I. Don’t. Like. You.


Sometimes the universe reminds me why mindfulness is so important.  I also get reminded not to take myself so seriously.

One of these reminders came in the form of a client’s mother telling me she didn’t like me.  Without giving too many details (confidentiality and all), a mother called me to request a change in clinician.  When I asked for a little clarification she stated, “Because I don’t like you,” annunciating each word so there could be no mistaking her reasoning.

Taken aback, I let her know she was within her rights to request a change, but I would love to meet with them again to see if we could work through things.

No dice.

“You’re just not nice,” she told me.  I let her know I understood and that I would be in touch after I transferred her case.

I hung up the phone feeling wonder and confusion.   I mean, I consider myself to be generally pretty likable, especially to the kids and parents with whom I work, since I am always on my best professional and most engaging behavior.  But as a therapist, I have firm boundaries and set rules in my office with children and their parents.  I suppose that could come across as prickly or “not nice” in some cases.

Who knows?

I wasn’t hurt or offended at all, just kind of dazed.  I felt good that the mom had the guts to advocate for her child.  We don’t all like one another all the time and that’s okay.

A few days later, I was driving home from picking up pizza for my family and the situation came up in my mind again.

I realized that mom gave me a gift.  Without even realizing it at first, I started tuning in to how I connect with my clients.  Over the days following my conversation with that mother, I found myself much more mindful during my sessions, aware of where I was in relation to the family physically, emotionally, and professionally.

When I tell people what I do for a living they react by saying, “Wow, that must be so rewarding!”  or, “Wow, that must be so hard!”  While I would love to tell you it is really rewarding, it would be much more honest to tell you it is mostly hard.  I work with a really difficult population of families with severe and persistent mental health issues who live in pretty stark poverty.

Progress is measured in millimeters.  We don’t have “Eureka!” moments on a couch.

I sit with people who suffered traumas worse than anything Stephen King could dream up, and while I am often humbled by their resilience, there are also many times I am frustrated by limitations–  lack of basic needs for the poor, lack of understanding by other systems, lack of funding by insurance companies, and also the limitations that trauma has inflicted on the people with whom I attempt to work.

There are also times when it is really hard to put my own life on the shelf to deal with the crises of others.  Times when my own children are sick and I have to leave them at home to go to work.  Times when someone in my own family is suffering.  Times when I am just plain tired or hungry or have to pee.

So, I’m not always sitting there finding the joy in my craft, and I’m not always 100% mindful.  While I consider myself professional, I’m sure there are days when maybe I am less than present.

Those days of mindful awareness during my sessions were nice.  I realized that when I can be present in the moment, I am a lot closer to the joy because I am free of the other worries and frustrations.  It might not always be attainable, but it is something to reach for.

My gratitude goes out to that mom who doesn’t like me.  I thank her for letting me know in such a clear fashion.

Did you ever have a time when what could have been insulting turned out to be a gift?  


15 responses »

  1. Thank you for doing what you do. If only we had more wonderful people like you to help. Therapy isn’t always flowers and beautiful. It’s purpose is to help you understand yourself and how to cope. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I once had a patient tell me she didn’t like me because, in her mind, her visits with me inextricably linked with her fatal illness (ALS). I was okay with that and happy to be the one who got the brunt of her anger and frustration, rather than her family. I was able to shrug if off and let it go, whereas her family would have held on to it forever.

    • Wow. That must have been pretty intense transference going there. . how awesome you were able to sit with her in all that. Gives me a moment of thought about what I might represent to the parents of some of my clients. . . thanks. xox!

  3. A clinical supervisor of mine once told me that “we get the clients we need.” This forces me to figure out what I am supposed to learn from my most challenging clients, which is usually patience, I’ve reasoned.
    The hardest 20 minutes I have ever spent with a client – EVER – was with a woman who was in the midst of a psychotic episode triggered by meth use, and she had a severe abuse history. She was not coherent, she couldn’t answer questions, and she was mean, rude, threatening. I finally had to ask her to leave, inviting her to please come back when she felt better. I guessed I’d never see her again.

    Months later, I did see her again. She was a completely different person, and she remembered me. She apologized for her behavior, and we started work fresh. It was incredible, and it taught me patience, but also faith that people really do hear me, and really can change, it just may take awhile.

    • That is a really good story. Thank you for sharing. I am often reminded/humbled by the work my clients do. . . Your supervisor’s quote really gave me something to think about. I don’t think I am always that esoteric about my work. A lot of times it is just WORK, and I’m not tuned in to the learning/spiritual experience of it. Thank you so much for sharing that. I’ll never forget it.

      • Thanks.
        Oh, and by the way, it always sucks to hear that a client wants to switch therapists. I mean, on one hand I want to honor the client’s wishes, but on the other, it can sting.

      • It is good when others understand. . . I actually really hesitated to write/post this piece because I didn’t know if it made me seem like too much of a bitter harpie…

      • It probably depends on where you’re coming from (I’m thinking about a client vs. provider divide), but I think most people can identify with how sucky it feels not to be liked.

  4. Very good post… it is important to learn that we cannot always be loved especially at work and quite frankly do you really want to be loved by everybody ;-)? I admire you because you were able to give enough confidence to this woman so she could master the force to understand her feeling and express them to you. Lots of flowers from a sunny northern France (very rare occurrence of the sun here;-)) xoxoxo

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