Every 3rd Thursday, I meet up with Dr. Pete for what is known in the field as “peer supervision.” This is a time to discuss our work and help each other out when dealing with difficult issues that invariably arise in private psychotherapy practice. Walking down 2nd Avenue, we were confronted with Dr. Pete’s worst nightmare: bumping into a current patient outside the office. This situation is usually quite awkward for both parties. Consider taking a relationship that is generally confined to a small space for a mere 45 minutes per week, where the focus is clearly on one person’s most intimate and troubling thoughts and feelings, and suddenly, unexpectedly making it a social engagement. This uncomfortable situation is exacerbated if the patient is with another person who is not even aware of the current dynamic.
For Dr. Pete this is even more troublesome, as his professional and non-professional personalities are quite disparate. In the office he is warm, personable and empathic. A razor-sharp clinician. When not working, however, poor Dr. Pete is actually very shy, unconfident and even somewhat frightened of social contact. I don’t quite get how he manages to pull off this double life. He basically suffers from Social Phobia when he’s not working, a condition that doesn’t often go into remission so predictably and regularly. He told me that he takes beta-blockers (pills that subdue the physiological changes that occur during anxiety) at work, which would explain part of it but that can’t be everything. “I just put on my game face in the office,” is all I can get out of him when I push for a more satisfactory answer. He’s probably taking drugs, smoking pot, or engaging in some other illicit form of relaxation that he won’t tell me about.
Unfortunately for Dr. Pete, his current patient “Don,” who is now standing 2 feet in front of us outside of a grocery store, has a huge smile of recognition on his face, and what appears to be his girlfriend in tow. Because we’re not in the office today, Dr. Pete is medication-free and I can detect the panic on his face.
“Dr. Pete!” screams Don at an unnecessary volume.
Therapist Rule 1: Unless a client/patient addresses you, do not make any form of contact. It is the therapist’s responsibility to ensure clients are not unnecessarily made to feel awkward or uncomfortable outside of the office. Due to his calamity, Dr. Pete obviously has no problem with this rule.
Clumsily, Dr. Pete answers. “Hi Don. Um, how are you?”
“Great, great! Just great! What are you up to?”
Therapist Rule 2: Do not unnecessarily disclose excessive personal information, especially outside of the office.
“I’m just, just going for a walk in the park with my colleague Dr. Rob,” he stammers.
Don probably thinks we’re gay at this point as you don’t often see two shrinks walking in the park together. I should chime in that we’re on our way to a lesbian mud wrestling match on this fine morning, but I’m too enraptured with Dr. Pete’s misery.
“This is my new lady, Darla,” Don points out.
“Hello Darla!” I cheerfully shout, extending my hand.
“Darla already knows about us, Dr. Pete,” Don explains. “I just told her about our last session, in fact. Dr. Pete, could you please, please confirm what I told you last time. You know, about my…manhood? My exact words? She doesn’t believe me.”
Therapist Rule 3: Do not engage in therapeutic services outside of the office or pre-arranged setting. Dr. Pete knows this, but he’ll cave if pressed, and the beads of sweat are clearly visible on his brow. “I don’t think that’s appropriate, Don, especially in this setting.”
“I’d love to hear about that!” I exclaim. Dr. Pete shoots me a look of terror and hatred.
“Yeah Dr. Pete,” Don and Darla simultaneously confirm.
Nearly paralyzed with embarrassment and fear, Dr. Pete takes a deep breath, not unlike what one does before announcing at his first 12-step meeting that he is an alcoholic. “You made it a point to say that your penis, when ‘engorged,’ can split a woman in two, rendering her your sex slave for all time. At which point you dropped your pants to give me a ‘sneak preview’ of what your next ‘lottery winner’ will be experiencing.” Dr. Pete then hangs his head in humiliation, probably considering murder/suicide.
“That’s one fine penis you must have there, Don.” I compliment.
“You said it, Dr. Rob” says Don. “See Darla, I told you!”
“Alright alright, I believe you. Let’s leave these two to their walk in the park, it’s getting chilly.”
“Thanks Dr. Pete,” says Don “We’ll see you next week.”
Dr. Pete and I never made it to either the park or the mud wrestling match. I actually had lost track of where we were really going in the first place, with all of this newfound entertainment. I decided, however, not to take any further pleasure in Dr. Pete’s character flaws, given that he was basically about to cry his eyes out from mortification.
“If you tell anyone about this, I’ll fucking kill you,” he whimpered.