Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Psychotherapy Patients on 9-11

In 2001 I was a psychologist with a busy therapy practice. I learned of the 9-11 attacks on the way to work while listening to NPR. I arrived at the office in shock. After some calming breaths I went to the waiting room and got my first patient. She commented on the attacks, but casually and briefly, as if we were having a thunderstorm, then dove into her issues about her boyfriend's inadequate admiration and her boss's bossiness. I was  a little horrified. It got worse. With one exception, all seven of my patients that day remained focused on their moods, their sleep patterns, and their unsatisfying relationships. It was as if we had not been attacked, as if the sky were not empty of planes, as if nothing important had happened. I desperately needed to talk about the attacks and about the country, but my job was to listen to the folks who filled my overscheduled day.

Maybe my patients were just trying to act normal in a sea of chaos, seeking comfort by going through the motions of the day. Maybe their own suffering was too great to allow them to see beyond their pain. Or maybe, gods forbid, they were simply that self-absorbed.  In any case, I became less naive that day, and a little more compassionate.


Anonymous said...

Don't be so hard on your patients. Everybody was freaking out that day, and the best answer to terrorism is to act normal and not let them get to you.

MJ said...

I remember my response: my first thought was, "Well, hello, I wonder why it took you [meaning all the victims of U.S. imperialism, economic and political oppression, and war crimes] so long..." I wasn't shocked at all (nor "freaking out"). What I find the most disturbing was all the shock and outrage and jingoism. Hello?! Anyone paying attention out there?! My letter to the editor of our local daily a few days letter saying as much was in the minority, you can be sure. (And please don't be stupid and confuse my reaction/position with a lack of compassion for the victims.)

What's surprising is how few times we've been attacked "on our own soil."

I remember starting an in-home session when our freeway bridge fell in 2007. I had just passed over it. We watched it on TV and we were in shock. We didn't proceed with the session.