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Shrinks Have Very Unusual Quirks

Posted Jan 08 2009 4:34pm

Dr. Steve's office suite is a U-shaped space in a very busy part of New York City. It's on a high floor in a skyscraper that gives great views of the surrounding areas and, because it has so many windows throughout, it's easy to see across Manhattan in various directions.

Dr. Steve's personal space is located in the center of the U, simply because it's the biggest. He uses devices like his workspace and years of experience to justify his unusually large fee. My space is significantly smaller and I'm sure he's secretly laughing at me for my modest digs.

Recently I noticed that, when I'm in the lounge area of the suite at the top of the U, I can see through one window into Dr. Steve's office. I'm not entirely sure why I didn't recognize this before, although it's quite possible that subconsciously I just don't want to have to look at his smug face anymore than necessary. The view into his space is confined to simply his chair, so I can't see whom he is speaking to, but sure enough just at the moment I caught glimpse of his therapist's chair, Steve was sitting down to begin a session.

Therapists refer clients to colleagues all of the time. Whether it be due to scheduling conflicts, lack of expertise in a particular diagnosis or a client's request (e.g., I'd like to work with a female therapist, do you know of anyone?), it's common to send clients to other providers for services. When this happens often clients will ask, "Is he a good therapist?" No matter what anyone tells you, the only true answer is "I don't know." The reality is that, due to the confidential nature of our work, shrinks rarely, if ever, see other shrinks actually working. We can only make inferences based on the way they conduct themselves outside of the treatment room. And even if I were to take an exit poll of every client leaving a colleague's office, the therapy relationship is so personal that there's simply no way to know if that therapist would be a good match for the person who is asking the question.

With that in mind I peered into the window to study Steve a bit more closely. Aside from the fact that the window was filthy and that I can't read lips I was hoping to perhaps get a glimpse into how Steve conducts himself with actual patients. He nodded a lot, which all of us in the field do. He scratched his chin as well, the way Freud did. He even smiled once which, given Steve's cranky nature, was probably because the topic of his newly increased fee came up.

At that point Steve reached over the side of his chair, presumably to pick up a cup of coffee. It's poor form to eat in front of clients but many of us will sometimes have a beverage on hand. But when Steve returned to his natural sitting position, he wasn't holding a glass or mug; rather, a 2-Liter bottle of Diet Pepsi. It looked particularly huge in his small hands. Thinking that he would be pouring it into a paper cup or glass, he surprised me further by simply chugging it straight from the bottle, without a trace of self-consciousness. It was as if he treated those family-sized bottles as his own personal allowance of cola for that session.

I watched further as he continued to drink from the bottle every few minutes. When he stood up to walk the still invisible patient to the door, I realized it was 45 minutes later and the bottle was empty. Steve just tossed the plastic into the trash, a symbolic middle finger to the recycling community.

I've mentioned my own quirks and I'm sure I have plenty of others of which I'm not aware. However the last time I checked I wasn't slurping down colossal bottles of Pepsi like a horse with a feedbag attached to its face. And the strangest part about it is that Steve is the last person I would imagine would engage in such gauche behavior. He prides himself on his impeccable office space, his luxury automobile and his tailored clothes. Is Steve some type of interpersonally awkward freak behind the therapy door? Unless I get some unusually impressive explanation (e.g., the Pepsi has magical therapy powers that only emerge if you drink right from a gigantic bottle), that's what I'm going to assume from now on.

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