Even at my age, a shout out in a venerable old newspaper is incredible validation.
Even at my age, a shout out in a venerable old newspaper is incredible validation.
Available for preorder (Seal Press and on-line booksellers). A new anthology that will be a great addition to the libraries of therapists and therapees alike.
Ever wonder about the process of therapy? You know how it affects you (hopefully well, and hopefully you’ve thought about it) but ever wonder what we, the therapists, might be experiencing? Well here you go. Thirty-five of us writers from both sides of the couch reveal, with candid narrative, the complications of these uniquely intimate relationships.
I was excited to write a piece for this book, but I admit I entered the process with some trepidation. There are rules and boundaries to consider, there is the fear that revealing too much about myself will somehow affect my professionalism. My old-school training was heavy on opacity, as if our “blank-slatedness” could really be a neutral screen upon which the patient could project their unconscious defenses and anything less was poor care. As if a wedding ring or the type of shoes we wore or the way we decorated our office wasn’t a dead give-away as to who or what we were. So I wrote about a kind of transparency, a kind of love in my essay I’m Not Supposed to Love You. Not romantic love, not familial love, but a love that helps us do the work we do, a word that is often taboo in our profession. And not without good reason. We have likely heard of patients who were vulnerable to a therapist’s grossly inappropriate advances, or a therapist whose own training and supervision was grossly inadequate. Psychiatrists who used the power differential in a dangerous way. Or patients whose transference towards the therapist was misinterpreted. After decades in this field, not once has “love” steered me wrong. I am grateful to Seal Press (they go there) and editor Sherry Amatenstein for putting together this collection. Publication date September 6, 2016. Stay tuned for book release events.
From “I’m Not Supposed to Love You”…
“This is not about you. The “I love you” piece. It’s about me as a therapist, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, a clinician, and how I’m not supposed to love you. I learned that rule in my education and training at a big university hospital where even a handshake was considered a slippery slope to major boundary violations. But of course I do. Ask anyone in the therapy field about what we call transference and countertransference, that transaction of feelings between therapist and patient. How it affects what we think of you. How it might deeply affect the decisions we both make. And how to differentiate between the dangerous feelings and the safe, human feelings. I’m not your friend or your mother. You hire me to have a cold, clinical eye and to keep you safe with the right medication, the right therapy. And I need to keep me safe. Because we know how messy emotions get. Isn’t that what brought us here in the first place?”
Scene with Sanders and Reid. Sanders head held at an angle of defeat. Silent and sad. It is a horribly disturbing moment no matter what side you are on. But guess what. I was a starry-eyed 17 year old working for Eugene McCarthy and I survived. I was a somewhat more jaded 30 year fighting against Reagan and all he stood for. I survived. I had gotten sober just a month after Reagan announced his candidacy and I have stayed sober throughout the ensuing horror show and the legacy of Reagan’s reign. Survived Nader (who BTW is still “Nadering” http://time.com/4364732/ralph-nader-bernie-sanders-primary/?xid=homepage.) My family owned two Corvairs and we survived them too. If you don’t get the reference here you are likely one of those young people I am so worried about.
At 58 I watched Clinton’s concession speech to Obama and my heart was broken but with that heavy heart and frozen fingers I pulled the voting lever for Obama. Of course I did, after early mutterings that I wouldn’t, couldn’t. Look what a surprise ensued. Obama rose above expectations to make some real change, eventually, against all odds. To the passionate young people, don’t throw yourselves over a cliff for anybody. Some columnist whose name I have lost described a post-Trump election as a “pile of burning tires.” Us boomers will be dead soon enough. You will have to try to live with the mess. Thank you for your passion. You can survive.
My Mental Health Awareness Month guest blog for Central Vermont Medical Center website:
For today can I just write a blog about writing a blog? Of course I can. I’m the boss of me. Except that I started writing another piece today, one I realize could be considered controversial and should only see the light of day under deep pseudonym in the AARP magazine backpages–so I feel less the mistress of my own freedom than any thinly veiled braggadocio might suggest. That piece, the one you will likely not read, is about the atrocities of getting old in the changing workplaces of an ageist society where you are unappreciated as a still fierce force to be reckoned with. Instead the piece reads more like a Human Resource reportable incident than a blog post and do we really want to go there? If you do, message me discreetly.
So anyway, in the spirit of positivity, let’s talk about a new project instead. This March I attended the annual conference “Writing, Publishing, and Social Media for Healthcare Professionals” at Harvard. I admit it was daunting to spend time with two hundred medical experts and hearing their pitches for what could easily become the next medical blockbuster. We met with agents, editors and publicists and attended three days of lectures on such topics as “How to Get Your Message Out in Today’s Changing Media Environment,” “Narrative Writing in Healing: The Power of Stories,” and “Publishing is Changing the Way Medicine is Practiced.” Participants left the conference all charged up with action plans and brand new twitter accounts. I left geared up to do…something. During the workshops I made a pretend pitch to write a patient-centered handbook, titled something like So How Was Your Week?, which would explain, in a conversational Anne Lamott-y tone, what to expect from your psychiatric encounter. I practiced and pitched it and got good marks for my delivery to a panel of a dozen agents and editors and the aforementioned two hundred others. No agents swarmed me for a book deal, nor did I really want one. My handbook just didn’t have the punch of, say, revolutionary non-pharmacological ways to beat the common headache forever or how one surgeon brings the dead back to life or the slam dunk memoir potential of impoverished illegal immigrant cures blindness (maybe I embellished a bit here) What I really want to do anyway is find ways of talking about how we feel about doing health care, how do our stories matter in the schema of Obama-care and litigation and insurance insanity? I’ll never be an Oliver Sacks or Atul Gawande, I’m just a worker on the front lines. But what if stories like mine and those of my colleagues could shine a light on the complexities of today’s health care and create better communication with patients, families, colleagues, legislators? What if we could promote health care by making our process more transparent? What if we found words to support each other during this process? Working on the front lines can be a lonely and misunderstood endeavor. Our stories have great potential to heal and I want to talk about ways to do this.
So in the positive spirit of staying close to home and writing what you know, starting in May I’ll be working with the marketing and communication team at my local hospital to do some interviews and write some blogs and connect with my colleagues and patients to do the same. Stay tuned. In the meantime here are several collections with beautiful narrative, moving examples of the genre.
Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue edited by Amy Ferris, Seal Press 2015.
Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience, edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger, She Writes Press 2015.
Same Time next Week: True Stories of Working Through Mental Illness, edited by Lee Gutkind, InFact Books, 2015.