Feminist Therapy in Boston

Two outlined hands form a triangle–a symbol of healing which I used as a logo for my feminist therapy practice in Boston.

Going through the old boxes from Boston are taking a long time. The other day, I came upon a few folders from the part-time private practice I had in feminist therapy for women. Of course, most of my notes from that practice were previously shredded for confidentiality’s sake. But a few notes and cards from the tail end of the practice had found their way into a box that was then closed up for 21 years. Anything that was confidential I fed into the shredder, but as I did so, I found myself saying little prayers, sending good energy to the women I had journeyed with in those days.

My longest-term client was a woman with a head injury. Because it was easier for her, we spoke by phone for our sessions. I found myself curious about what had happened to her, and googled her name to discover an obituary from 2014. She had died at the age of 73. I was glad to see the details of her life brought together as a whole. She had been a successful film-maker before an auto accident injured her brain. I met her several years after that had happened. I knew that our counseling sessions were helpful to her, and I also learned so much from her in our work together.

A few things that I remember: The brain is an amazing multi-faceted entity–someone could be smart about many things, as she was, and yet unable to accomplish some very basic tasks like counting or face-recognition. When she reflected on her own recovery, she knew she had disproved the prognosis that after one year she wouldn’t regain any other mental functioning. She kept slowly regaining aspects of her mental abilities. Oddly enough, online conversations were a big help to her–she was an early adopter of making friends via AOL chat rooms. Because of her brain injury, she had difficulty with sequencing–anything she needed to do had to be spelled out step by step. But she told me she began to write online erotica, which if nothing else required a great deal of sequencing. Who might have guessed the therapeutic value of that?

She told me that despite the limitations, she actually found greater happiness after her disability than before–when she was deep into the rat-race, she was successful, yes, but driven and deeply unhappy. When she had the solitude and slowness of her later life, she had a chance to heal from earlier trauma, to learn to love herself, and to find joy. She also found new ways to contribute to the world around her, especially in support of animals.

I am only writing about her now, even unnamed, because she has died. On the very unlikely chance that anyone who knew her thinks they might recognize her from these few details, I hope they know how fond I was of her. These memories awakened a very tender part of my soul. It was a great gift to be a part of her journey of life.

It was a great gift in so many ways to be a therapist during those years from 1986 to 1999. There is something quite sacred about listening, affirming, and gently encouraging–with the skills I had acquired–the healing power within each person. Often people came to me during times of great distress. I didn’t always like each person, though I often did. But with everyone, it felt like we were held, for one hour a week, in the intimate, infinite regard of a larger healing Love.

The things I ended up saving from the practice for my files were things like my advertisements in Sojourner, the women’s monthly paper in Boston, where there were usually 3 full pages of ads for feminist therapists. This is where my logo appeared month after month for several years. I saved some of the networking I had with other therapists. I saved a little sheet on which I spelled out my sliding scale–I was glad to be accessible to very low income women. I saved notes from a few of the workshops I offered or attended. As in my later work of being a minister, some of the best moments remain invisible to the world. But hopefully the ripples of those moments endure.

Winter Winnowing

At work in the basement with shredded paper, photo by Margy Dowzer

Every couple days I go down into the basement, to sort through my old boxes. I cover up with an over-shirt and apron, cotton gloves and mask, to protect me somewhat against allergies to dust and old paper. I pull out a box and open it up to reveal treasures and trash, scribbled notes and carefully typed poetry, cherished memories and forgotten moments. I have no idea when I might finish, but it helps to think of this as my Winter Project.

Sometimes I think of it as death cleaning, as in The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, by Margareta Magnusson, a method of organizing and decluttering your home before you die to lessen the burden of your loved ones after you’ve passed. But I am not following any methods put forth in this book. What connects is that I am weighing everything against the question “What value might these things have, after I am gone?”

When I became a feminist in 1979, I became aware of how women were hidden from history, how most written history prioritized the deeds of white men in power. Wonderfully, feminist historians, and those of other marginalized communities, have been bringing to light these hidden histories/herstories for several decades. Along the way, I internalized the belief that our own lives are part of history, too. My life is part of history.

As a childless lesbian woman, I won’t have descendants that would value my writings. But that makes it feel even more important to preserve my stories, especially those of lesbian activism, lesbian community, lesbian spirit. And so I have been thinking about what might be valuable for an archive, and in fact, I have already communicated with an LGBTQ archive that expressed interest in my papers. So this becomes an important measure for what to save, and what to shred.

But beyond what value these papers might have after I die, it has also been so valuable for me as a method to reflect on my life as a whole, revealed in what was saved, deliberately or accidentally, during various parts of my life. So far I have been going through boxes from the time I lived in Boston, from 1986 to 1999. I guess I started in the center of my life. There is a lot of shredding-I reduced the first three boxes to just one. I think after I finish with Boston, I will likely go back to the earlier boxes, and only then return to the more recent ones. Perhaps then it will be easier to put it all in perspective.

I don’t know why it has taken so long to begin this project. I don’t know why now seems like the time to do it. But in the middle of winter, in the midst of a pandemic, in this liminal time after retiring, my spirit feels called to this remembering, this winnowing, and so I keep going down into the basement to see what I will find.