Over twenty years ago, I went to a therapist who worked for a very popular HMO in the Bay Area. Times weren't flush, so I saved a huge bundle by going to this fellow, handing over my ten dollars instead of 80. The idea of bargain hunting for one's mental health is pretty damn bizarre, but I didn't have a choice at that point. My then husband and I were raising two children and teaching, and anything extra usually went toward food or something for the kids.
In any case, I was anxious and suffering from periodic panic. You know, the kind that makes you feel like you've just stuck your finger in the closest electrical socket. So I called the intake social worker and later headed out to the HMO to be--as I hoped--cured.
The reasons for some folk going into the mental health professions still boggles my mind. This therapist was as dry as toast, about as juicy as a raisin. He didn't smile, he didn't lean forward when I spoke. He made me feel that I was absolutely ridiculous for having panic attacks. For goodness sake, all was well in my life! I'd just been hired full time at my college. My children were happy and healthy, my husband was kind AND had a job. Put on, as they say, your big girl panties and shut up.
But here's the worst thing that happened at that visit. He had a radical new treatment plan, one where during the middle of a session--you know, the point where you are sobbing uncontrollably and blowing snot into your sleeve--where he took a "time out."
"It's the time," he said, "for me to consider your situation."
And with that, snot and all, I went out into the hall and sat in a plastic chair while he thought about what to do with me.
Now, isn't that convenient? Just when things start to hit the fan, off goes the patient into the hallway. For a moment, I imagined him throwing back a shot of gin. Or calling his wife. Or reading the newspaper. Was he really sitting in there reading over my chart?
What a stupid idea. I mean, truly. Think about applying it to other intense moments. A big fight, for one. "Hey, Michael," I would say. "I know we are talking about your ex wife and your mortgage and your job, but I need a time out. I'm going to go into the living room to consider my next statement."
Or during a race of any kind. Or during a dinner out with a friend. Or in the classroom. "Kids," I would say. "I need to think about my pedagogy for about ten minutes. Talk amongst yourselves."
The time for a time out is before the moment you need one. If you ask a patient into the room, be prepared to keep her there for her full 50 minute session. Listen to her in that moment. Yes, yes, I am sure there are good reasons to stop something intense and leave the room. Before you stab someone with a pen or something of that violent nature. But not when someone is looking at you, wanting help or information or affirmation or assistance.
"You want me to sign your book?" I say to a reader holding a book out to me. "Sorry, come back in ten minutes. I need to take a time out to contemplate my inscription."
I thought of this man this morning when I lay in bed deciding to get up. Frankly, I don't remember the treatment options he gave me because they didn't really work, whatever they were. I'm feeling so good, so happy, and have for years now. And I should forgive this man and his silly ways. But I want to go back to him and whisper in his ear as he looks at the 27 year old woman in front of him. Tell him to listen, let her talk, let her cry. Don't tell her how she should feel. And don't, for god's sake, lead her out of the office and close the door behind her.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org