I really cannot remember a time when I could not read. I know that my mother read to me, even as a baby. A family story chronicles me at three reciting “The Night Before Christmas” in its entirety to my two year-old sister. I remember at six dancing down the hall of the house, having received a set of the Bobbsey Twins series for my birthday. Later the Cherry Ames, Student Nurse Series and biographies of accomplished women took center stage. Wherever I went I had a book. I was called out in class for reading under the desk during other classes. In the summer I stacked books beside my chair in the living room and read voraciously.
Books took me to other places, other stories, other lives. Books took me away from my own lonely life in middle and high school, becoming the friends for whom I longed. Books widened my world, taking me to ancient Rome (Great and Glorious Physician), to Renaissance Italy (The Agony and the Ecstasy), ancient England (The Mists of Avalon), to a romanticized South (Gone with the Wind). I climbed the moors with Jane Eyre, rejected and then fell in love with Mr. Darcy. Discovering theater, I reveled in Shakespeare’s tragedies and comedies.
As a professional counselor a whole other genre of books has become significant. The stories of people’s lives embodied in historical and other fiction have been amplified by the professional literature of a lifetime. Out of all of the hundreds of books and articles I have read over thirty plus years, three stand out as especially life-changing.
The first is On Becoming a Person by Carl Rogers, in which he elucidates the three core conditions required for transformational change in a client (empathy, authenticity, and unconditional positive regard). These foundational principles have informed my work from its inception. Second is the amazing leap into a new way of seeing power, articulated by Jean Baker Miller in her seminal work Toward a New Psychology of Women, in which she describes “power with” rather than “power over” as a way to understand the relational process of transformation. Third is the slim volume called Focusing by Eugene Gendelin, a book that opened the door into the centrality of the body-based knowing that creates change, if it is given a chance.
Whether fiction, biography, or professional literature, what all of these stories and experiences have in common is an arc of change. Characters grow, develop, learn. People live through struggle, learn new ways of being. Through my profession I have learned how to be part of and witness to that process of change, informed by the touchstones of presence and witness.
Does your life story have an arc? Have you considered how your story could be created? What if you were an author, considering a biography of the life you have led? What would you see?
Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.” Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com
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