My therapist’s name was Pearl, and she truly was precious. Pearl recently died.

I haven’t been in treatment with Pearl for well over a decade, but I’ve always considered Pearl to be My Therapist. She had that pivotal of a role in my development. Honestly, I don’t believe I would be the person I am today if it weren’t for her coming in to my life. And I found Pearl at a time in my life so dark, I have wondered if I would be here at all if it weren’t for her partnership. Pearl helped me save my own life. At that time in my life, I had become a shadow of myself.

Of course she provided concrete therapeutic tools, as well as savvy interpretation and insight, all of which led to a much deeper understanding of myself, my tendencies, and why I had made certain choices. This work was invaluable; I treasure it still, and carry Pearl, her bright smile, and (pardon the pun) pearls of wisdom with me to this day.

But it was Pearl’s belief in me–her total confidence that in fact I was whole, not broken, and would ultimately be ok–that was the true game changer. Her steady, calm & confident belief gave me the courage to believe in myself and to believe that, in time, I would find my way out of the darkness. She was right, I did. It wasn’t quick or easy. For a long while, I would only experience a lift and brightness while sitting in Pearl’s office, and sometimes the brightness would mercifully last for an hour or two after walking out her door. It took a huge act of faith on my part to believe that there would come a time where the light and the bright would expand and take up far more space than the dark. Pearl helped me hold that faith.

One doesn’t typically think of their therapist as a mentor, but I certainly do. Pearl was both a professional and personal role model for me. She was so warm, so kind and so loving while at the same time holding clear and appropriate boundaries. Pearl sometimes shared personal items about her life, but judiciously and only as necessary for the process of helping me to heal. The shares were always germane, and helped me to feel all the more understood. I always felt safe. My relationship with Pearl allowed me to find the courage to listen to my inner voice that was encouraging me to risk pursuit of a license in clinical social work. Later, in my own work as a therapist, and now as a coach, I harness this judicious use of self and personal history in service with my own clients. I know this makes me real and relatable, just as it did Pearl.

Pearl’s example is one to model. She lived her life so completely fully, taking a second chance on love after a tremendous and tragic loss, always trying new things, water skiing (until age 90!) and ballroom dancing her way through the world — it’s aspirational and inspirational to me to this day.

Suffice it to say, all these years since we ended our formal work together, Pearl is never far from my thoughts or my heart. I doubt she ever will be.

I could go on and on about dear Pearl, but in the spirit of paying forward her gifts, I offer two pieces of advice from my experience:

1) Get help when you need it. And when you’re not sure you need it. This is important. We all need help sometimes, and the act of reaching out for help is something to feel empowered by, not shamed by.

2) Get help that feels right to YOU. I tell every friend and prospective client to always shop around for their services, whether it’s therapy, coaching, medical, etc. Yes, it’s a pain to meet with several providers, but it’s worth it. You’ll just KNOW when you have found the right connection, and I’m a firm believer that finding the right connection is in and of itself reparative, and is 50% of the work. The other 50% can then be a joy and a treasure, as it was with me and Pearl.

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