This week's image hunt from apples for poppy anne is for contrast. So, I began looking around my office yesterday. And, lo! How's this for contrast? Right there on my bookshelf, keeping each other company were two books so contrasting in their content and approach: Our Bodies Ourselves and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR.

Now, this snapshot is nothing particularly special, but what it represents to me is tremendously important to my work as a therapist. It is so much about the practice I seek to create. I strive to be a feminist therapist and one that embraces all the parts of my clients. But I also know from my education and experience, that research and diagnosis are really crucial parts of good service, too. These two books bring that out beautifully.

The DSM offers a very concrete, research-based view of people and their struggles. It gives numbers, it's based on data, and it is created by the largely male-dominated world of psychiatry. But, it does prove itself useful in day-to-day practice. I've seen many a client breathe a sigh of true relief at knowing that she has something that others have seen before, often Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Knowing that the struggles and symptoms she's dealing with daily, hourly, minute-to-minute make some sort of sense and connect with experiences in her life, she can start to figure out a bit more how to understand them in her own context and, hopefully, find paths to healing.

But, of course, the DSM has a long history of being used in a dehumanizing manner and aiding those who seek to reduce real people with real hurts to labels. It must be used with caution. And that is where the approach of its partner on my shelf comes in.

In the pages of Our Bodies Ourselves, one can find an understanding of women as more than their pathology. It presents a view of women as complete, complicated beings. It embraces the whole lifespan and the transitions and changes throughout. But, even more importantly, it is written with the idea that we are, ourselves, the experts of our lives, that we can possess the knowledge to keep ourselves well, and that this is a celebration. This message of empowerment is so critical to good practice. And, of course, bringing talk of real bodies into the room is so important to getting to the healing in sexual abuse therapy.

These books represent a sort of yin and yang of my therapy practice. It is my work to find a balance between these two worlds: to support empowerment but also use my training and expertise; to think about what is working but also what is not; to embrace both femininity and masculinity; to honor individuality but also universality. I know from my reaction of real pleasure to finding this image that this balancing act is part of why I love what I do.

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