As you can imagine, therapists have a front-row seat to a lot of human suffering and breakdown within their office walls. People sometimes ask how I cope with all of that, how do I not take it home with me and feel overwhelmed and burdened by it? It’s because, mixed in with all the depression, anxiety, trauma, and grief, there is an amazing process underway that never ceases to amaze me. This amazing process is best described by the acorn/oak tree analogy: Inside every acorn is an oak tree ready to come forth. For this to happen, however, the acorn first needs to (literally) break down, fall apart, crumble. This is a required step because the first soft, green shoot (that will eventually become the oak tree) needs space to emerge. Without the initial breakdown, this tender sprout will remain trapped inside the hard shell and never see sunlight.
When I witness the emotional equivalent of the acorn’s breakdown in my office, I know that somewhere within the rubble lies the greening edge that will foster new growth for this person. In their period of breakdown, however, they are not yet the oak tree they will eventually become. Instead, they are in the midst of their acorn selves, experiencing the breakdown of some pretty hard material. They don’t yet know or trust the process, but I do. I know that within their breakdown experiences lie the building blocks for growth. I am here to add some water (emotional guidance), sunlight (compassionate witnessing), and fertilizer (new tools and perspectives), but the person already possesses all the raw materials necessary for their own growth within themselves. This breakdown is necessary to give them access to a phase of their own growth that is not possible otherwise. I am here to remind them that it is not only a breakdown they are experiencing, but also a breakthrough.