The Bonsai g’bye

Natalie and Carolyn at our final supervision


Natalie finished her internship with us yesterday.  She began seeing clients in fall. As interns are, she was eager to learn how therapy works in a therapy room after spending countless hours learning about therapy in a classroom, reading about it in books, and writing papers about it.

Natalie soaked up the learning. Her clients grew and developed from their conversations with her. She grew and developed, too.  Therapists are in a constant state of learning from clients. Our clients are also our teachers–they make us better therapists.

Natalie and I had our last meeting yesterday. As she wrapped up her caseload, she gave me a final update of the lessons learned as she wrapped up with clients.  Ending therapy with clients is hard…for client and therapist alike.

Ending therapy means the end of a meaningful relationship. The end of a relationship is a loss. And with loss becomes grief. Grief, by definition, is always painful.

Natalie learned more about holding grief in the midst of celebrating an ending. It was wonderful to hear of yet more ways she had positively impacted her clients. She also spoke of yet more ways her clients had impacted her learning and understanding of how therapy worked.

Very near the end of our supervision meeting, she excused herself to slip out of the room  for a moment…and returned with this:

The gift of the bonsai tree from Natalie was beautiful!

Natalie gave me a card that included this note:

I wanted to give you something special as a thank you for my internship at Conexus. I chose the bonsai tree. Bonsai, the art of shaping trees, focuses on long term cultivation and shaping of new growth on the plant, in turn reflecting the effort and ingenuity of the grower. I believe there are neat parallels between the bonsai and the carefully crafted art of a caring counsellor. It’s my way of saying “thank you” for your patience and caring ways with me as you have been shaping me as a beginning therapist.

Thank you! 💜

I loved all the beauty of the metaphor that Natalie captured in the gift of the bonsai. Growing a bonsai is actually a lot like therapy:

I notice that the celebration of the joint project between the bonsai and the grower is solely the beauty of the bonsai. The grower, while playing a key role in the shaping/growth of the tree, is nowhere to be found when enjoying the beauty of the tree.

The beauty of the bonsai tree is fundamentally the result of the growth of the tree.  The grower has a hand in the shaping of the bonsai…but the growth–all tree, all the time.

And given the beauty of the bonsai tree–the intricate, delicate beauty–the beauty of the knobby bends and quirky angles–you gotta know that the grower just gazes at the beauty of the tree endlessly. The grower kept the tree’s natural curves and instincts in mind during the process.

The bonsai continues to grow–even when it is presented as art, it doesn’t stay static. The bonsai is a dynamic organic creation that continues to grow and develop over time, changing it’s beauty.

Natalie and I were reflecting today on the honour and privilege of being a therapist. It is humbling to be invited into a person’s life and hear the heart cry for healing and growth. To be entrusted to participate in shaping the growth of something be beautiful is a gift in therapy that will never grow old for me.

We talked about the profound gratitude that we feel, as therapists, when we are allowed to witness growth and beauty in our clients’ tears, stories, and courageous steps and missteps towards healing.

Bonsai: The growth is all tree all the time, the grower delights in shaping and witnessing

Know that your therapist is patient…movement in therapy happens at your pace. Your therapist:

  • doesn’t need to you grow for his/her sake
  • listens for what you need, and attunes to when you need it
  • participates dynamically in your therapy, using all the knowledge of psychology, therapy models, and neuroscience we can pull from to help you be the you that you long for–but acknowledges, always, that it is you that is doing the work of growing.

Thank you, Natalie, for being a part of us these last months, for

  • letting me have a front row seat to your growth as an emerging therapist
  • letting me witness your enthusiasm for craft of psychotherapy
  • inviting me to shape your growth
  • the reminders of the importance of learning all of the things you learned this year.

Natalie, every time you learned something, and talked about it out loud, I had a wonderful chance to learn about that part of therapy more deeply all over again. That was good for me as a human being, and as a therapist.

Learning from you, Natalie, was a gift far more priceless than the bonsai.

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