College students fall through cracks too

She sat in the front row and interrupted me frequently. There was something oddly endearing about her. My initial impression was, “anal-retentive and excessively concerned with getting an A in my class.” The more this semester unfolded, the more I saw her. She’s an eight-year-old girl with abusive parents in the body of a twenty-one-year-old college student.

She’s drawn to the healing and helping professions for the same reason I was:

Nobody helped her.

Somehow, she’s made it through four years of college and no one has sat her down and said, “Listen, you’re a wonderful young lady. Have you ever reflected on why you’re terrified of absolutely everything? I just sent her an email saying, “For the love of God, drop everything you’re doing and go see a really good trauma therapist immediately!”

I’ve deleted my last ten attempts to convert my outrage into something that resembles advocacy. It seems we’re still committed to the lie that people enter our fields for altruistic reasons or some higher calling.

Let me be clear: I’m here because I’m fucked up.

Healthy children who grow up in well-adjusted families do not become social workers, nurses, or therapists. I’m not entirely sure what they do for a living. Maybe they’re architects? They sure as hell don’t walk into other people’s darkest days for a living.

There are lessons and scars that unite those of us in the healing and helping professions. We need to stop pretending that they’re hard to see. The only things that are up for grabs: Do we teach with our eyes open? Are we willing to acknowledge what we see and help our future colleagues before they get into the field?

This young woman attended at least 35 classes before she arrived in my class. No one noticed the nails that are bitten down to nothing and the surrounding skin that’s chewed? Nobody noticed her painfully thin body? No one notice her avoidance of eye contact or her self-soothing mannerisms? Maybe you did. Maybe you suggested that she check out the campus counseling center. Did anybody ask her what her story is?

Let me be clear: Some of us hide well, some of us don’t. Either way, if you’re afraid to approach us then we don’t fall through cracks – we get swallowed up in chasms.

Are we gatekeepers for our professions?

I implore my students to seek mentors who are both successful and genuine. I explain that I don’t do anything professionally for less than ten times what I earn as an adjunct instructor. I teach because I want ripple effects the size of tsunamis.  I seek to inspire greatness in the healing and helping professions.

I teach because I burned out a dozen times professionally before I got it right. I teach because I am training people like me to help people like me (the mentally ill, the addicted, the survivors). I teach because I get to give something that will live beyond me.

The unifying experiences among us are traumatic in nature. We come from families of active addiction. We come from abusive and neglectful parents. We come to these field because we feel broken and yet instead of attending to our own wounds we seek to promote the healing of others.

Learning about trauma recovery is a career altering and potentially life altering experience. My hope is that more disciplines will require it or at the very least make it available as a highly recommended elective. My hope is to evoke more conversations and greater collaboration. In the midst of everything the world is experiencing, the need for high quality healers is greater than ever.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim is the cofounder of an online addiction recovery program that is affordable and provides complete anonymity