In my mental health therapy group on Friday morning, Clinician Dodge informed us that he had taken a position at the Pocatello Women’s Prison, several hours from here. His last day is February 8th (next week).
It was difficult for Mr. Dodge to break the news to us. He waited until there were just a few minutes left in our session. I could tell he was getting a bit choked up. The four inmates in the group, myself included, got incredibly sad and emotional.
I have been attending Mr. Dodge’s mental health groups for almost two years, and they have benefited me greatly. Dodge is a great therapist because he makes you feel like you and he are good friends. He has a way of fostering trust and making me feel safe to talk about anything without the fear of judgement or ridicule.
Dodge was a pro with empathy. He was able to put himself in each inmate’s shoes, and understand inmates’ behaviors based on the entirety of their lives leading up to this point. Instead of lecturing us on our faults, instead of telling us exactly what we need to change, instead of contributing to an already sky-high level of shame within us, Dodge would listen, share ideas, and facilitate an open discussion with everyone in the room. He often said that his goal was that “all of us become clinicians in the group, and help each other.” He truly believed that he learned as much from us as we learned from him. Through the process, we came to our own conclusions about our personal issues. When you figure it out yourself through that “a-ha moment,” it’s exponentially more powerful than when someone tells you, “your problems are this, this, and this — now fix them!”
Over the past two years in his group, I’ve worked on a wide variety of my own issues and struggles. I’ve analyzed “why” I did what I did to get here, and what led up to it over the first 32 years of my life. I’ve talked about being bullied as a kid, about self-esteem, about feeling that I was never good enough. I explored the shame I felt each time I cheated on my wife, the helplessness I felt in my marriage, sexual insecurities, and sex addiction. I recognized how my fear of communicating my needs with family, friends, co-workers, and even my ex-wife, coincided with my fear of hurting a person’s feelings. I discovered the role that stress from my job played, and how it may have contributed to my behavior. I learned that I would often try to “buy” people’s friendship, because I never believed I was good enough. Gifts and money — it was a way to compensate for what I felt I lacked. (She might not love me now, but once she sees I have money and a good job, once she hears me on the radio, once I buy her jewelry, she might change her mind). I learned that I often sought after women with low self-esteem, because I liked to “fix” people or “rescue” people. Giving another woman happiness is what made me happy, but I learned that I need to first work on finding ways to make myself happy. Otherwise, co-dependency takes over. I worked with Dodge on finding more empathy for my victim and everyone else in my life that I’ve hurt.
Mr. Dodge (and calling him “mister” seems foreign to me, because he feels like a friend) often played videos of TED Talks on very relevant topics — things like shame, vulnerability, friendship, self-esteem, men’s difficulties express emotions, and pornography’s effect on the brain. Each video sparked a conversation in the group, often taking us to new and uncharted territories within our minds. In recent weeks, Dodge began teaching us about mindfulness and meditation, and for a few sessions we worked on just clearing our minds and focusing on the feeling of our breath entering and exiting our nostrils. It became a new technique I now use to combat stress and anxiety.
I could go on for days, but suffice to say, Mr. Dodge was an absolute gem of a clinician, and I have complete confidence that he will be successful in whatever he does, wherever his career takes him. He genuinely loves helping people, he loves therapy. He idolizes famous therapists the way a child might idolize Lebron James. When Dodge reads quotes from his favorite therapists, he often rubs his hands together, excitedly, saying something like, “Oh, man! Are you ready for this? This is good stuff!”. He was so thrilled to be sharing the information with the rest of us. It’s refreshing to see someone who is working in a prison out of genuine care and compassion, who truly wants to help inmates and make a difference in the world.
He will be working in a similar position with female inmates. Many have warned him that he has no clue what he’s getting into, and that working with women is at least twice as challenging as men. But I am confident he will make a difference in the women’s lives, just like he made a difference in mine.
When I go out into the real world I’m going to remember what Clinician Dodge did for us. I’ll remember how he treated each of us, I’ll remember the compassion and kindness he showed us every single day. I’ll remember how, each morning as we left his office, he told us all, “thank you for participating, I appreciate you being here.” His attitude was infectious. One day, I will find a way to pay it forward, and do my own good deeds to hopefully help someone else the way he helped so many of us.
Categories: Stephen Newman