A Woman without Excuses

Joana Marín working at home. / SADIE COLE

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While Joana Marín Fuste is an exemplary therapist, her professional identity is not the only one at which he succeeds.

Pen in hand, red square-shaped glasses matching her red lipstick, four beaded bracelets on one wrist, a gold watch on the other and a wedding ring on her left hand – Joana sits upright with her arms politely folded over one another. She’s prepared for any question, always ready to combat it with a confident answer.

Joana is 67 and lives in a spacious two storied apartment in Plaza de San Leandro in the heart of Seville. “I wake up, I eat breakfast, and I go to work,” she says in a matter-of-fact voice. “I leave behind my duties as the woman of the house – preparing for meals and everything.” She leaves her house for the whole day, not coming back until night time.

Joana walks a familiar 40-minute walk from her house to her clinic across the river, located in the neighborhood of Los Remedios. The space where she holds her psychology practice was once the home where she raised her four children: Centro de Psicología Clínica y de la Salud. Her first appointment begins at 10:30 am and the last will end at 9:30 pm. She takes a short break at 12:30 pm, but not for herself. This time is dedicated to meeting with the Center’s team of psychologists and interns from the School of Psychology. These clinic sessions are intended to debating difficult cases while sharing experiences and knowledge. They are a formative activity.

“My work requires a lot of concentration and attention. You have to think, ‘what can I do to help this person?’”

After she sees her last patient, Joana walks back home.

“When I come back at night, I am tired. While I am working, I don’t notice any fatigue. I work, I work, and I work. Without needing coffee of CocaCola; I don’t need anything. My work keeps me alive.”

Joana says this humbly, not looking to receive praise. She believes in what she does and never uses her age or gender as an excuse. To relax after a long day at work, Joana watches an episode of the historical period drama, The Secret of the Old Bridge, reads and goes to sleep. One night she will read a historical novel, and the next, an article recently published in a psychology journal. She always keeps up to date with the current findings regarding her profession.

Next to Joana, on the armoire sitting in the entryway to her apartment, sits a perfectly organized pile consisting of a book, The Adventure of the Brain, with a pink, orange and yellow sticky note all poking out clearly marking pages worth importance to Joana. Underneath the book sit two different pads of note-paper covered with black ink of Joana’s cursive handwriting. And finally, on top, Joana’s sticky note collection – orange, yellow, blue, pink and green in every shape and size.

“I have very good organization. I control the clock. The clock does not control me. This, I have to say in my favor,” she explains with pride of a trait that was especially necessary while raising four children, taking care of household duties, being a dedicated wife and going back to school to get her psychology degree. When Joana was 38 and her four kids had already entered university, she decided to return to school as well.

“I wasn’t satisfied only doing the chores of the house. I had other ambitions.”

She not only wanted to go back to school for herself, but also for her children. “I wanted my children and I to be able to talk as equals. I didn’t want to be an old-fashioned mother. In the first place always came my children, even though I would have to dedicate the last moment of the day to study. I would take them to all of their activities: their music classes, ballet, horse-back riding lessons, to every possible thing in order to open doors for them.”

Joana came to Seville when she was 22 to marry her husband, Raúl. “My boyfriend told me, ‘look, we are going to get married, come here.’ So… I came,” she says reflecting back on the choice she made years ago. “I had always wanted to get married at the Monastery of Monserrat in Barcelona, because in Catalonia, Monserrat is just the best, the most beautiful. But no. My boyfriend said no, no. Come here and we will marry in the ‘Ermita del Rocío, in Almonte,’” she continues, chuckling to herself. Joana left her life in the northeast of Spain, where she spoke Catalan with her family, and came to the south to start her own. The year after the wedding, at 23, Joana had Rocío. The following year came Ruth, one year later Raúl and then, her last child, Luis. Each one of them has lived a unique life: Rocío studied Veterinary, Luis Architecture, and Raúl and Ruth Law. While Joana did have her husband’s help in raising their four children, she laughs lovingly thinking back on his contribution, “My husband has been the kind of man…” she pauses for a moment searching her brain for the correct word, “a good person but has been a bit… well… the prototype of men from his time. Generally, he would dedicate himself to work and bring money home. The rest of the responsibilities fell on me. Raúl has four children and seven grandchildren and has never changed a diaper.”

Joana does not pity herself or look for an applause. Those years were filled with excitement and fond memories; they were not difficult. When she went back to school, not only did she never miss a single of her children’s activities, she was also fully committed to all of her own academic activities. “I never missed a class.”

Joana finished her psychology degree at the University of Seville and went on to complete an internship at the Hospital Universitario Macarena, where her professor Dr. Alfonso Blanco Picabia gave her an important vote of confidence. One day he asked her, “Joana, you want to do internships at a hospital, but remember that you have four children and you can’t miss a day.” Joana, of course, responded without skipping a beat, “don’t worry, I will succeed in this internship.” And she did not miss a single day.

Joana believes that she was destined to be a mother and that she was destined to be a psychologist. “I studied psychology because when I was a little girl, I would listen at my mother’s store (a small supermarket) to the conversations she would have with her customers. She would always talk to them about their problems and their dramas, about their families. It is because of that that I studied psychology. It was completely vocational; nobody told me I had to do it. I was predisposed to do it.”

Not only did her mother’s store inspire her life path, but so did her mother herself, Maria. A feminist of her era, Joana’s mother separated from her husband at a time when divorce was illegal in Spain and women suffered severe moral impositions in a country heavily influenced by the Catholic church. Maria’s fight transcended down to Joana and continued down to Joana’s daughter, Ruth, who is a professor of Constitutional Law and devotes much of her energy to gender issues.

Joana knows she still has time and plans to use it to her greatest ability. Her husband is retired, and she admits that she could be too. But laughs at the idea, “Am I going to do anything that I like more that my profession? I don’t have an alternative than is more appealing to me.”

As a therapist, Joana does not solely rely on her natural ability to communicate and help people. She always has more to learn. Joana and her team practice the Cognitive Behavioral paradigm, which emphasizes that individuals can learn new forms of interpreting life events, eliminating mental frameworks they have incorporated through culture and that configure their dysfunctional way of interpreting reality, with little capacity to adapt themselves. “We give patients guidelines so that their ‘wise’ mind prevails over their rational and emotional minds. It is a true pedagogy so that their life becomes more comfortable.” Though with her years of experience, Joana has incorporated her own personal adaptations. Emphasizing the fact that she uses imagination when practicing, Joana explains. “If you have knowledge of different therapies, imagination allows you to apply them to each concrete individual. You always follow a protocol you know works well, but you personalize the therapy. It is a matter of scientific preparation, of knowledge and of imagination.” With time, Joana has acquired a reputation that has even allowed her to treat as patients some of her professors from university, to whom she has helped with as much humility as pride.

Joana can never remember dates or the age she was when she went through a milestone. Not because her memory is poor, but because age is not significant to her. She went back to school at 38 and never felt out of place because of her age. She got along well with her peers and never felt less appreciated for being the oldest. She actually won the symbolic award “Favorite Fellow;” given to her by her peers in school.

“I have two strong passions in my life: my children and psychology. It brings me happiness to help people. But I help myself at the same time doing something I believe is good.” Unlike many mothers who let their children control their professional life or let their professional life control their home-life, Joana keeps the balance with energy and enthusiasm.

“In opening doors for my children, I never wanted to imply that I was closing doors for myself.” •