Monday, May 05, 2008


You know how it is. You're at a dinner, seated with people who kind of know you, but don't really know you, and you don't know them.

Like last week. I'm at a wedding. The woman to my left asks me, So how did you get to be at the cousins' table?

Um, I'm the groom's cousin? His mother is my first cousin?

We had this same conversation at the last family wedding about six months ago. You can't make this stuff up, seriously.

Anyway, if people don't know exactly who you are or what you're up to, you have the social advantage and can make up virtually anything you want when they ask, What do you do?
I sell flowers.
Therapists can have a little trouble leaving work at the office, so we try to keep our conversations outside of work manageable.

The truth is that I don't mind working when not officially working. Sometimes, maybe more often than I care to admit, it seems there really is no turning off the therapist inside. So why try? Without proffering advice, we all see the wheels spinning.

It's sort of like being an off-duty policeman. The cop isn't going to watch someone bleeding and not intervene, if only to get an ambulance. Our professional boundaries only go so far.

It's irresistible, I think, when we're intimate with people, especially professionals, to discuss personal things, the things that simply go on in life, more so if they bother us.

Therapists, medical doctors, lawyers, sportscasters, virtually everyone is fair game for professional boundary violations. We're going to go after opinions from the experts. My brother, a doctor, will be sitting at a restaurant and someone will stop by his table and literally unbutton his shirt.

FD can't make it through a morning religious service without a member of the congregation asking him a medical question. And those are relatively short services. He's often interrupted at the most inconvenient times. They should only know.

And yet we say that violating boundaries is really a So what? So people ask professionals for free advice. Really, we don't care that much. It's the time we're jealous about. Make it a quickie.

What prompted this post, ironically, is the idea that professionals also steal time. In someone else's office, we're all captives.

Take an open mouth in the dentist's chair, for example. Or an exposed leg at a podiatrist's. We're in compromising positions (think pap smear). Or there are funny electrodes attached to our chests. Because we're waiting for the doc, he can get whatever else he needs or wants accomplished on our time.

And for some of us, that might mean finding someone to talk to. If a doc hasn't seen me in a long time, he feels he has every right to tell over his entire life story before giving my chart a second thought.

And I'm in that stupid gown, let's not forget.

But it's fun catching up. Life is one big soap opera, you know.

No question it's the time thing that's most annoying, especially if a person is used to saying,
Oh, I'm so sorry. Those 45 minutes are up. See you next week.
And yet someone like me won't want to cut short the doctor who might be doing surgery on me someday. Let him talk about his vacation if he needs to talk. I want him happy and grounded and ready to work when he puts on those gloves.

I left an appointment with a doctor today really late, narrowly missing a parking ticket. In my head this should have been a 15 minute visit but it's gone over an hour. I see the meter flash red and a policeman making a U-turn. Luckily, I get out of there fast enough, avoid the ticket. I check my phone at the stop light, read a text message from FD:
I text back:
He just stopped talking. I should be there soon.
Driving fast (for me) I make all the lights. My guy is in the car moments later. He's smiling.

"Who charged who?" he laughs. And without waiting for an answer, "You have to write about this. Therapist held captive. Escapes."

It's always this way. (I'm making all of this up, okay? Don't spleen me). Waiting for a dentist to tell me the names of every person he saw at a benefit that I shouldn't have missed. Or perched on the exam table, legs dangling, waiting for a tennis elbow cortisone shot as the orthopedist fills me in on the details for the funeral for his dog.

Or at the beauty parlor, where it's supposed to be the other way around, when I'm supposed to be the one to do all the talking and she's supposed to be the confidante, I get the update on the drug problems of my stylist's fiancé.

Would I have it any other way?

No, guess not. But I do like those dinners when I can say that I'm a legal secretary for all anyone knows or cares. Or that I track animals for the Department of Forestry in Morton Grove. Or I teach meditation or better yet, yoga. Even if it's all in my head.

copyright 2008, therapydoc


Jay said...

I'd rather be asked for advice than listen to a series of complaints about the general incompetence or arrogance of doctors. Not that I disagree about the incompetence and arrogance, but I get tired of hearing about it and implicitly blamed for it.

cordeliadarwin said...

hahaha...I direct political statehouse campaigns. During this tirelessly long Presidential primary, I have been tempted to tell people who ask what I do that I demonstrate power tools at Sears.

A different twiston it...people do not share their challenges with me; they tell me what is wrong with what I to do it better...and assume that I am far more engaged in national elections than I am.

Fun post. Thanks.

Doreen Orion said...

When people find out I'm a shrink, they invariable ask, "So, have you been analyzing me this entire time?" My stock answer is, "Why? Do you think if I were a proctologist I'd want to look up your butt?"

Charlane said...

I just came across your blog. I must say it is enjoyable..thanks for blogging. I have a BSW and a MSW but went in to high-tech start-up social work. ha!



porcini66 said...

Hey there! I agree, fun blog! I am a chef and so, like you, subject to eternal curiosity about what I do. Seems like no matter where I go, who I am with or what I am doing, folks wanna know about how to season this, what should go with that, how do you do THIS??

Oh, and my very favorite, is "Do you watch Hell's Kitchen????" and "Is Gordon Ramsay for R E A L????". Yup. He is.

Passion runs deep in all professions I think. Although I get tired of talking about food on occasion, most times, I am eternally grateful that I have found something that brings me joy while it brings joy to others.

Seems like you have gotten that lucky too. Have a great night! peg

porcini66 said...

I am not in your field, but fall prey to the same "need" that people assign to you! I am a chef. How many times have I been stopped:

How do you cook this?

What would you serve with this?

How do you chefs make everything TASTE so good?

Would you cater my son's wedding for free?

Or, my favorite, do you watch Hell's Kitchen????? Is Gordon Ramsay REALLY like that???? (Yes, he is, sort of.)

I have to admit, there are times when I, too, am tempted to say that I sell flowers. Or am a therapist (there's an element of that in ANY kitchen - definitely a part of being "in the industry").

Truth is, though, that I am happy to get those questions! How grateful I am that people are actually INTERESTED in what I do! That my profession has such a mystique about it. How lucky I am that I have found my passion and get to engage in it daily. Not many can say that.

Seems like you can though and I am glad that you share it with us. p

therapydoc said...

You're a chef!!! Have you got a good recipe for . . .

therapydoc said...

You guys should see Charlane's website. You're amazing, C.