This post was inspired by this (inaccurate) thought of mine, this morning:
I have no idea what I’m going to blog about today
… which reminded me of a psychologist I met, about 18 years ago, at a hospital psychiatric unit, where I did my first year of training as a therapist. Let’s call him … “Dr. Him.”
I would characterize Dr. Him as “hard to read.” I had trouble finding emotional clues in his face or in his body language, to get a sense of what he was thinking. In ways, he was the very model of a modern psychotherapist.*
When I find somebody difficult to read, I project — or “mind read” — even more with that person. And I know I’m not alone in that. All year, at my training, I observed many people trying to figure out what Dr. Him was thinking.
Dr. Him didn’t say very much in the therapy groups at the hospital. But when he spoke, people listened.
There was a certain “catch-phrase” Dr. Him would use, in therapy groups. If somebody started a sentence with “I have no idea” (examples: I have no idea why I’m here/what I want/why I did that/where I’m going), Dr. Him would reply:
You must have some idea.
And each time, the person had more to say.
Personally, I usually avoid catch-phrases, because I don’t want my responses to seem rote, or rehearsed. But catch-phrases stick, don’t they?
I wanted to tell you a couple more stories about Dr. Him, today. In both of these stories, he has less of a starring — that is, more of a supporting — role.
During that first-year internship, I felt pretty insecure in my new role as therapist. And when I feel insecure, I tend to project judgment onto certain people.
When I was having self-judgmental thoughts, such as
You don’t know what you’re doing! What makes you think you can be a good therapist?
… I could imagine other people having those same thoughts about me, too. For me, during that year, Dr. Him was usually “it.”
I recognized that I didn’t know what Dr. Him was really thinking, and I would tell myself to stop having those thoughts and projections. How did I tell myself to stop?
Maybe I imagined a stop sign, like this one, from my trip last month, to Panama:
(Although I don’t speak Spanish, so my memory is probably less than accurate, there.)
No matter how I tried to stop them, those pervasive negative messages kept coming back, during that internship.
One morning, when I was getting ready to go leave my home and go to the hospital, the judgments were particularly loud and strong. That morning, I really believed the self-doubts. And, I imagined Dr. Him judging me, too.
As a result, I felt exhausted. Almost paralyzed. And I remember staring at myself in the mirror and talking to myself, like so:
You’re afraid of screwing up, Ann. That’s what it is. Okay, try this! Today, your GOAL is to screw up, to make mistakes. If you make a mistake, you’ve met your goal!
That freed me up, in ways I found astonishing. The judgmental thoughts — and projections — fell away. And I left the house, eager to meet the day.
Here’s my second story, about Dr Him:
At the last staff meeting of anybody’s internship, people would give feedback, as a way of saying goodbye. I have several memories of my last staff meeting, at that psychiatric unit, but these stand out:
- I was afraid, as time was running short, that I would NOT get my feedback.
- I got my feedback, at the very end of the meeting.
- Several people said positive things, as they said goodbye to me.
- Dr. Him said, “You’re an intern? I consider you a colleague.”
I was going to write, “I have no idea what image to use for this post …”
…. but I did have some idea.
Thanks to Dr. Him, to people who try to stop unhelpful thoughts (as best they can), and to you — of course! — for stopping by, today.
* I was thinking of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Very Model of a Modern Major-General” there. If you’re interested, here’s a version of that song, from 1980, with (perhaps) familiar faces.**
** Including Kevin Kline and Linda Rondstadt. Also, thanks to ThePenzancePirate, for uploading that video on YouTube.