The good news is we therapists are life-long learners.
Stick with me and I’ll give you 7 tips on avoiding common occupational hazards, AKA Headshrinker-Shenanigans, when in the midst of friends, family, and neighbors. Even if Bob up the block is one creepy-ass wack job worthy of your diagnostic brilliance.
I’m assuming you’re good at what you do in the therapy room. But what happens when you step off the couch?
And you leave the couch…right?
If social invitations are fewer and far between–let’s face it, you’re kinda like the anxious client who repeats the same self-defeating behaviors and never feels calm.
Now how does that make you feel?
Therapists hold the proverbial mirror in front of clients to reflect their negative behaviors. I’m shining the light on my recent clinical malfeasance so you can avoid Freudian hell and hang out in heaven with Jung one day.
Setting: Portland, OR.
Date: July 5th, 2013
Time: I’m About to Be An Ass-O’Clock.
The World Domination Summit is the brainchild of Mr. Art of Non-Conformity, Chris Guillebeau. Since I’m a shrink on the brink, I figure this seminar is a great opportunity to find inspiration from the creatives, entrepreneurs, and life coaches.
I bring my 11 year old son for the exposure to adventure, community and service. We do not leave disappointed…
Wish I could say the same for one of the #WDS speakers I accost before the opening party at the Oregon Zoo.
Are you guilty of any of these seven deadly sins off the couch?
The one is huge.
Maybe even bigger than Freud’s fascination with all things phallic.
So Andrew Warner of mixergy.com fame approaches me and my son as we’re boarding the zoo bus. I recognize him as the entrepreneur who recently interviewed Corbett Barr, founder of Think Traffic and Fizzle.co. Because I’m a Fizzler it was fun to see Corbett outside the driver’s seat.
What he says: “Hi! I’m Andrew. Nice to meet you, Linda and Billy.”
What I hear: “Hi! I’m Andrew. And you look like a therapist. Whew! I was just thinking what I really need on this peaceful Friday evening before my talk in front of three thousand people is an analyst. That’s right–unless I get the answer as to why I feel guilty when someone buys me a drink at a networking event–a topic I so rudely perseverated on during Corbett’s interview–I don’t think I can deliver this weekend.”
Let the Shameless Psychological Games begin…
Tip: Just because you obtained an advanced degree, slogged through 3200 supervised hours, passed that (godforsaken) state licensing exam, “did time” at a community-based agency serving chronically mentally ill and homeless clients, and finally attained Private Practice status–does not grant you permission to psychoanalyze everyone in your wake.
2. Pretentious Lingo
It’s tempting to use fancy words like “projection” and “catastrophize,” but the research paper-itus vernacular rarely resonates outside the 50-minute hour.
What I wish I said: “Great interview with Corbett!”
(And walked the fuck away)
But no. I’m all in-your-face and impulsive like the 8-year old in need of his noon-time Ritalin, as I accuse Andrew of “perseverating.”
What happened: Near the end of their interview, Andrew mentions how he feels guilty at networking events when someone buys him a drink, or is generous with him.
He then asks if Corbett has any idea as to why. Corbett–Señor Solid, Wise, and Respectable Businessman stumbles a bit as he tries to make sense of where this is going. He crosses his arms and finally gives with, “I don’t know what to say.”
Yeah Andrew’s pressing…
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Tip: Don’t use a $10.00 word when a 5-cent word will do.
3. Answering the Questions You Wish They’d Ask
If your therapy clients don’t move as quickly as you’d like, you may be part of the problem.
Sure you’re nice and your digs Zen-like, but how sharp are your clinical chops?
…there’s a difference between feeling good and changing your life. Feeling accepted and validated by your therapist doesn’t push you to reach your goals. To the contrary, it might even encourage you to stay mired in dysfunction. Therapy sessions can work like spa appointments: they can be relaxing but don’t necessarily help solve problems. More than an oasis of kindness or a cozy hour of validation and acceptance, most patients need smart strategies to help them achieve realistic goals.
As Andrew’s therapist, I feel he needs less Buddha and more introspection to overcome his guilt issue.
“So tell me about your mother…”
Tip: Every problem has an answer. If you clients are not finding theirs, you may not be asking the right questions.
4. Misreading Body Language
Non-verbal language comprises around 70% of communication.
Just as Corbett crosses his arms across his chest to show discomfort about the guilt question, Andrew suddenly spots a (nearly invisible) tattoo through the t-shirt of a man seated in front of him.
The guy and his buddy are clearly impressed with the laser-like vision and perception.
The tat becomes “the get.”
Soon the bus arrives at the zoo, and me and the kid search for the Chendra, the baby elephant.
Tip: Read social cues to alert you when the therapy hour is up (assuming it began in the first place). Translation: When the big hand is on the chest and the little hand is on the chin of your hapless non-client, it’s Shut The Fuck Up- O’Clock.
5. Hasty Interpretations
One of the biggest pet peeves of clients is when therapists introduce an interpretation too early. Even if your name is Irving Yalom…
As me and my son take in the beautifully re-designed zoo, I spot Andrew chatting up a group of Tech-Bros. I naturally hijack their conversation. I then ask if I can have a word with Andrew because he’s seven and I’m his mom.
He graciously obliges. I apologize for being intrusive, and explain why I found his query interesting. I muster a semi-coherent example of how core beliefs from childhood play out in our adult lives.
Andrew nods his head in agreement. He’s surprisingly sweet and appreciative.
After a couple minutes we cordially end our conversation and part ways.
Tip: Clients will tell you when you’re not targeting the issues at hand. They may not do so directly, but here’s a hint: If they continue to bring up the same problem (or dodge you at the zoo) it’s time to kill the interpretations and switch course.
6. Self-Absorbed Prattling
(The part where Karma’s about to kick me in the ass)
“Self-absorbed prattling” (love you, Chase!) is when it’s all about me, me, me, me and ME!
Rather than bring value to the conversation, you blab on about your expertise, your credentials, and your kids.
Speaking of which…All this psychoanalysis is making Freud’s illegitimate great-great grandson hungry.
We scope out the bratwurst station, when lo and fuckin’ behold, who motions for us to cut in front of them in line? That’s right! The Cool Kids Cartel (Andrew’s tech-posse from #5).
Because this gesture is a clear sign they’re dying to know about “the conversation,” I regale them with the details. They’re all ears.
Or their parents raised them to be really convincing placaters.
As group therapy ends, me and the kid gather our food and walk toward the grassy dining area. All of a sudden, I spot a shiny object in the distance. The next minute I’m facepalmed, and the food and drink go flying.
“That’s my Mom!” said the soon-to-be middle-schooler never.
And just like that, my just desserts were served on a limping platter for the remainder of the weekend.
Tip: Mental health professionals are called upon in a variety of situations to help people get unstuck. But Holy Mother of God–you’re not the expert on anyone’s life, much less the poor person not paying for the privilege.
7. Forgetting the Psychologically Well
Spending hour after weary hour listening to people’s problems takes its toll. It’s easy to pathologize, and lose sight of the fact that most people are psychologically well.
The sinful tale ends here.
The sprained left ankle leaves me hobbling on crutches. At the end of Saturday’s events, I see Andrew and a pretty blond woman I assume is his wife.
I’m embarrassed when he looks our way. I pick up my crutches and prepare to make like Usain Bolt on one leg, but it’s too late. They come over and we’re introduced to lovely Olivia.
“This is the therapist who psychoanalyzed me yesterday. She said I was really handsome,” smiles Andrew.
“You are really handsome honey,” replies Olivia as she looks at me, not missing a beat. In that second I’m drawn to her because she’s cool and ethereal, and reminds me of my BFF Rachel.
“I said you had a great face,” I laugh.
“No. You said I was really handsome,” he insists (like I said, the guy knows his details).
The three of us joke about Andrew’s ill-fated attempt to psychoanalyze Chris Guillebeau during their earlier Q & A session (I’ll bet my license Chris and Corbett are bros in analysis-less-ness ).
And like the Boston-Terrier who just can’t let go, I end our session with one final interpretation.
At the conclusion of the infamous interview, Andrew asks if it was weird that he had invited Chase Reeves, Fizzle’s web designer (and co-founder, along with Caleb) for a scotch to discuss the possibility of Chase re-designing the mixergy.com website.
“Do you think you may have been trying to get a rise out of Corbett? Like on some level you wanted him to be jealous?” I probe.
“No. Not at all,” he answers convincingly.
“Fair enough. But do you think it’s possible that you were sending a message like, ‘Hey, Fizzle may be a hit, but baby–we’re still on a level playing field…’ ”
“Haha! I don’t know…maybe?” laughs a very gracious, handsome, and good-natured Andrew Warner. <–You rock, man!
(Love you too, Corbett)
And to all my lovely therapists in the house, I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing with you.
Analysis Paralysis and The Guilty Subconscious
You may wonder if guilt motivated me to write this.
It’s a huge theme in the therapy room, for sure. Especially for us Catholics.
~Am I trying to “undo” a deed?
~Kiss up to the Influencers?
~Earn Therapy Karma points?
~Avoiding punishment by the Catholic Church for my venial and mortal sins?
I wish I was that gracious and charitable.
The quick n’ dirty is I’m just trying to avoid acting like an ass in public again.
Enough of the self-involved prattling, what about you?
Got a therapist pet peeve, tip, or Deadly Sin #8?
Leave comments in the box below.
Yours in leaving Freud where he belongs!