I have a friend who works for a company that is very much in the news, these days- and not in a good way. My friend has learned, he tells me, not to mention in social situations where he works. When he does, he finds himself the center of a group that wants to tell him a thing or two, as if he were the CEO, instead of a working guy. Not much fun.
Psychotherapists can relate, as they say- or at least this one can. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve told a stranger, at a party or waiting in a line, what I do, only to have the person get a strained look, roll her eyes or just move away a little, maybe making a little joke about it. Some people, clearly, are uncomfortable, finding themselves in the company of a psychotherapist- especially if they’ve been talking with me for awhile. I wonder why.
I think they think I can see into them, somehow. We’ve all got secrets, stuff we don’t want anybody to know, stuff we don’t want to know, ourselves. We’ve got stuff we don’t want to think about, stuff we think we can’t think about, stuff for which we think we can never be forgiven. We’ve all got stuff.
Most of the time, we walk around with that stuff safely shoved away- ‘way, ‘way down, in the back of our mental closet. Out of sight, out of mind. We’re safe. But, here’s this guy who, maybe, can see our stuff, whether we want him to or not. Maybe he can read our face or our body language or something we accidentally said, and then be able to see us. Danger. Shields up!
It doesn’t help that therapists have that look. You know the one I mean: that Look, as if they already know about your secrets and they forgive you and like you, anyway. That knowing look, full of unconditional positive regard, whether you want it or not.
Here’s what I want to tell you, honestly: I’m not working. Unless you do something absolutely outrageous that can’t be ignored, I’m going to treat you pretty much like anybody else would treat you, because I’m off duty, as it were, and I really don’t want to start poking around in your psyche. That’s work, and I’m not at work. I love my work, but I’m not doing that, now. What I’m doing is eating my sandwich or drinking my beer and thinking my own thoughts and, honestly, hoping you won’t start telling me your problems- unless that’s what we’ve agreed to do.
Some half baked opinions and observations may float through my mind, but I’ve been a therapist for a long time, and I know better than to make a judgment, or come to some conclusion about you, based on what I’m noticing. I’m not Sherlock Holmes; I’m not going to start reeling off a string of startlingly accurate facts about you, based on my observation of your shirt cuffs and pocket watch. I might find you interesting as a person, and if I do I’ll ask some questions, just like anybody else. Hopefully, you will, too, and we’ll get to know each other better.
Given my stated reluctance to reveal what I do, it’s ironic that the marketing mavens advise that I never miss an opportunity to identify myself as a psychotherapist. Never can tell, they say. True, and sometimes I’ll do that, but I have mixed feelings about it. If it does come up, do me a favor, will you? Relax. Just be yourself. I like you already.
Thanks, and be well.