Can they care?

In my session a few days ago, we were talking about how a therapist is a professional – all day long they listen and try to connect with their clients. I was saying I know it’s Ron’s job to listen to people like me, and I didn’t think he necessarily had to care in order to help. This is his job for goodness sake – how can you dredge up caring for every client at every hour of the day? As clients, we hope to be cared about as we tell our tales of sadness, pain and loss. But for the therapist, they see so many people, all day long – how can they be engaged all the time? Then the question becomes – well, if he’s not always engaged, is he engaged with me or not?

Ron said that it’s a bit of a paradox – although it is his job, the relationship he has with clients must be real, and that that is how emotional change happens. Otherwise he is dispensing advice, which might be useful sometimes but is limited.

So we are having a real relationship of a kind, according to this.

I keep thinking of the psychiatrist I saw years ago. He would yawn throughout our sessions. I remember he was concerned about his health (for good reason – he died a few years later of a heart complaint) and at the start of one of my sessions, he was on the phone for quite a while to a lab to get the ‘levels’ of his tests. All while I was sitting there in his office.

Once when I went to see him, I was having a stomach complaint, and meant to leave the office to visit the washroom. I didn’t make it, but stayed leaning against the wall of his office. This was around the corner from his desk, so the psych didn’t see me there. He was instantly on the phone to his travel agent, finalizing some details for his vacation. I then pretended to come back in and didn’t allude to what had happened.

He also loved to talk about himself, and would spend good portions of our sessions doing that.

I guess I’m remembering this very vividly because that was my previous experience of a male therapist.  Ron is so different. He doesn’t yawn. He really focuses on me. Even when I made a comment about the art in his office, he turned it around and asked if art was a big part of my life.

My opinion now about the psych was that he was burned out, but the money was too good to quit. And he believed that the solution for his clients was jollying them along, plus finding the right medications to straighten out our brains. If that’s what you believe, what motivation is there to go through the difficulty and stress of actually connecting with your clients?

I’m mad at myself now that I stayed with this psych so long. I did feel I had no other choices. And he was a doctor – who was I to disagree? I kind of think now that doctors may actually be the worst therapists – their whole experience of success in getting through all that schooling that favored those who had analytical and memorization skills – what does that have to do with figuring out how to connect with those of us who weren’t successful, who are not like them…

I’m glad I’m in a different place in my life now. Having some money means I get to choose who I see, when I see them. Because I pay quite a bit for every session, I get to consider carefully if the therapy is doing me much good. At the moment, I feel respected and heard in therapy. It’s a whole different ball game.

  1. cbtish said:

    I would say it's partly professional technique, to create a frame of mind in which personal concerns and distractions are put aside, and responding to the client is the only important thing. Then the rest happens naturally. Once those concerns and distractions are switched off, a real relationship happens all by itself.Your phrase "dredge up caring" is quite the wrong way to think of it, in my opinion. What happens is that each client evokes caring. The client is doing the work, and the therapist is just responding. It's not usually as hard on the therapist as you might think, and for those times when it does get hard the therapist has a supervisor to turn to.Yes, doctors are trained to have a different professional frame of mind in which their expert knowledge is the most important thing. Some doctors do learn how to create a therapeutic alliance, but many don't bother.

  2. diver said:

    "How can you dredge up caring for every client at every hour of the day …"Hi Ellen. Interesting question. I think the trick is to care 'in the moment' then let it go asap after the consultation. Maybe there's also a difference between an 'analytical' kind of caring and a 'personal/emotional' kind of caring? The latter sounds to me more like parenting than counseling. I'd agree with you that that 'paternal' sort of caring would indeed be very hard to sustain, client after client, day after day …

  3. Paula said:

    During trauma therapy I enjoyed often the warmth and care of my therapists. Yes, it is a sort of therapist client relation which is necessary to learn and grow. I received emotional nourishment which I didnt get as child. Being nourished and understood helped me to learn how to nourish and comfort myself. This again led to more trust in myself and made me feel more integrated. Personally I wouldnt waste energy on this former psychiatrist. Reflecting that you are now in a better place – yes, but wasting energy for being annoyed at yourself – no go for me. This energy can be used for a more positive way. In my eyes you think a hell of a lot HOW he will deals what he hears every day. That is his business and that of his supervisor. Your business is to care for your wellbeing, and his for his. Have a great start into the weekend.

  4. Ellen said:

    @ cbtish – What an interesting way of explaining this, thank you. I never thought of the client as 'evoking the caring', but I can kind of picture what you mean. Good to hear the perspective from the other side of the couch. @ diver – That's an interesting distinction between personal vs analytical caring….Maybe that's the root of what I'm trying to understand. Cheers@ Paula – I'd say it's really helpful to think your T cares, as you say happened for you. The thing about the old psych – starting therapy is bringing up those old emotions about him for me, and I don't really have control over that. Yes, I need to let it go, but I'm going to need to feel it first. It was humiliating to have someone yawn through their sessions with me…Now I'm trying to trust that this new person doesn't think I'm a bore. What can you do. Hopefully I will soon forget him. Thanks for the comment!

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