Forty two years ago, give or take a month or so, I, an ever so slightly qualified psychotherapist, encountered my first clients, a Hispanic boy named Joseph and his mother. He had a serious school phobia, a condition about which I knew absolutely nothing. He spoke little or no English, nor did his mother. We had no Spanish speaking therapists in our little suburban Dallas agency, and for whatever the reason, Joseph and his mother were assigned to me and my mentor, Julia.
Picture the absurdity of two Anglo non-Spanish speakers in a room with this loving, frightened young mother and her big eyed little son as we tried to communicate, us in our high school/Tex Mex restaurant Spanish and she in her non-existent English. Joseph’s ‘treatment’ amounted to little more than the three adults in the room trying to speak to one another. At some point, I took him outside and we kicked a ball around, I think. I was 27 years old.
It wasn’t too many sessions later that Joseph and his mother failed to appear, and did not return follow-up notes mailed to the address they gave. They had no phone.
Memory faded and we went on with our work. In that agency, I recall meeting with violent biker swingers, lonely alcoholics, teenage ‘freaks’, a guy addicted to huge amounts of Dramamine. But we never heard back from Joseph or his mother, until one day we received a letter in broken English addressed to me and to Julia. Someone had written it for them, thanking us for all our help, and saying therapy had been most beneficial to Joseph, that he’d returned to school, and was doing fine.
I don’t know if the mother was simply being polite, or if we’d actually somehow managed to help her son. She seemed to be a person of so few resources, and pressed so hard for time for herself that it stretched my imagination to think that she wasted a stamp and the time to send us that letter. But I don’t know.
What I do know is that the mere process of being cared for, as I, Julia, and his mother had done in our struggle to merely speak to one another, can often be enough to help a person past whatever sticking point they’ve arrived at in their development.
And I thank Joseph and his mother teaching me that early lesson in psychotherapy.