I love inviting my psychotherapy clients to watch movies as homework between our sessions. I believe in the power of stories well-told to inspire and teach. Stories meet us where we are and invite us to take what we need at each telling.
I have turned to certain films over and over in my own life to infuse me with the courage to get up again.
As women, I believe we are immensely more powerful that we realize. Even as the film industry is deeply culpable for sustaining a powerless narrative for girls and women, particularly women outside the narrowly defined scope of idealized womanhood, yet some films manage to get some things right.
Here are 12 of my faves in no particular order…
Hidden Figures is fantastic for two reasons. One, women, particularly women of color, are the ones who get it done. Two, math and the space program.
I love Frida because she dared to break out of conventional norms by being immensely talented and she insisted on living in her sexuality on her terms, even as her body and her heart were broken. Plus, the cinematography is beautiful.
Elizabeth is the first of a couple films on this list that tell the story of women on the cusp of great leadership who are threatened by patriarchy. The future great queen had to hold on to herself and her own heart and mind in the face of deep betrayal and manipulation.
Moana is Disney really trying to get it right. Wonderful female lead character who must break free of convention to follow her heart and go on her great adventure, which, notably, does not include romance. I also love Moana as a therapist working with trauma. This tale is a lovely narrative about heading the call to face hard things in order to restore the heart. I find this mirrors the journey of trauma healing beautifully.
Wonder Woman is fun and empowering without explanation. I loved it because it was all strong, courageous women, all the time, directed by a woman, and respectful of women. The director went old-school by implying great violence (and some sex) without any gratuitous depictions of violence (and sex). The story had to carry the film and it carried it fabulously. This film is fun to watch with your girls. And you'll want to start working out afterward - not to lose weight, but to kick ass.
I love this film because it's clever and fun and what's not to love about Emma Stone? And there's great references to 80's high school movies. This is movie about standing up for female sexuality and sexual narrative belonging to women and turning sexual stigma on it's head. Oh, and Lisa Kudrow plays the worst school counselor EVER.
The Color Purple
The Color Purple is by far the heaviest film on my list. This film honors the deep horrors that women of color have endured, the hard choices that have to be made, and ways in which women create power for themselves and each other, even in the direst of circumstances. This is a film about courage and survival.
Out of Africa
This is a personal favorite. A true story about repeated betrayal and loss, Karen Blixen "had a farm in Africa" where she must find a way to build a life on her terms, even if it is a different one than the one she'd imagined.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
First of all, Star Wars. Second, Rey is a fantastic female character. They don't apologize for her. This is a film for believing in yourself, courage, and showing up no matter what.
Another great film for inspiration for navigating male dominated cultures. This is a film about knowing who you are and holding your ground, no matter what. As women, we are taught to submit to what others say we are, to be nice, to compromise. This is a movie about not that.
This is a total, just-for-fun, mindless-entertainment-yet-inspiring movie about being talented, coming back from injury and hooking up with the hot quarterback. Yes, she gets the guy, but it's her and her girls that get her to the competition.
As a female entrepreneur, I LOVED this film! Joy is about being smart, courageous, and believing in yourself and your mop.
There are many more films with strong female characters who show us how it's done. What are some of your faves?
I became a Social Worker because one day, standing in the hall of my digital imaging internship where I was doing animation for a homeschool curriculum, I felt the sudden clarity that I HAD to do something that directly helped others. I loved art, but I just couldn't see spending my career sitting in front of computer screens creating moving pictures, even if it did make me cool.
On the first day of graduate school, all the talk of social justice brought home to me that I was in the right place and was never going to be anything else.
Fifteen years later, I still love it. Nothing feels better to me than helping someone get free of something in some way and sending them onward. I am excited each day to wake up knowing I get to offer a healing space and a path of transformation for my clients. Now that I am adding clinical supervision and support for new Social Workers, my excitement is on a whole new level!
In a profession surrounded by scarcity, it is so easy to fall into scarcity-thinking. This energy is constricted, fear-based, helpless, and hopeless. We start believing we need to protect what we think is ours: our program, our clients, our skills, our know-how, our resources, our "territory." We take our ball and hide it in our cubicle or office.
But in this field of doing more and more with less and less, we need Social Workers with abundance mindsets now more than ever. An abundance mindset is simply living from the belief that there is enough to go around. When we believe this, we are open, we are generous, we take risks, and we share.
In this time of fear and scarcity, and Social Work force with an abundance mindset could serve up the stone soup we need right now.
We must first begin within ourselves and then with each other.
Where are you afraid? What are you guarding, worried that someone might take it if you gave it away? How might you support a colleague, cheer on an assistant, withhold gossip, share "insider" knowledge?
The more I lift up others, the more joy and passion I feel in my work, which hardly feels like work at all.
Let's lift one another up and see what miracle we might manifest!
You can do great work!
Being a new Social Worker is exciting, hopeful, determined, and sometimes scary, frustrating, and disillusioning. It is a field in which we lose many amazing, talented people because we are not very good at taking care of our newbies. This is why I am passionate about providing a safe, positive, encouraging space for new Social Workers.
The very best way to do this is through Group Supervision. Why? Because when you are a trauma-informed, somatic practitioner like me, you know that the surest way to calm fear and resource a person is through social engagement! A heaping dose of, "Oh! I'm not alone!" goes a long way to healing, strengthening, and infusing confidence in a person. We know this for our clients, but, as the saying goes, we need to put the mask on our own face first.
This is why I focus my supervision on supporting the whole person.
I want to know how you are, first. I want you to know that, most likely, what you are experiencing is normal and you are doing just fine. Then, I want you to get the skills you need to navigate client interactions with confidence. Nobody likes feeling like you are supposed to know what to do and you don't know what to do! Then, I want to give you a place to explore and craft a career path that will take you where you want to go. For those Social Workers who dream of private practice (I see you!), I know you think it's hard and confusing and only special people get to do private practice. You're wrong. I mean, yes, I think those of us braving the world of entrepreneurship are special, but it's not hard, and yes, you CAN do it and you can do it sooner than you think.
I've designed my Clinical Group Supervision to be accessible by meeting twice per month. We're all busy and a weekly commitment can be so challenging. By meeting twice per month, we get to meet for 90 minutes which allows us to really get into something meaty. Whether it's case consultation, guest expert (did I mention there will be guest experts?), or exercises for visioning your career path, we will have enough time to really dig in. Also, payment is super easy with a monthly fee for both meetings.
Racking up those supervision hours is fast with group and individual supervision. If you would like to learn more about supervision with me or would like to apply, visit me here. I'd love to connect with you and help you Love What You Do!
Some years ago, I saw a cartoon with two frames. Both showed an angry mob stringing up a Social Worker. The first frame was captioned, "Angry mob hangs Social Worker for removing the child." The second frame was captioned, "Angry mob hangs Social Worker for not removing the child." In psychology, this is called a Double Bind and it's crazy-making. It's easy for a new Social Worker to doubt him/her self. However, the Social Worker practicing good self-care and a little targeted social/emotional intelligence, can navigate these situations and be confident, knowing she is doing good work and making a difference.
We work in a profession where the expectations and responsibilities are high, and the resources and authority are low. The systems we work in are highly stressed. When everyone is trying to survive and living in a scarcity mindset, we believe we do not have the time or energy to take care of each other. Newly minted, front line Social Workers can sometimes bear the brunt of this scarcity. As a new Social Worker, I figured out that I needed to take good care of my people-pleasing heart because doing my job meant at least one person was angry at me at any given time.
Here are some steps to take when you feel like you are falling short:
Look at the Big Picture - Take Nothing Personally
Understand the system in which you are working and the pressures that are exerted on those around you, especially superiors. This is important so you can depersonalize as much of what you are experiencing as possible. If you look through the lens asking, "what is this person afraid of?" It will help you shift out of, "What am I doing wrong?"
Check Your People-Pleasing
Most people show up to work wanting, on some level, to do a good job and get some kind of positive feedback. Some people want this a little. Others want it a lot. This is a normal human need and organizations practicing good social/emotional intelligence regularly give positive feedback to their employees. However, in a profession fraught with double binds, someone will always be displeased. The more we can mindfully notice our desire for others to be pleased with us and then take compassionate care of that desire so it is not driving us at work, the more resilient we will be in the face of others' displeasure.
Get Clear About Your Role
I can't stress this enough, so I talk about it all the time. Get clear within yourself about what your role is. Ask yourself, what is the intersection between what I can actually do and what is needed? Then focus on doing that thing. We do often want to do so much that we make ourselves ineffective. However, when we can get clear about what we can do and what is needed, then we can really make a difference. Even if it is a seemingly small thing, it is still important to our clients. At the end of the day, you will know you did a good job, whether anyone else does or not.
Have Boundaries - And Protect Them
We are responsible for preventing our own burnout and having and protecting our boundaries is critical for this. Take your comp-time. Practice number 3 each day. Take lunch. Say no.
Practice a Creative Hobby
When we give so much of ourselves in a world where there is so much pain and loss, as we do in Social Work, we need to experience creation. When we can lose ourselves in the flow of creative process, we are filled up and enriched in a way that is unique to creative flow. It does not matter what we are creating, whether it is art, knitting, building birdhouses, gardening, or anything else where we are "making," we are giving ourselves the gift of creative flow. It's not about the outcome, but the healing process.
Get Outside Support
Sometimes we really need outside support. Of our organization is not able to support us meaningfully and compassionately, and we find ourselves shrinking under the pressure of it all, then connecting with Social Workers outside of our organization can be a lifesaver. Whether it is a peer support group, group or individual supervision, or a therapist of our own, having an outside voice can be a lifeline that helps us thrive and love what we do!
As Social Workers, we really can change the world, or someone's world, and make it better. We are brave warrior healers! As such, we must master the head and heart game. We need to take care of ourselves and each other.
You can do great work!
In just about every therapy session, at some point, I meet my client's Inner Critic. Sometimes she subtle. Sometimes she's mean and unrelenting. Whatever way she shows up, she is saying, "No."
No, it's not ok to believe something good about yourself.
No, it's not ok to be kind to yourself.
No, it's not true that you are worthy.
No, it's not ok for your to make a mistake, to be imperfect, to forgive yourself, to believe that you just might be ok.
My clients want to know what to do with this voice. How do I make it go away? How do I stop believing it? How do I convince myself that these things she are not true?
Don't I need to make her go away in order to feel better?
At this point, we do something crazy.
We welcome this voice and we thank her.
Yes, we welcome her and we thank her.
This Inner Critic or judge or self-aggressive meany is actually trying to be helpful. She is an old protector trying to give warning that it might be dangerous to relax, to be, to feel good. She doesn't want us to get hurt.
So, we thank her. After all, she's been working hard, day-in and day-out for a lot of years keeping us safe from rejection (we rejected us first), from failure (we just didn't even try), from judgement (we judge ourselves to "keep us motivated").
We recognize her hard work and thank her for her service. And then we let her know that she can take a break now because Self-Compassion has the talking stick for a while. Inner Critic will surely have the floor again, but we know well what she has to say. She is not rejected, just invited to have a seat while Self-Compassion tries out her new voice and we practice feeling a little good, a little comforted, a little validated, a little ok.
So, the next time your Inner Critic has a lot to say, thank her for her service and invite her to take a little break, so Self-Compassion can have a turn.
As a therapist, mother, daughter, partner, and seeker, I am always on the journey toward a more peaceful, authentic life. I hope to share knowledge, insights, and the ongoing unknowns I find along the path...