An Unplanned Therapist

When I go to my therapist’s office I’m usually the only person in the waiting room before my session. This is despite the fact that she shares her space with two other clinicians. My session is in the late morning, which isn’t “prime therapy time,” thus giving me full access to the waiting area to do what I please. Sometimes I’ll get there a bit early and scope out the periodicals. Other times I’ll people watch outside the window or, if I haven’t done any pre-therapy tailgating, I’ll think about what I want to talk about this upcoming session.

This week I was reading The New Yorker. Why the hell aren’t any of MY pieces in here? If Dr. Phil wrote something I’m sure it would be in here no matter how stupid it was. I swear, they will rue the day they didn’t find my website! While I was silently bitching a woman came into the waiting room, which actually startled me a bit given the rarity of the occasion. She was dressed in brown pants and a same-colored button-down shirt. She also had on work boots and a utility belt, which made her a cross between a construction worker and the UPS person. She looked around the waiting room a bit and ducked her head under some chairs, possibly looking for something electrical to fix. Then she plopped down on a chair right near me and let out a big sigh.

“So,” she said. “Here to have your ticker fixed?”

I didn’t look up from the magazine right away. In my own office I rarely see clients in the waiting room interact or even acknowledge each other, so I assumed that was standard pre-therapy behavior.

“You there, in the Gap clothes,” she said.

I then looked around, already knowing there was no one else in the room. “Me?”

“Yeah, you. What are you in for?”

“What am I in for?”

“Right: What. Is. Your. Problem?” she enunciated.

Writing about my neuroses on the web is one thing, but simply rattling off a list to a complete stranger is quite another. I immediately felt self-conscious and “crazy,” the very feelings I try to help people conquer, via this site and when they come to see me in person. What is my problem? Where do I even start?:


Emotional intimacy issues
Unresolved difficulties with my mother
Periodic insomnia
Fears of public speaking
Lack of interest in the outdoors or anything involving direct sunlight
Fear of growing old
Religious conflicts
Teeth grinding
Possible Wii Addiction

“I have a very, very small number of psychological issues that I’m sorting through,” I finally said.

“What? Psychiatric issues? No, stupid. What’s wrong with your heart?”

“My heart?”

“Yeah, dummy. Your ticker?”

I looked down at my chest, briefly considering that she might be noticing my aorta poking out of my polo shirt, which was purchased on Clearance the week prior.

“I…don’t think there’s anything wrong with it,” I said.

“Then why are you at the Cardiologist’s office, you moron?”

I actually looked around to make sure I was in the right place. Given that my therapist’s office is in a small, brownstone-type building with nothing medical located within many blocks I should have been pretty certain even without the extra reconnaissance.

“This isn’t that type of setting,” I said. “You’re in a therapist’s office.”

“What? Are you sure?”

AM I sure? “Yes, absolutely. See?” I held up a copy of Psychology Today.

“Damn,” she said, and stood up. “I gotta find Dr. Anderson. Well, good luck having your head shrunk. What you got can’t be worse than Congenital Heart Failure.”

She left and my therapist came out. She smiled her always warm smile, and said, “Rob, please do come in.” I sat down and got ready to talk about how much I hate Dr. Phil. And then it hit me:

The woman in the waiting room, the UPS/Construction Worker, the one who insulted me. Like three times at least. This woman had a very serious medical condition that she was coping with and shared it without batting an eyelash. I couldn’t even say I don’t sleep all that well and was pissed that I’m not in some pretentious magazine. These problems now seem…petty.

I chuckled at my epiphany. I need to do this more often, to remember that I’m highly skilled at giving myself mini-hissy fits over basically nothing. If my dentist gives me shit about grinding my teeth or I have to give a lecture to a group of interns – all of whom probably smarter than me – I have to keep in mind that my life is, overall, pretty manageable.

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18 Responses to “An Unplanned Therapist”

  1. Maris says:

    Does having congenital heart failure give this person a free pass to insult whomever she pleases….or has she been like this all of her life? My vote: the latter. Also: there is always someone worse off. It’s good to know this and to even be humbled by it in some way that is not also self-hating or self-denying. Still, this acknowledgement of empathy does not mean one’s own pain is trite (although, by god, your silly rage over Dr. Phil is pretty funny. What a big, stupid doofus that guy is, so it’s also justified, at that…):)

  2. Tracie says:

    It’s a shame she didn’t stick around. Perhaps someone could helped her explore why she’s so confrontational.

  3. Yasmin says:

    You didn’t get her number?? She could have helped you break that Wii addiction!!

  4. Alanna says:

    Are you sure she didn’t have some psychological problem that made her feel the need to randomly tell people she has a very serious condition in the hopes they will have a reaction to her statement? And/or perhaps she was uncomfortable and self-conscious sitting in a waiting room with someone else while waiting for her therapist to the point where she felt the need to lie to get out of the situation?
    Just curious.

  5. Dr. Rob says:

    Anything is possible, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  6. J says:

    Wow, people are really defensive of you Dr. Rob. I don’t think they realize you’re just a tad self-loathing. I am ridiculously shy so if someone were to boldly ask questions like that I just find it amusing and don’t take that much offense.
    In general, office waiting rooms are weird. Is there nothing modern interior design can do to make us less anxious while in them? Maybe setting up a Wii would help.

  7. Wayland says:

    I agree that setting up some killer video games in a waiting room would make visits a lot cooler.

  8. I blogged about having a wakeup call last week (“Mountains v. Mole Hills”)…and what was sad was the need for something bad to appreciate what I had good.
    I find it ironic that while we often remind our patients to be rational in times of stress, we often ignore our own advice.

  9. Colin says:

    You do realize that “New Yorker readers” and “Dr. Phil fans” aren’t exactly the same sort of people, right?

  10. Anonymous says:

    You are a frothing pussy. Seriously, a therapist who can’t tell his therapist something for fear of being judged. And then you froth this weak shit up into a blog. Whippity doo-da. Last time I’ll be back here, moron.

  11. Rebecca says:

    “In my own office I rarely see clients in the waiting room interact or even acknowledge each other, so I assumed that was standard pre-therapy behavior.”
    In Germany, it is the exact opposite. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the waiting room of a veterinary clinic or psychologist’s office, as soon as you walk in the door everyone greets you. Even in a psychiatric inpatient dayroom it’s like that: you walk in and the patients who aren’t catatontic chirp a quick, “Guten Tag”. I probably appeared to be quite a b*tch the first few times because I was too taken aback to respond.
    I’m so glad to be doing therapy back in the USA.

  12. escaperoad says:

    nice post. your list is a lot like mine, minus the Wii addiction, plus living vicariously through blogs on the internet.

  13. […] When the man opens the door of my office at the end of each session the woman is always in the waiting room. Each week she looks at him using his crutches to hobble out of the office and into the elevator. Each week she looks down at her Prada bag, lets out a sigh of pity for the man, and gets up to come into my office. You can almost see the wheels spinning in her head as she comes in. She’s trying to put her problems into perspective. The man is this woman’s personal Unplanned Therapist. […]

  14. Tales says:

    That would have stressed me out so much. I feel like there’s an unwritten rule about not talking in waiting rooms. No touching any thing either. Well sometimes I fix magazines that are askew. I arrange them in kind of a darting fashion though. Poke it over a little bit and then sit back like nothing is happening. Then repeat. Like I’m not supposed to touch the magazines.
    Most times I am the only patient in the waiting room. When there is another patient I worry, because I think maybe I showed up at the wrong time. Once there was another patient and it turned out the therapist had double booked and the other guy stole my appointment. It was my first time so the therapist didn’t know my face and know I was there to see him.
    Sometimes someone tried to make small talk. I try to kill the conversation by avoiding eye contact and giving one word replies. The waiting room is this strange in between land between real life and therapy. I sit, quietly and wait.

  15. […] anegdota sa psihoterapijske seanse.  A evo i još […]

  16. Danelle Baiotto says:

    You’ve got a good blog here! would you like to produce some invite posts on my website?

  17. Rob Dobrenski says:

    Perhaps, what is your website?

  18. It really deepdns on your setting and type of problem for which you are attending. I am fortunate enough to work in a clinic where we do work one on one with patients; however, we tend to see a sicker and lower level clientel than say a sports orthopedic clinic where patients do not need a lot of supervision and one on one guidance in their treatment.If you are freshly post operative or require hands on assistance, you need to attend a clinic where at least some one on one time can be provided. If you are there primarily for theraputic exercise that can be done under general supervision, it’s not usual for the therapist to juggle two to three patients at once. and I would never attend a clinic where the patient to therapist ration is greater than 3.

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