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Monday, August 24, 2015


I will keep you in my prayers, that you will be a blessing to your patients, and they to you.

I have reflected a lot in recent years on my own petulance at this time of year as summer winds down but I have almost always had no vacation, been working flat out all summer, while advertising everywhere and (seemingly) everyone else is playing, going on vacation. And then fall arrives with a whole new mountain of work. The source of MY petulance is that I am so formed by the academic calendar and the months of summer vacation of my youth in which to rest, explore, read, go places, anything but work. One always came back to work or school refreshed and eager to meet new people, etc. Of course that summer vacation is really all about releasing kids to help with agricultural labor....

When I worked in ministry, one had to work the absolute hardest at all the times that the media and popular culture and all one's friends and relatives were celebrating and relaxing. Christmas? Easter? Relaxing parish social events were huge amounts of work so stressful. I remember not even being able to go to the grocery story and be cranky to one of my kids (whining at me for candy) without a parishioner popping up. Life on display. However, that was extremely fulfilling work and one felt useful, so one put up with always being on display and on call.

My current day job is in an organization where we are told when we aren't allowed to take time off (June July and part of August) because of work load, and kept twisting in the wind as to whether we will be allowed to take an extra day or two at Thanksgiving or Easter or Christmas, based on when other people in the office ask. So vacation is fraught, and we seldom are allowed to take a long enough one to make a real difference, even when we have many weeks built up.

Based on what you said, I'm imagining a lot of nervous energy and all of that focussing on you. And the proverbial business of how desperately important a therapist is to a person (whatever the circumstances of the therapy) and the lopsidedness of the relationship. So the therapist is the recipient of all those intense emotions, ambivalence, fear, hope, curiosity, perhaps resistance, whatever. Without in any way wishing to insult the patients, I'm thinking of a shelter with a bunch of rescue dogs trembling and gobbling up the first good meal any of them have had in ages, warm and dry in their cages. And the attendant walks in to check on them, and assess them, and talk to them, and perhaps begin to nurse their wounds and soothe their anxiety by stroking them and talking kindly to them. Some will bark, some will snarl, some will cringe, some will frantically wag and look endearing. But the one thing all will have in common is intent attention on that attendant. No individual dog is as important to the attendant as that person is to each and every rescue. I am NOT saying that patients are dogs, just a metaphor for the imbalance in the relationship, and hence how exhausting all those expectations must be if you take on a whole bunch at once. Because normally you would take on people on every so often...

Free associating to another animal illustration: one of my children's favourite storybooks from a German family friend was "Leo the Lion". Every analyst should study it closely. :) In a memorable scene, Leo the lonely lion who always feels on the outside in a dark and lonely street looking in lighted windows on others who are loved (cats on laps, people happy together), looks desperately for someone who wants him. At one point he goes to the zoo where he finds a grumpy zookeeper who says "Well I suppose one lion more or less won't make a difference" (or words to that effect). Leo doesn't want to be one lion more or less. He wants to be someone's one and only. Just as all patients at some point fantasise about being your only patient...It's a lovely fable, and a good one to give certain patients to read. Tho not one from Africa as they might be offended by the sappy anthropomorphized lion, given the terrible harm some lions do to people in Africa. Better for Europeans and Americans and Latin Americans IMHO...

Thanks R. In my ideal world, I'd see one or two new people a week until my schedule fills, but the academic calendar doesn't allow that. I imagine the situation is similar at many university counseling services, though thinking back 25 years, when I was at one of the state universities, I don't recall the rush being quite so intense at the beginning of the year. Perhaps that's changed.

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