The Road to Family Therapy

Clarity & Reflection

It was springtime and the snow was beginning to melt. We knew that the roads would probably be okay but had some anxiety knowing that we were about to leave our home in Bozeman, MT and head back to Nashville. We wanted to make it home safe, super-duper safe, considering the precious cargo on board. 

I was driving the Uhaul with an attached trailer that carried my Tacoma, with our border collie Roxy in the passenger seat. My wife Laura was following along in a small green sedan. Her car was full of the clothes and "soft stuff" that we could fit for safety purposes. Remember, we had precious cargo to protect. Our pug, Richard, kept her company and provided some distraction to the increasing uncomfortability of being very pregnant and having morning sickness. It's a 26 hour drive. 

After making our way off of the Rocky Mountains, I distinctly remember being somewhere in Wyoming  between Casper and Cheyenne when I had what some call a unitive moment, everything came together with clarity as if time had stopped. I knew I wanted to help people be genuinely connected with themselves and others.

Most of my personal growth and development had come through 13 years of trying to make peace with my life and family through art, failed attempts to manage and escape painful relationships, faith in Christ, college ministry, travels, education, various 12-Step recovery groups, lots of self-help books, a few bad therapists, and plenty of ups and downs along the way. I remember thinking "If I had only known and experienced some of the things I had learned since finding Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA), this might have taken three years instead of thirteen. I've experienced how hard living can be but know how amazing people really are. How can I be a help to others in their journey?" 

I remember taking in a deep breath, and as I was holding it I thought to myself, I want to be a therapist who helps families to get along better and have deeper connection! There it was, so obvious and clear that I couldn't believe that it had never come to me before (since then I have come to believe that I wasn't ready, that I needed a certain level of healing, and that my experiences would help me to relate to the pain and struggle of others).

There is something about the open road that brings clarity to reflection. 

Practicing What You Preach

Just a few weeks before we decided to move back to Nashville, I had been fired for the first time in my life from a bagel shop because I told the owner that it wasn't okay to call me at 9PM and ask me to open the shop and start baking at 4 AM. Setting this boundary was hard because I suspected there may be consequences. However, I knew that if I was going to keep with this new way of being, I had to trust the process. To make the situation even harder, just a few weeks before that, my wife quit her job because of some difficulty in her pregnancy. Our first child was expected in a few months. Yikes!

No job. No income. We were 1,800 miles away from home with a baby on the way and some hard decisions to make. 

I remember clearing off the kitchen table early in the morning, making some coffee, and inviting Laura to a conversation about our situation. One positive I noted was that when things fall apart you can pick up the pieces and redesign it, together, to make them look however you want. I asked her to close her eyes and imagine delivering the baby. I gave her a few moments then asked the question "Who is with you in this scene?" and she said she saw family. Then I remember saying that we know what we need to do. It's time to move back home. We both cried. 

After not even being back in Montana for more than six months (I had lived in Bozeman previously from 2001-2006), it was time pack the bags. 

Getting the Degree

After having the thought that I wanted to be a family-type of counselor (I didn't know anything about Family Therapy), I remember calling Laura from the Uhaul and telling her about the idea. She was very supportive, even though it would mean being in school right after our first son was born. Luckily, I had a good friend who was in Lipscomb's MFT program. After we got back to Nashville, he invited Laura and I to his house to catch up. I told him all I had learned in ACA and asked him about the different counseling programs in Nashville. He told me that what I was describing sounded a lot like Family Therapy and that the program he was in might be a good fit. I asked him if he could recommend just one book on family therapy what it would be? He recommended The Family Crucible. I bought it, read it, and loved it. I was hooked. My friend invited me to come to a class one night and the next day I decided to apply. I had a lot of doubt that I would be accepted because school has always been really hard for me. I'm not the fastest typer, the way I think doesn't always go with the flow my teacher would prefer, and I'm more of a big-picture and creative type. In addition, I thought my construction and art background were likely disqualifiers as well. 

To my surprise, I was accepted. To this day, I have never looked at my GRE scores. It didn't matter, I was in. Not only did they let me in the door, I seemed to be a good fit and I excelled. I didn't do well because it was easy, it was one of the hardest thing I have ever done, but because I loved what I was learning. I worked hard. My wife and I both made sacrifices and there is no way that I would have done it without her support. I went from flunking out my freshman year at Austin Peay in 2000 to graduating with a 4.0 in in Marriage and Family Therapy in 2016 while bookending Lipscomb's program with two kids and working construction so that my wife could stay at home (note: I do not recommend this as a best practice for conquering grad school).

I know what it means to hurt. I know what it means to heal. Now I want to help. 

Giving Back

As for the degree itself, I specialized in Play Therapy and love to work with the significant relationships of my guests. My Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art contributes significantly to my work by inspiring new, creative, and engaging interventions that are often unique for each family. I'll always be an artist. 

In addition to the arts, I have been around construction my entire life and I've always worked with my hands (I have the calluses and scars to prove it). I still do home inspections and construction while I grow my practice. I understand how hard it can be to develop and change while doing your best to manage constraints. Being a good husband isn't always that easy and neither is being a father. I make mistakes all the time. I was born with clubbed-feet and had major surgery that has impacted me my entire life (I used to think it was a burden but have discovered it to be a blessing). I know what it means to struggle. It took me a long time to discover who I am and to maintain genuine connection to myself, significant relationships, and to God. 

I still have a lot to learn and have plenty of room for improvements. But I also want to give back and be someone who understands just how hard it can be, respects the journey others choose, is secure enough in myself to allow others to be themselves, and to provide a safe place to heal.

Together, we can do this! Anything is possible. 

Let me leave you with this quote. For all of the things I have learned, this may be one of the most important: 

"The purpose of the fish trap is to catch fish and when the fish are caught, the trap is forgotten. The purpose of the rabbit snare is to catch rabbits. When the rabbits are caught, the snare is forgotten. The purpose of the word is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words? He is the one I would like to talk to."

-Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu, The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen, p.41

Hastening slowly, 

Robert "Bobby" Dunn, MMFT