Thoughts from the Clinical Director: Being Lost

I am a week late in writing these fortnightly thoughts, as I was traveling back in the States for a couple of weeks. Right now I have two homes, one here in New Zealand and one back in the US. I have to admit that I feel a bit lost at times, but I think about the clients at BRC and how much more lost they must feel, lost in psychosis, lost in drugs and alcohol, many lost from families and lost from trusting human relationships. Those are much more painful conditions of being lost. I see the problem of being lost as one of the primary things that we work on in a rehabilitation setting as opposed to a mental health centre or an acute inpatient ward, where the focus is primarily on treating symptoms.

One of my favourite writers, Rebecca Solnit has written a wonderful book called A Field Guide To Getting Lost. She explores all the ways that people can get lost, but as always, she searches for how being lost is part of the human condition and can even lead to growth and transformation (as well as risk destruction and dissolution). She quotes the Greek philosopher, Meno, as asking “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” (4). She goes on to say:

The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration—how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else? (5).

I often think about this seeming paradox in our work with clients and in personal growth: to what extent are we working to support our clients to “become someone else” and to what extent are we supporting them to become more authentically “who they are,” or to realize their potential? I sometimes get uncomfortable talking about potential, because that seems to imply that someone is less than who they could be. It all gets pretty complicated sometimes when you start talking about change and transformation. But I would definitely say that the work that rehabilitation and recovery requires is transformative and we are asking our clients to extend their boundaries of self to include new possibilities. You should know me well enough by now to know that the next thing I am going to say is that as staff working in rehabilitation we need to extend the boundaries of ourselves as well. One of the ways that psychiatrist Carl Jung looked at psychotherapy is that the therapist has to get lost along with the client and then act as a guide to help both of them become found. As Solnit writes, “Sometimes gaining and losing are more intimately related than we like to think,” (38). That implies that if we seek to gain anything, we must tolerate becoming lost, and possibly even seek out becoming lost. “Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations,” (15).

Even though it is necessary for finding ourselves, being lost also has serious risks and that is what we and the clients struggle with at BRC. How can we reach someone who has lost hope? How can we support clients in a positive way who are lost in repetitive cycles of addiction, depression, psychosis, trauma or violence? This is where the art and skill of rehabilitation comes in. This is where we have to be willing to become lost ourselves and to say, “I really don’t know what the **** to do next!” In trying to reach clients, we often have to realize that the text book is not working and we have to find it within our hearts to be patient with ourselves and with clients when we are in these lost spaces. I sure wish that I could say that I was often successful in this work. I cannot say that I am. It often seems that many of our clients make small changes and some clients seem not to change at all. I still have the unshakeable belief, though, that the work we do matters and makes a difference. When we go looking for someone who is lost and when we maintain the hope of a searchlight we are offering clients a pathway back from wherever they are lost. Sometimes that is all we can do is to stubbornly maintain hope. I may have already quoted Vāclav Havel in an earlier column, but it is he who I always turn to when I am trying to maintain my own hope when I am lost or when I am trying to reach someone who is lost. “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

Since I am in this 90 day period of leaving Buchanan, I have found this website that allows me to calculate how many days are between two dates. At this point it is down to 62 days that I have left at Buchanan. What can I do in that short amount of time? I have to let go of any grand plans for transformation and really just focus on connecting to people and starting to say goodbye. I have to admit, I feel a bit lost at times, but I know we are all working together and that gives me some comfort.



Stand still. The trees ahead and the bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

David Wagoner


It is I who must begin

It is I who must begin,

Once I begin, once I try—

here and now,

right where I am,

not excusing myself

by saying that things

would be easier elsewhere,

without grand speeches and

ostentatious gestures,

but all the more persistently

—to live in harmony

with the “voice of Being,” as I

understand it within myself

—as soon as I begin that,

I suddenly discover,

to my surprise, that

I am neither the only one,

nor the first,

nor the most important one

to have set out upon the road.

Whether all is really lost

or not depends entirely on

whether or not I am lost.

Vāclav Havel