I love this prompt! I will always cherish the best piece of advice I’ve ever received. When I was working in community mental health I had this wonderful Clinical Director. I met with her routinely to get support and help process cases. One day she said to me, “Amanda, people function within their dysfunction.”
This changed everything for me. I think I intuitively already understood the concept but to put words to such a complex and beautiful philosophy was just what I needed at that moment. You see, I’ve never felt that my job as a therapist is to change someone’s life. Even though immense change and growth usually happens in therapy, I’ve never seen myself as the actual change agent. Who am I to tell someone how to live their life? To prescribe some sort of cookie cutter plan and outlook? To do this, wouldn’t I need to be hella put together? I’m just over here trying to function within my own dysfunction.
No one will ever be that put together.
Everyone is living their life in real time, in real situations, in real life and I have no power to stop it, or change it. People live their life within their dysfunction all of the time. Hell, I do it myself everyday. In fact, if any living person is in a dysfunctional situation then they are somehow functioning within that dysfunction.
Functioning is on a spectrum. You can be barely functioning or you can be thriving and you can be anywhere in between. While the goal is most often to improve level of functioning, it shouldn’t be overlooked that most people are in fact functioning even on the most basic level.
Acknowledging the function within the dysfunction is the foundation to building an empathetic and trusting relationship. It opens up the opportunity to assist people in growing organically on their own turf. And that, my friends, is therapy.