Sunday, November 19, 2006

Who We Become (and the Humor in It)!

I agree that it is very important that with any profession you learn to leave work at work and not take it home. That is important for all realms of health. But at the same time, I am becoming more and more aware of how we truly do become our profession.

Have you ever noticed how in casual after-hours conversation with a working adult you can still get bits and pieces of their profession intertwined with their conversation? Maybe it’s in their words. Maybe it’s in their body language. Maybe it’s in their tone. There is different ways in which our professions can shine through. Whichever way it might be, the individual sometimes can be oblivious that it is even occurring.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had friends say to me “stop analyzing me.” Many times it is said in a joking manner, and in most of those accounts, I am going about the conversation with no intentions of “analyzing” anything. Questioning has just become an important part of how I try to understand life and issues better; therefore, I question when my friends are trying to explain something to me and it can be interpreted as “analyzing” in a “bad” form, I suppose.

[Side Note: You know, now that I think about that. I suppose what it comes down to is the bad conatation that “analyzing” gets when someone has the thought of “therapist” lingering in the back of their mind. I suppose when I’m simply questioning to understand, people think I’m questioning in order to analyze. With analyzing they are anticipating that once my questions subside I’ll be spitting out something like an awful sounding diagnosis at them. Would it benefit me to inform my friends that social workers do not typically “diagnose” mental illness!? HA!]

On some occasions I have had friends who have gotten upset with me to the point that they will state, “I just want to talk to a friend and not a psychiatrist.” Not that I’m a psychiatrist or anything, but we know what they mean…

So I admit. When you get into a profession that you enjoy and you’re passionate about it is easy to take on that role with your whole being. I mean think about it. Think of your friends that are really passionate about their careers: do they constantly blog about that topic? Do they make jokes related to the profession? Does their conversation revolve around the profession? Do they frequently tell stories in an enthusiastic manner relating to their adventures while on the job? [You’ll find that you are able to quickly answer “yes” to some (or most) of these questions if your friend’s line of work is one that you typically are not interested in…HA!]

So is one “taking their work home” if they have taken on the behavioral or conversational styles of their profession to the point that they are noticeable in their everyday lives? I would argue no. As humans we mold in ways that we are accustom too. If one spends years in academia absorbing a particular behavioral style (or way of thinking or conversing), one is going to have a difficult time separating from it. It goes the same for one who has spent several years in any type of working atmosphere. Teachers will frequently find themselves bringing out the “teacher voice” in chaotic arenas other than the classroom. Preachers will quote scripture from stances other than behind the pulpit. Therapists will question for better understanding whether the person is lying on a couch or not. Politicians will lie whether they are…

…okay, so you get my point.

I guess it comes down to the realization that this sort of thing will occur and does occur. With this being the case, why not accept it and use it to your advantage. Sometimes the best it is good for is a hardy laugh! HA! I’m not kidding. Let me help you to see the humor in it…

If you do not see how it can be humorous take your career path and begin to pay closer attention to your casual interactions with people in your same field. You’ll notice how their conversations or behavioral gestures or whatever it might be are patterned after their experience with the field.

For those in a therapeutic field allow me to share some humorous observations I’ve made over the past month. For those not in this field, feel free to read on in order to educate yourself on how you can tell if you're conversing with someone from our field without even being told of their professional background…

I personally had a conversation probably a little over a month ago with a friend of mine. Recently, as I’ve given that conversation some more reflection I’ve noticed how my end of the conversation was so therapeutically influenced.

It was late at night and I was feeling down. I had been feeling down for a couple of days, so I wanted to talk to someone. I picked a friend that I felt would listen to me and give me encouraging responses [it’s important to note that the friend I chose was someone who does not share the therapeutic background]. So I was telling this person how I had just been feeling down and stuff like that. But what is interesting is how I would follow up almost every “feeling down” sentence with something like “but it’s not like I’m suicidal. Nothing like that. I promise.” HA HA!

Okay, so if you are not getting why I find that so funny now as I look back on it, allow me to explain. Okay, without going into detail about what my “feeling down” sentences were, I can say that they weren’t anything like “I don’t feel like life is worth living” or anything to that extent. So when you think about it, it’s interesting to see that I would follow any “depressed” sounding sentence up with a statement that I am not suicidal…HA!

Besides a therapist, who naturally finds his/herself immediately thinking about assessing for suicidal ideation when someone makes a statement at all relating to feeling down?!!? Only a therapist. HA! Most people would be like, “dude, chill out…I wasn’t even thinking you were suicidal!” HA! I mean I kid you not, I kept saying it…HA!

[Side Note: So besides it being a therapist thing—to assess for suicidal ideation following depressive statements—I’ll admit, I am very sensitive to the topic of suicide. What I mean by that is that in our line of work, suicidal clients scare me the most (not the “crazy” people or the psychotic ones, but the suicidal ones). This is because I worry about making a mistake (i.e. not asking the right questions, not recognizing a sign that I should have, not taking the proper measures in a situation, etc.) and being liable for someone having committed suicide when I could have possibly prevented it. Now THAT’S scary stuff! I mean, honestly, how many professions can truly say that their mistakes flirt with the line between life and death? And don’t immediately spout off with physicians unless you are willing to pay a therapist anything HALFWAY close to what we pay physicians…HA!]

So as I’ve reflected back on my conversation with this friend, I find myself finding humor in how I conversed and openly shared my “suicidal assessment.” That’s just funny to me!

A second think to note when conversing with therapists, which is the obvious one, and the frequently shared joke, though it is true is the “how did that make you feel” line. Okay, so SOMETIMES we’ll say that, but what is more frequent is just something along that same line. Some response back to your stated situation that involves connecting your feelings to the actions or the situation. “How did you feel then?” “What were you feeling?” Therapy revolves around connecting feelings to actions/thoughts/behaviors/situations.

Finally, this one I noticed when I was having a casual sit down talk with some friends/co-workers that happen to be in the same therapeutic field. I noticed it when it happened, but I thought more about it later and thought it was funny…

We were talking about counseling techniques and one of the other ladies was like, “A little self-disclosing, but…”

If you ever hear someone use the word “self-disclosing” or “self-disclosure” they probably are from our line of work! HA! I mean, seriously, think about it. With most people, when they are going to share a personal story about his/herself they don’t preface it with “a little self-disclosing, but…” HA! Most people just tell the story! HA! In the counseling field we find ourselves constantly studying when to self-disclose and when not to. With this being the case, when we are presented with an opportunity to relate a personal story of our own in our everyday conversation, we find our selves routinely going through the processing in our mind of “okay, this is self-disclosing if I share this story” so we’ll unconsciously label it “self-disclosing” in prefacing the story…HA!

Okay…so those are just some funny things I’ve been observing and thinking about lately. I wouldn’t be surprised if you said you have had some similar experiences involving your field and people in it.


Holly said...

I like this post because, yes, I can relate. When me, Wendy, and Jess (clinical interns together) hang out, it almost never fails that one of us says something to the other in the form of, "Would you STOP talking like that?!" referring to therapy-oriented speech/questioning. haha. I often find myself asking the "How does that make you feel?" question to people, too, and it's funny to see the responses to that question from those IN my field and those NOT IN my field. There's usually a little giggle (or a little snarl if you're unlucky) from those in the field. heh heh.

I don't necessarily think one is taking their work home either. And, I know there are just somedays when we therapists just want those newly conditioned analytical responses to not be there when we come home at the end of the day. Sometimes we are tired. We want to relax our intellects for the rest of the evening. But, most of the time, being a a therapist is like being on meth, it's addictive.

And YES! I can very much relate to the suicidal questioning thing when we therapists ourselves sometimes get down (which we all do) and need someone to talk to. It's almost natural to want to follow up by saying "No, I am not suicidal!" And, if we therapists really did go see a counselor of our own and we really were suicidal and posing an immediate threat to ourselves, I'm wondering if some people in our field would sneakily maneuver around the questions or not tell the whole truth so as to avoid hospitalization -- a person not in our field would most likely not know what to expect (i.e., hospitalization) if they weren't very familiar with therapy. hee hee.

And finally, the self-disclosing thing is something we therapists really have to watch ourselves on -- especially around our friends:

Therapist's best friend:

"Where are you going for dinner"


"I cannot disclose that information to you."

... ;) . haha.

jules said...

interesting. i know you love that word, kim. it's so descriptive, right? ;)

besides the fact that i often feel like you're analyzing me (and usually doing a VERY good job of it - too good, in fact), i can absolutely see how this happens. when my law school friends get together after-hours, we constantly have to remind each other to stop making stupid legal jokes... just stupid legal comments, i guess. it's difficult to get away from.

so, will i be a judge because i drop hints about it or because, as you put it, i have judge-hair? just curious. :)

FeedingYourMind said...

I use the word "interesting" a lot don't I? ;)

I guess it comes from my curiousity about everything and the fascination I can take from just about anything! =)

What are you talking about? Is there such a thing as "judge-hair"?! ;)