A Therapist in Public
April 9, 2012 by
Categories: Miscellaneous

Last week, I attended an event downtown. One of my friends had a previous teacher reading at a book shop, and she invited me to tag along. Though I felt excited to do something out of the ordinary, it also felt like just a usual evening out with friends – I thought nothing of it. We grabbed some seats and settled in. It was energetic and fun, and I applauded enthusiastically after she had finished.

Out of the blue, I heard a voice.  Suddenly, my heart stopped. I felt my stomach drop, and I felt nervous to move.  I could feel my blood pumping with the feeling of being caught with my guard down. Nobody else was bothered. To anyone else, the voice was neutral – maybe a stranger, maybe an acquaintance, or an old friend.

But to me, it was a previous client.

As a therapist, seeing a client – current or former – is a mixed experience. Deep inside, I am thrilled to see them. In a way, they are my friend, someone on my team. I’d root for them anywhere, anytime. But on the surface, I am terrified at the risk catching them off guard.

What if she was relaxed and now I’m on her turf making her feel uncomfortable? Since I can’t say hello first, what if he thinks I am ignoring him? What if she is with someone who she would rather not want to see me? What if he is exhausted at the end of his day and I am the reminder of a tough conversation?

Unfortunately, my first thought is often “What am I wearing and was I just acting ridiculous?” I like to be goofy with my friends (weird voices of SNL characters included). This is a side of me that no client has seen.  And my gut reaction is asking, why didn’t you dress more professional?

My ethical code says that I cannot acknowledge a client in public unless he or she acknowledges me first. Doing so would break confidentiality. I usually talk about the chance of this happening with clients in the first few sessions. I buy groceries. I take my cat to the vet. I grab drinks with friends. There is a chance we will bump into each other. But sometimes I forget. Or sometimes they forget. Either way, I take a deep breath and try to keep my own cool unless they speak up.

On this particular evening though, the anxiety quickly passes. I soon realize what an amazing opportunity this is. I get to see a client who is about to rock the stage up there, bearing a part of the inner self, in public. I get to see a person who I am proud to know, with every fiber of my being.

For the most part, I love my job. Yeah, we talk about tough things, but we talk about real things. I get to witness a person’s authentic side. I get to see the real, nitty gritty stuff.  I am a bystander for the good and the bad, seeing the human side. And the best part is that they all help me see my own human side – my own faults and shortcomings that I need to forgive myself for.

At the grocery store, I’m okay if you rush over to give me a hug. In the middle of PetSmart, I’m  okay if you give me a quick, awkward smile. And I’m okay being ignored.

I am what you need me to be. And I’m thankful that I was able to be part of the journey for a while.




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