Potential Space

by Lila Zimmerman, AMFT 


I started my own private practice this year, a goal of mine for quite some time. I took a risk and jumped right into the deep end, not keeping a clinic job to bolster me along as I built. It was a full-faith attempt to build the professional life I had been working towards for so many years. Around the beginning of month three, I had about 10 patients on my caseload, and while this felt generally like a win it was feeling financially precarious and I was confronted with an unfamiliar feeling of having a little too much time on my hands. I began to consider the idea of a part-time job. I did not want a clinical job, afraid it would feast on my time and my mind and likely find itself prioritized over my own practice. I worked in restaurants before and through graduate school and I thought perhaps I could do that again, for extra money and the comfort of coworkers.

I found a job post for a bagel shop and felt intrigued by the idea of something so low-stakes. But while filling out my application I began to consider the implications of taking the breakfast order of a patient. I became curious about the transferential impact of seeing a therapist not only “in the wild” but in a different position of service. A position specifically occupied to make money. I had once run into a patient at a coffee shop, we both had been customers at the time, and even so, the encounter had occupied our sessions for several weeks and I have not returned to that coffee shop since. I could imagine that had I been the one taking their order rather than standing and waiting for my own, the conversation in session would have been quite different, perhaps even compromising the treatment entirely. I have fantasies about it eliciting guilt, pity, and anger - in both my patient and myself. I found myself finding it more appealing to rework my monthly budget than to apply for the job.

I thought of a conversation I’d had with a colleague in which she’d said, “We can’t need money.” This comment was said with a tone of sarcasm but she was saying something complicated about our field. When we practice analytically we take on the responsibility of being available for projection. For the sake of neutrality, how much do we surrender our own needs to make space for the needs of the people we work with? The complex issue of our financial viability as therapists, psychologists, and social workers is not a fresh take. But in my ultimate decision not to apply for the bagel shop job, I considered my own complicity in maintaining the image that we do not, in fact, need money; also I contemplated intersections of class bias about what extra work we tend to take on and what kinds we might avoid.