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What the Psych Unit Taught Me About the Power of Acceptance

Updated: Feb 10, 2019

When I was a junior in college, I spent three months in a psychiatric inpatient hospital.

Not as a patient. As a chaplain.

I chose it for my semester-long internship while studying in San Francisco and I worked three days a week on the unit. My main job? To listen.

I remember my interactions with patients so vividly

Even though they happened over a decade ago. There was the older Mexican woman who, through her broken English and my rough translation skills, told me about the people talking to her through the TV.

Then there was the man in his late 20s, with a strawberry-tinted beard and thick Irish accent, who drank 40 cans of beer a day working as a longshoreman. He fought alongside the IRA in Northern Ireland and fled for fear of being executed.

And there was the woman in her 50s who kept quietly to herself and sat alone in her light blue hospital gown near the window. She burned all of her identification and gave away all of her possessions--so sure she wanted to die--only to survive the jump from the Bay Bridge.

As I sat across the table from these people, something curious happened

They came looking for me during my shifts. They talked to me and opened up about their painful experiences.

I wasn't doing anything special or teaching any life-changing tools or skills. I was simply listening.

There is power in telling your story to another human being and being heard without judgment.


My 15 years working in mental health have proven that to be true time and again. My clients have made significant changes during our work together quite simply because they have felt safe, valued, and worthy.


It remains the foundation of the work I do with clients, and it's what I teach them to do for themselves.

I believe that you have inherent worth--just as you are. Whether you change or stay the same, it doesn't matter. You still have value.

I believe that your story is worthy of being heard. Not changed. Not altered in any way. Just heard. With openness and curiosity and wonder.

When I offer that to people, something curious happens again...

People change.

Because acceptance creates the best possible conditions for growth.

Until you can learn to hear your own story without judgment and offer yourself unconditional acceptance then lasting change will remain just beyond your reach.

Start now. What's something you're grateful for about yourself? What's something you're good at or comes naturally to you? Leave a comment below then start a list and add to it every day for the next 7 days. Be genuine and specific!



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