where the writers are
"First a psychologist, then a musician, now an author"

First a psychologist, then a musician, now an author.

That was the opening line to one of my favorite reviews of Accordion Dreams, my Cajun music memoir. (Let the Good Times Roll, East Bay Express.)

It was more author profile than book review.  The writer, Bay Area author Anneli Rufus, asked some penetrating questions about the contradictions between being a psychologist and a performing musician. 

No one finds it surprising when a psychologist becomes a writer.  But an accordion-toting therapist?  Even here, in the tolerant and accordion-centric SF Bay Area, that sounds like the lead in to a joke.  I get it.

The two roles are certainly different.  As Anneli Rufus pointed out, the major difference is along the public-private dimension.  

But I'm the same person.  And what drew me to my instrument is not so different from what drew me to psychology--or what drives my writing.

I didn't become a midlife rock guitarist.  My musical journey began  because I was touched and fascinated by the lives and culture of the French-speaking Cajuns and Creoles of Louisiana.   I felt I was hearing their stories in their music, sad and wild and passionate.  Before long, I wanted to make that music myself.  I had to struggle to overcome many barriers, internal and external, to learn to play the accordion--and then to get up on a stage.

Writing, playing folk music, and doing therapy all involve looking inward and outward.  They draw on the best and truest parts of myself.  As a therapist, of course, my goals are clear and explcit:  to help, to heal.  To relieve suffering.  To help my clients grow and change.  It's a unique relationship, with a very clear contract.  

But is it completely different, when I pick up the accordion to play for dancers, or when I write? Yes and no.  The roles, the context, are certainly different.  But I still hope to touch people.  To share some bit of truth.  To give them a transcendent experience. 

When I first read about this week's Red Room blog assignment, to write about our work, I felt puzzled and amused.   Which one?  I consider myself to have three kinds of work, three vocations.  All three required years of study and dedicated practice.  (Believe it or not, the PhD came more easily than the accordion!) My three vocations are equally important to me.  It's just that only one of them pays the bills :-)

For years I've been hearing the well-worn line:   Real musicians have day jobs.  Now I've learned another one: real writers have day jobs.   It's a joke that underscores the wish many creative people seem to share: to break free of the pedestrian confines of the day job and make a living with their art.

I don't see it that way.  My life as a psychologist is more than a day job.  It's who I am.  I've been at it a long time and, like most clinical psychologists, I've worn many hats: Professor.  Supervisor.  Administrator.  But doing psychotherapy has always been a part of it.  The most rewarding part.  

These days, that's what I do.  I work with with adult psychotherapy clients.    Since I'm in private practice, I have control of my schedule.   I feel privileged to hear other people's stories.  To help them grow.  Why would I ever want to stop?

I have had just one wish in connection with my work as a psychologist.   I would like to draw more on my own journey as a musician and a writer to help others who face similar struggles in their creative lives.  So I've begun to mention this when I describe my practice.  I've begun to get some training in coaching, which has a somewhat different focus than therapy.

And I'm also working on that next book!