There is a stereotype of a therapist, psychologist, or maybe even a life coach that conjurs up the image of a long-winded, “I Feel Your Pain”, pseudo-empathic character. Or perhaps it feels less “confrontational” to be oblique rather than blunt. Well, there has been a time or two when I have been caught using psychology fluffy-speak…..
So my girlfriend and I were driving from Michigan to Arizona where I was about to take my first job out of graduate school. Our second overnight stop was in Shamrock, Texas, a dusty little town on the Texas panhandle. After a long day of travel, we collapsed into bed; it had been a grueling day. However, just as I was drifiting off to sleep, my friend hissed, “Ann, something just crawled across my foot!” to which I replied, ” Go to sleep. You’re nuts.” But she persisted, “No I am serious!” We went back and forth several times with her insisting that something was in her bed and me dispelling any possibility of it. Rather than get out of bed and check her story, I finally replied, “Martha, I believe that you believe that something is in your bed….” Well, that made her rear up in bed and exclaim, “STOP THAT PSYCHOLOGY CRAP WITH ME!!! SOMETHING IS IN MY BED!” ….. (At the end, I will tell you whether something was in her bed or not…)
Fast forward 20 years…. One day, I was called to perform a swallowing evaluation on a patient in the Geriatric Psych Unit at United Hospital. I buzzed myself in through several security doors and found my patient, a hunched over elderly gentleman being fed by a hip, and rather handsome young black man. I settled into a chair to observe the usual swallowing variables when suddenly the patient sat up straight in his chair and exclaimed in a petrified voice, “I’m dead! I’m dead! I’m gone! Oh my God, I’m dead!” Summoning up my best fluffy therapist-speak, I began, “Oh sir, look around, see these nice nurses…” Before I could get too far with that, the hip fellow interjected, “NO MAN! You still here! You having lunch!” To which the elderly gentleman replied, “Oh. Ok,” and immediately he calmed down. Problem solved. Therapist stunned at the effectiveness of keeping it simple. Bottom lining it, as we say in life coaching.
So of course, it pays to monitor oneself in the helping professions making sure empathy is sincere and feedback is as simple as it can be.
*I promised to divulge whether or not there was something in Martha’s bed… there was… a Texas cockroach the size of a salt shaker! Blech!