A few months ago I received a letter from a fifteen-year old girl. The letter began, “My name is Caroline. I’m a sophomore in high school and we are doing career research in our Writing class.” In the letter, Caroline went on to express her interest in learning more about psychotherapy and identified herself as feeling “lured” into the field. She ever politely requested information about psychotherapy be sent to her in the company of her writing teacher, Mrs. Kirk, and left the mailing address for her school.
The letter was typed left justified, professionally addressed, well organized, and margins on point. Caroline appeared to have meticulously signed the letter as she had drawn over the lines in the signature of her first name twice, and lined up her last name perfectly with the bottom flare of the last letter of her first. These minute details resonated with me, as it reminded me of a fifteen-year old version of myself existentially searching for my purpose; my place in the world.
Rather than stuffing an envelope with randomly chosen information about psychotherapy, I was determined to personalize Caroline’s request. I searched for her school online and found Mrs. Kirk’s email address through the school directory. Mrs. Kirk obtained permission from Caroline’s parents and facilitated a phone conference between Caroline and I that took place from Mrs. Kirk’s office during school hours. On the date of our phone call, Mrs. Kirk called me and introduced herself, informing me that Caroline was very nervous yet excited to speak with me. A low voice traveled softly over phone, “Hello, Dr. Forshee”, followed by a moment of silence and a few muffled nervous giggles. “Please call me Danielle” I replied, hoping to lessen the authority gap.
In speaking with Caroline, I had found out that she was born and raised in small-town Colorado, population 230 (per the 2010 census), and had never traveled outside the boundaries of her town. This helped me to understand her nervousness in speaking to someone with my title from the Greater New York City area. It took a while, but after some small talk Caroline warmed up. She asked all about my career path starting from high school up until the present moment, interested in any hiccups I had along the way and how I managed to succeed despite them. She seemed to be deeply listening, sipping in every moment of wisdom and experience I could depict. I expressed to Caroline the significant impact of various mentors while walking the path of my career, and strongly encouraged her to do the same. I offered Caroline my contact information and assured her that she can reach out to me at any time.
My reasons for going out of my way for Caroline are simple. There’s no better way to show appreciation to my past influencers than to pay it forward to the future of our
profession. You know who you are.
(The names in this article have been redacted).