in small containers on a separate shelf in the refrigerator, and refused to eat with any utensil other than a baby spoon. She used to come to her appointments with a monkey on her back, literally…to test me, I think. And now, she is a grown woman, fully recovered, and a successful veterinarian.
And finally, the sexually abused patient, who refused to part with a violent CD that was made while she was being raped, and then given to her to keep. She claimed she needed to watch it periodically in order to “empower” and protect herself. I felt she was re-traumatizing herself each time, and gently suggested that she get rid of it. Finally we came up with a ritual; she cut the CD into 12 pieces, we went out and purchased 12 balloons with ribbons, attached each fragment to a balloon, went to the park, and let them go, one at a time.
I could go on, but I think the point is clear. As a seasoned therapist, I have and will continue to do just about anything to help my patients fight their fears, overcome their demons, challenge their irrational beliefs about themselves and the world, and grow into healthy, self-respecting individuals who can make a difference. I believe in everyone’s ability to change, the need we all have for love and support, the right to be happy, and the power of the human spirit.
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