She wasn’t my client. She “belonged” to one of my students, but I recognized her from the information I’d seen on the intake form when I assigned her to my student. In fact, my intern, Corinne, had left for the evening. Told me that her last clients, this woman with her three children, ages 12-15, had been a “no-show” for their first appointment. Corinne had waited half an hour for them. I told her to go on home, call them tomorrow and give them one more chance. No-shows are not uncommon for first therapy appointments.
She was petite, very pretty, dressed to the nines, African-American, with two pretty daughters and a handsome son. Unlike many kids their age who are dragged to the agency, they made eye contact with me and smiled as I scanned the little universe of our waiting room. “Wanda?” I guessed, extending my hand to her and introducing myself.
“Yes.” She seemed weary but determined.
“You’re here for Corinne, right? I am so sorry, but she just left about five minutes ago.”
Wanda’s determination seemed to wilt the tiniest bit. “Oh. I was trying to get here, but . . . ” she lowered her voice, although her family and I were the only ones in the building, “I was out of gas, and my gas card was declined, and I had to wait for my brother . . . ”
“Oh, my goodness. Well, these things happen. I will call Corinne and let her know that you showed up, and are interested in rescheduling . . . is the number that we have for you still good?”
Again, she lowered her voice, “Um . . . that’s been temporarily disconnected. I’ll give you my work cell phone . . . but she can’t leave a message there, because it’s not private. But I’ll try to keep it on me all day tomorrow, if she’ll call then . . . ”
“She’ll call then.”
Sometimes people show up 45 minutes late, with attitude, and frankly, I give them attitude right back. They made a commitment, they didn’t keep it . . . But clearly, she was doing the best she could. She was trying. She was persevering. I tried again to relieve her of any shame about the circumstances of her being late, to make her feel welcome, and to affirm her for trying to get help for herself and the kids.
When they left, each beautiful child shook my hand, smiled, and said, “Thank you, Miss Susan.”
Wanda’s story is that Don, her husband of 12 years, father of her youngest child and only-father-they’ve-ever-known of her other two, had an affair. And she confronted him about it. And he said, “Yes, it’s true.” And she wanted to get counseling. But he moved out that very night.
They have been a religious family. A Christian family. Their church has been very important in their lives, and Wanda looks to her church family for support during this devastating time. Only trouble is, her husband continues to attend that church.
With his girlfriend. And he and the girlfriend sit in the pew that he and Wanda and their beautiful children have sat in for the past twelve years. And Wanda, she and the kids started up toward their pew one Sunday morning, and they couldn’t believe it. Rather than leave in disgrace, Wanda tried to act poised and nonchalant, and slid herself and her children into the pew right behind Don and his (alleged) lady. And because she is a proud woman who does not want to allow this man to run her out of her church, she and the kids have continued to sit there. Behind Don and the other woman.
Did you ever have the urge to go into a church and open up a big can of whup-ass?
When we have religious clients, we encourage them to get support from their faith community. My student, Corinne, who has now seen the family a couple of times, talked to Wanda about getting support from church. That’s when Wanda told her about the usurpation of the pew. (That’s when I, in clinical supervision with my student, used phrases with “son” and “mother” in them, and I wasn’t talking about family values.) Wanda had spoken to the pastor and the deacons, and to their credit, they had gently encouraged Don to visit other churches. Maybe too gently.
I’m running a little low on a lot of things, lately, with WTF and all. So perhaps my advice to my student wasn’t the most professional or even practical, but:
“Do they have a time during the service when they ask for prayer requests?”
“Oh, I’m sure they do. Most black churches do that.” (Corinne is African-American, too, and very active in her church.)
“OK. Here’s what you do. Tell Wanda that next Sunday she is to request prayer . . . FOR MY HUSBAND AND THE WHORE BESIDE HIM IN OUR PEW.”
I’ll let you know about any therapeutic developments.