When I’m having a bad day, I have this voice in my head that tells me “You should not have to deal with all of these hassles in your life. You help people for a living, you deserve immunity from the annoyances of daily living.” If the word “should” appears in the first few words of a sentence than it’s usually a ridiculous statement because the world rarely works they way we want it to. I should be the new Head Writer for HBO’s In Treatment. Random House should contact me to write a (fictional) book about a Psychologist who goes on a psychopathic killing spree after Medicare denies all of his correctly submitted bills for the 3rd time. Neither of those “shoulds” has happened. Yet.
I’m very lucky that when I’m actually working I generally feel a sense of equanimity and empowerment. “It’s therapy, it’s work, it’s supposed to be hard” is my mind set, so I don’t mind the challenges that come with it. It’s the shit that occurs when I’m not “working” that makes the days feel like weeks. Money is one of those things. I’m in this because I love helping people and I want to see them resolve whatever issues they have in their lives. I’m not doing this to get rich. Given that, I sometimes feel like it’s bullshit that money should stand in the way of me providing therapy. So issues like dealing with insurance companies and collecting fees from clients send me into my perfectly developed annoyed state.
The late, great Dr. Albert Ellis told me that the biggest mistake a person can make is to believe that the world is a horrible place when things aren’t going your way. I make this mistake regularly and unless I catch myself doing it I easily become miserable. This is especially important when I get into a mind set that I need my non-therapy life to go smoothly because I’m busting my ass in the office. With faulty logic like that it’s no wonder shrinks can be so neurotic.
9:00 AM: Arrive at work. My landlord, Dr. Steve, complains that my rent checks are “crinkled” when they get to his desk. I explain that is because I (purposely) put them in my front pocket before I leave my apartment (to annoy him). He is not pleased with this response and asks for “more pride” in my money which is really his money after I’ve written the check. He adds that the rent will be going up by $100 retroactive to last month. The day hasn’t really begun and I’m already in the red.
9:45 AM: Complete first session with new client who forgets checkbook, debit card, any and all credit cards, and of course cash. She says she is not sure if she would like a second session but will “mail the fee in as soon as possible.” The odds of getting paid the reduced fee of $90 for this session are slim. Most people are taking their first coffee break of the morning, I’m $190 in the hole. It’s okay, no biggie. I can do this, I tell myself as I picture Dr. Ellis beating me over the head with his cane repeating his sagacious words.
10:30 AM: Different client breaks statuette in Dr. Steve’s waiting room.
10:32 AM: Invoice from Dr. Steve for broken statuette ($75) slides under my office door. The client is paying all she can afford for therapy ($70) so I don’t tell her about the bill. I tear a check out of my checkbook and crumble it into a ball before writing it out to Dr. Steve. I’m a rebel that way. The running total in my head tells me that I’m minus $5 for this hour. Ironically even when my clients pay I’m still losing money at my place of business. I do feel good to be helping someone who benefits from therapy … except for today given that she broke the statuette.
11:30 AM: Client and I hear someone, presumably a client, screaming at Dr. Steve in his office, ultimately telling him to “go fuck himself.” Door slams a few seconds later. I smile. I’m down $195 and it’s not even a problem.
12:00 PM: Dr. Steve decides that he doesn’t want to have unlimited long distance on his office phones anymore and states that all consultants should “pay as they go” with phone service, documenting all regional and long-distance calls on the designated spiral-bound notepad placed next to the telephone. I bask in the glory of his client’s single great line “Go fuck yourself, Dr. Steve” while he’s talking.
1:30 PM: Attempting to eat a quiet lunch my mother calls to tell me that she “accidentally” gave her dog some Ambien (“like 3 pills I think”) and is wondering if she will be okay. Coincidentally she gave the hyperactive dog a needed grooming while passed out. I wonder if I can even afford to bail my mother out of jail at this point on a Cruelty to Animals charge.
2:30 PM: Session with client that goes very well but she indicates that she is “intimidated” by my insights and is not sure if she should come back. This is completely understandable so I can’t be too bothered by this.
3:30 PM: Mail arrives, which includes a moving violation ($80) from one of those police monitors at a traffic light and two denials of payment ($225 and $175) from insurance companies. Is it even possible for someone to lose so much money while at work? This is horrible, coming to work has cost me $675 dollars, not counting lunch! No Rob, it isn’t horrible. It’s not pleasant and it’s not the way you want it to be but you’ll be alright. It could be worse: you could be your mother who might go to jail for killing the family dog.
5:51 PM: Voicemail from mother indicates that dog has regained consciousness and that she “won’t have to borrow money for a doggie funeral.” Life is getting better. Your mom isn’t a murderer. At least not a successful one.
6:00 PM: Stepfather calls to tell me that he and my mother are having a “disagreement” (for the fifth time this week) and could I find some time to mediate the discussion. I tell him that due to ethical implications he should find a therapist where they live. “Thanks for nothing. I’m glad you’re not my son,” he says before hanging up. It briefly crosses my mind to conduct a session over the phone and charge him for it.
7:00 PM: Chinese food arrives and I accidentally pay with a $50 instead of a $20, which doesn’t surprise me given how the day is going. I burn my tongue on the tea as I realize my error.
8:00 PM: Blazing headache sets in from the M.S.G. in the aforementioned Chinese food.
8:45 PM: New client does not show up. He answers phone and when asked for an explanation for his truancy replies, “I’m supposed to call if I won’t be there?” $125 dollars evaporates before my eyes and I mentally start prioritizing my bills into “need to pay” and “can sit another week”.
10:00 PM: Arrive at home around $800 dollars poorer than when I left. I’m exhausted and don’t want to hear about any more problems in people’s lives or deal with the daily grind of living. I need a break. I get into the elevator of my apartment building with a middle-aged woman and her dog. I lean over and pet the dog and he stares at me with an ever-so-slightly beating tail. “I’m sorry to bother you,” the woman says, “but you seem to have a sharp eye. Do you think my dog looks sad? I think he could use some professional help. Know anyone?” I wonder what the going rate for doggy therapy is but nix the idea as I’ve got a bottle of wine in my apartment with my name written all over it.
11:02 PM: Sleep. Dr. Ellis and I play golf in a dream and he tells me to wake up ready to go at it again, because even though I let ridiculous things like money and Dr. Steve get under my skin I still love the job and can’t imagine doing anything else. I wake up and I remember Dr. Ellis shouting out that I control how I feel, independent of finances and other people’s actions and the unfortunate fact that the world doesn’t always spin the way I want it to. And then I remember I didn’t have a single client tell me to go fuck myself yesterday, so at least I’m ahead of Dr. Steve.