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Friday, December 15, 2006

Empathy

This is the same as the first post, but because my server, Blogger, has changed over to a new format, that post, along with several others, seems to have entirely disappeared! So have all of the comments. Am I upset? Well, sure.

You feel better.

I take it home with me (to a point).

You've left it in my office (to a point). If I’m in the “right” place, I've left it there, too.

That is the ticket for therapy docs. This is the best way to go.

I used to tell people that this is also the essence of therapy, this is why it works. The process sounds very simple and it is.

But as a systems thinker, and one who doesn't like to feel bad, I prefer to take the process a step farther, higher, if you will. If a person has suffered a trauma and a therapist can help just by listening, how much more powerful to bring in family members, to extend the dilution of anxiety, anger and angst.

I even hung up a homemade poster (Margo made it before the days when I’d have to pay her serious money to design something for me-- just kidding, honey, you're the best),

Share the Anxiety

That was based upon the idea that if you give over some of your negative emotion, then you’ll lose a little and your partner, or the sharee, will get some. It is one of the reasons that family therapy is therapeutic.

Theoretically, if a patient shares the anxiety or sadness with someone else, then a therapy doc will ultimately feel less of the angst. Yeah, I know, you're paying me to feel it, but that's not the point, not at all.

Not everyone has that kind of support, someone ELSE to listen, of course, so individual therapy will never go out of style and will always serve a valuable function in society, even if one day it is all done somehow with a web cam.

But this suggestion, that the patient also share with another, can fall flat because the "other" may not WANT to feel bad. That "other" may be tired of listening to sad, bad thoughts and emotions.

So I tell the "other" that like a therapist, when we hear other people's problems (OPP) that we really only hold onto them for a little while. The problem holder is still stuck with most of it.

"Others", partners, parents, friends, therapists who do hold onto stuff too long end up seeing a therapy doc to work on “boundary issues.”

Where do you begin and where do you end, where do I begin and where do I end? Always a crazy hard question.

If I have really good empathy skills, meaning I’m good at putting myself in your proverbial shoes, then I not only feel your pain, but I transcend the feeling thing and even enter your thoughts, your explanations, your visualizations, your defenses.

Ensign Troy of Star Trek fame, move over.

So having good empathy skill is being able to connect with others. But it’s not ANALYZING others at all. It's not intellectualizing in order to fix something.

My mother, for example, might think that I didn’t call her one night because I found her uninteresting. She’d be analyzing my behavior from her own self-doubt. (It’s just an example, friends, absolutely nothing to do with reality, she knows she's cool, at least we hope so.)

Empathy in such an example would be her really knowing that I’m tired of talking and listening to others, am involved in my writing, might be watching television or downloading songs, playing around with film editing or whatever, and Time just zipped away from me. She’d be seeing me in her head doing these things, based upon real data, empirical information about my habits.

That’s the boundary we’re talking about here. Empathy is leaving your own self behind. It’s all about the other. She wouldn't be adding things like her own self-doubts. It's just an example, people.

So to review.

You dish out the graphic details.

My brain incorporates them, is traumatized by them, meaning I get the picture. I feel the picture.

You have shared images. Now we both have them. Yours is a teeny, tiny bit less emotionally upsetting, less clear even. Mine could never be as upsetting or as clear as yours, not ever. I wasn’t there when your trauma occurred in real time. I have no sensory data other than the visual imagery I created based upon your narrative.

So you will always win out if you share your trauma (especially since the research indicates that the brain does have a better chance of desensitizing if a person repeatedly revisits traumatic events).

Bottom line? If you’re going to be a therapist then you had better have a certain type of cable television working in the brain. You’d better have lots of channels and the ability to switch channels. You’ll also need a good sense of self, too, good boundaries. You have to know where you leave off and others begin. That means that you are able to say to yourself, what’s in my mind now is really not my stuff; I don’t really need to think about it now, and turn it off.

Meaning you’ll have to leave people’s troubles at the office, as best you can.

But you don’t get to have the most interesting job in the world without paying a price. You’re going to get dirty in this job and you won’t like it.

But if you remember that what you’re feeling is only a fraction of what your patient is feeling, is only a hint of the patient’s pain, then connecting like that with people not only does them good, but it enhances your worth as a “helping” professional.

You won’t burn out, either, and have to go into real estate, which may be fun but can never, ever be as cool.

Thanks. I just had to get that off my chest.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc

2 comments:

Debi said...

some good thoughts. I have been working as a pastoral counselor for 4 years now at a faith based counseling center in my town and there are days where I switch the channel really effectively, and days where I dream about clients....

On a side note, I just found your blog recently when looking for some help with closing out family therapy sessions, and your link came up. I'm finding some great insight as well as humor to keep it all in perspective. Thanks!

therapydoc said...

Thanks Debi!