Many therapists utilize white-noise machines in their office to drown out the sounds from the waiting room. The light and whirring noise, not unlike the sound a television makes when a station signs off for the night, helps clients to focus on the therapeutic conversation while simultaneously not forcing to-be-seen patients in the waiting room to remain silent. This is particularly important at my office suite with Dr. Steve, as there are multiple clinicians present at any given time. Thus, several clients are likely to be waiting for their sessions to begin.
One particular client, however, manages to make his voice heard over the protective shield. Dan isn’t a large man with a bellowing voice, he just speaks as if he’s trying to warn you that your genitals are on fire. Even when my door is closed, I have had to on occasion excuse myself from a session and politely ask him to shut the fuck up. He apologizes and corrects himself for about 10 minutes but invariably his voice starts to grow louder again. This had lead to multiple conversations in therapy about “using your indoor voice.”
“I’m working on it, Dr. Rob. It’s just a bad habit.”
“I understand. But you’ve got to lower your voice in the waiting room. It’s distracting to the clients and, frankly, it comes across as a bit self-serving.”
“Dan, many people consider loud voices very obnoxious, as if you believe everyone should be listening to you.”
“But it’s not like that!”
“I know and I agree. You’re not an obnoxious guy. I’m just saying that people might interpret it that way, and both clients and I have become annoyed in session because you are practically talking over us from another room.”
“Should I not come early to session, just show up right when our session starts?” Dan asked. “It’s just very inconvenient for me to go all the way back to the office after lunch, so I’d rather get here early and read.”
“If you think you can control your voice, it’s fine. If not, you’ll need to come in only at the scheduled time. It will be a waste of both of our time if we have to go through this conversation every week.”
“I can fix it.”
“Good. Now Dan, I suppose this isn’t really any of my business, but did I hear you hitting on one of the clients in the waiting room?”
“What makes you say that?”
“I heard you say to someone ‘if I re-did the alphabet I’d put you and me closer together.'”
Dan laughed, knowing he was busted. “You don’t like that pick-up line?”
“Well, it’s ‘U and I,’ not ‘You and Me,’ but that’s neither here nor there. It’s not my place to judge, but is the waiting room an appropriate setting for things like this? It’s a small room and there are occasionally children around.”
“Dr. Rob, chicks dig guys in therapy. We’re sensitive and vulnerable. You should know this.”
I’ve never had a woman say ‘Oh Rob, take me back to your apartment. You’re so vulnerable.’
“Like I said, it’s not really my business. I’m just asking you to keep your voice down and not make any of the clients in the office uncomfortable.”
“You got it, doc! Now, let’s get back to my celery fetish.”
For the next few weeks, Dan was on his best behavior, or at least his quietest. Then I began to hear some more tomfoolery. “How about after my session we go over to Barnes and Noble for a little Dickens?” “Today’s word is ‘legs.’ Spread the word!” “If only Beyonce were here, we could be our own bedroom Oreo,” each come-on less likely to succeed than the last. Or so I thought.
Kim was my next client. I gave Dan a narrow-eyed, suspicious look as I welcomed her into her second session with me. “Dr. Dobrenski,” she said, eyes full of glee. “I’ve just met the most wonderful man!”
It can’t be. “Does he like A Tale of Two Cities and circular, cream-filled cookies?”
“Yes! How did you know?”
“His name is Dan, and he’s such a charmer! Strong hands, proud chin, and the sexiest voice I’ve ever heard. It’s just so loud and…sexy! Love at first sight, Dr. Dobrenski! We’re going out for Bloody Mary’s after my session.”
With celery, I considered.
“Is the Dan you are referring to outside?” I asked.
“Why yes, that’s where I met him. We talked all about our reasons for coming to see you. You know, relationship stuff. We have so much in common!”
Generally speaking, it is not wise for one therapist to be treating members of a couple individually, especially if those members are likely to talk about each other in session.
“Kim, would it be alright if I brought Dan into this session briefly? We may have a conflict that we should sort out.”
“A conflict? Really? Sure then, if you think it would help.”
Dan came in, stentorian voice and all. “Dr. Rob! What’s up?” he said, and they both sat on the couch.
“Dan. Kim. I needed to talk to you both, because it’s not necessarily a good idea for my clients to be dating each other while seeing me.”
They looked at each other, puzzled. “Why is that?” Dan asked.
“Let me back up a bit and say that I’m very happy for both of you, as you two seemed to have hit it off very, very well.”
They both smiled at me, then at each other.
“It’s just that you both are here to discuss romantic relationships, and our work as individuals can get very cloudy if I’m talking to Kim about Dan and Dan about Kim and possibly anyone else that you two might date, like Beyonce for example. Sometimes a client will want to know if the therapist knows something private about him or her that was revealed by the other party. Other times clients will ask the therapist to tell the other party something that is uncomfortable or embarrassing. It just sets up a potentially messy situation.”
“I see,” said Dan. “Should we not date then?”
“No no, I wouldn’t say that. I think it’s great that you two have met. I would recommend, however, that one of you see another therapist if you wish to continue dating each other. Or start dating. Or whatever it is you are doing.”
Kim let out a slow “hmmmm,” then said. “I don’t want to pass up a fine specimen like Dan. Which one of us should see another therapist?”
“That’s completely up to you two,” I said. “Some people use time as an indicator. Kim, you’ve only been here for one session, while Dan and I have been working together for a few months. But that is just one way of considering this.”
“No, that’s a good point,” said Kim. “Maybe I can see someone else in this practice. You’re a little soft-spoken for me anyway, Dr. Rob. No offense.”
“None taken.” Without a bullhorn, I was no match for Dan.
So Kim began to see Dr. Steve, who was kind enough (and desperate enough for clients) to lower his customary fee to match what she was paying me. Dan continued to work with me, ultimately deciding to embrace his fetish just like Mark (and, just like Mark, do not judge him for it). Six months later Dan and Kim are still going strong with a relationship full of stimulating conversation, wholesome activities and sex. All three of those are done loudly I assume, at least on Dan’s part.
The lesson learned: romance is hard to come by these days, so you may need to find and capture it in unusual places. Forget Match.com and Eharmony. Your next mate could be walking out of the psychiatrist’s office right now…
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