Stop Pointing Out That I’m Looking at the Clock! And Other Rules.

I have noticed that many of my clients have certain behaviors that are possibly impeding the therapy progress. Whether it’s commenting at length on the curtains in the office or complaining about the poor parking situation at Dr. Steve’s office suite (which, for the record, is completely understandable as the parking is horrendous there), these behaviors are possibly interfering with the therapeutic work if only for the fact that they are cutting into our valuable time to work together on problems.

In the past I’ve talked with clients about these behaviors in detail to understand them better: are they occurring as a way to avoid talking about painful material? Are these behaviors a way to learn more about me? Are they simply a function of self-consciousness? Given that I am a Cognitive Therapist and not a Psychoanalyst these conversations are proving to be more a waste of time than a moment of enlightenment.

Unless I believe these behaviors are truly relevant to a client’s difficulties they will be abolished from this point forward. To that end I, Dr. Robert Allen Dobrenski, have decreed a small number of rules and regulations to be enforced in the private sanctuary that is my office. In addition to the standard sanctions against intoxication, nudity, bare-feet, verbally abusing me, physically assaulting me, refusing to pay for services, laughing at my new haircut, calling me ‘funny looking,’ spitting on my floor and/or furniture and other faux-pas that are highly forbidden in a professional relationship with me, there are new prescripts that are required starting immediately:


1) Stop Looking at me Looking at the Clock

I need to keep track of the time at a few standard moments during the session. The details of time structure for a cognitive therapy session are beyond the scope of a single blog post but it’s important to realize that I need X number of minutes for multiple topics: updates since the last session, review of any therapy homework, summary of the topics covered today, planning for the upcoming week and feedback for the session, not to mention other items.

If I’m not on top of these things very often nothing gets done and the session turns into a glorified coffee hour. While I enjoy my coffee just as much as the next person, this is unacceptable. It’s a waste of clients’ time and money and they deserve better than that. What is also and perhaps even more unacceptable to me is being called out as ‘looking bored,’ ‘wanting me (the client) to leave,’ and ‘thinking about how much money I’m making per minute.’ I’m only looking at the clock to keep the well-oiled machine that is the office running smoothly and efficiently. So stop staring.

2) Stop Wondering why I’m Yawning

I am not the best sleeper, and writing blog posts at 4 AM, as I am doing right now, doesn’t help that issue. If I’m very tired on a particular day I will usually inform a client of that fact before the session starts as a pre-emptive strike against offending someone if I yawn or have a glazed look in my eyes. This also protects me against false claims of heavy drug use. The reality is that yawning is going to happen at times no matter how riveting the conversation. I am not necessarily bored if I feel sleepy in session. And even if that were the case it is certainly not the end of the world.

No client is responsible for being the most entertaining or amazingly interesting person who comes through the door. Life is often slow and uneventful and if there are moments of boredom for either therapist or client in session it should be discussed and not taken as some personal affront that the client is the most unbearable person on the planet. Dr. Pete is insufferable, my clients are usually not.

3) Do Not Comment That I Look “Up and to the Right” When I’m Deep in Thought

I’ve been doing this since I was 12 and I have a feeling that’s never going to change. I do it in my own therapy sessions, when socializing, really any time someone asks me a question or I’m pondering something of any importance. That’s why I don’t think much when I’m crossing the street in New York City. I’ll end up staring at a cloud and getting run over by a cab driver who will later sue me for breaking his engine grill with my face. The eye movement is just one of my few thousand quirks. I don’t know why I do it and unless my Ophthalmologist says I’m going to give myself retinal cancer from it I am not going to fret over it.

4) My Wardrobe is not Part of the Therapy Discussion

I wear either a) khakis and a button-down shirt or b) jeans, a button-down shirt and a blazer. I don’t own a suit and perhaps never will because I hate ties. I also have bad taste in shoes – so bad that I’ve been called an “embarrassment to feet” – so let’s just ignore that part of my work attire as well.

5) We are not Going to Analyze Whatever Book is on my Desk

Reading Buddhism for Dummies doesn’t make me an anti-Semite and A Confederacy of Dunces on my desk doesn’t mean I hate the South. In fact my Jewish friends tell me I’m quite open to all religious viewpoints and SEC football is top-notch so I’m not a hater on these fronts. I’m sure there is some deeper meaning behind what I’m reading at any given moment but we’re not getting into that during therapy time. That’s what I pay my own shrink for so let’s make her earn her money.

These are the new rules which are non-negotiable. I haven’t as yet thought of a swift and acute punishment for breaking the new rules other than having to talk about it with me, but since the client is already there to talk it’s not much of a punishment. Make no mistake, however. I will come up with something so repugnant that clients will never comment on my eyes, clothes, shoes, books, clock-watching habits or my sleep patterns. Maybe I’ll raise my fee $1 if clients break one of the rules. That’ll teach ’em.

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23 Responses to “Stop Pointing Out That I’m Looking at the Clock! And Other Rules.”

  1. kate says:

    my shrink likes it when i comment on his attire. last week he looked like mr. rogers, which i told him was creepy as hell.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’m tickled enough by this post to leave my first comment…
    Do you ever read these posts and wonder how much the author embellishes on the story to make it more enjoyable? I know I do! But as a former client (Hi Rob!) I must admit, I am guilty of commenting on the yawning thing on several occasions.
    Glad we finished up before you imposed the steep penalty fee… and before I realized you had such poor taste in shoes, it could have gotten costly 🙂

  3. Anonymous says:

    I do that look up and to the right thing too. I thought I was the only one….Maybe I’ll talk about that in therapy this week. Or not.

  4. Joy says:

    really bare feet!?? I had to laugh about that one because I just walked around all day in the therapy room w/ my flip flops off…Granted- we also get up to our elbows in paint, up to are knees in dirt in the garden and also have toys and a very large ball that other interns and I take turns stretching on…
    I guess I have it good. hah

  5. Wayland says:

    I think I’ve heard that looking up and to the right is a sign of honesty and looking left usually dictates embellishment/exaggeration/lying. Gotta love human psychology right? Now, quit lying Rob…I see you.

  6. My patients often comment on my clothing, hair, books, etc. I think part of it is them wanting to know more about me (I have a pretty blank slate style), though it can also be an ice breaker, etc. One of my favorite pts use to comment on my clothes like clockwork. She was a histrionic who dressed as if she was perpetually on stage…so her style was a bit contrasting from mine.
    Btw…you need a pair of moccasins! They are the ultimate combination of comfort and style. I wear them year round down here, and they are a great answer for someone who doesn’t want to dress too formally (slacks and the like).

  7. Michelle says:

    Very insightful and entertaining, Dr. Rob! It’s funny you mention looking at the clock. My therapist has two clocks in her office: one facing her and one facing me. I make a conscious effort not to look at my clock because I think it will “insult” her of she catches me. After reading this post–screw that, I’m looking next time.
    PS: No moccasins. Really.

  8. Tina says:

    Dr Rob, no bare feet? Really? That makes me sad. Maybe I need therapy since that makes me sad LOL. It’s so much easier to relax and open up with naked feet. It’s freeing.
    As for the “looking at the time”, there’s an easy solution. Buy a clock and put it behind where your patients sit. You can glance at the clock when they look away, or look down, without them even noticing.

  9. Maria says:

    I was reading somewhere that looking up and to the right is hardwired into the brain when it comes to deep thinking. I bet the clients remarking on you doing it probably do it themselves!
    I, as a client, have gotten off-track many times during therapy, and the assumption is always that I’m avoiding painful discussion. It has gotten to the point where I’ve told a counselor that since he’s said it so many times when I’ve told him the reason is that I’m simply an easily distracted person, then he can believes what he wants even though he’s wrong. I guess I’m a little tired that every distractive habit of a client gets looked at as avoiding pain and that the assumption is an occupational hazard that probably every therapist commits. I’ve even had my enjoyable hobbies such as drawing analyzed as “avoiding painful thoughts” when I’m pretty sure that it’s normal for EVERYONE to enjoy hobbies! Ridiculous.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Hi Rob,
    Humour me for a moment … when your client notices you look at the clock, what is your first thought process … What feelings does this lead to? now challenge that. Is that a rational response? “No” you say? Well, what could an alternative rational viewpoint be. How does this alternaive viewpoint make you feel? Now, next time your client stares at you looking at the clock, will our online theraputic intervention help you avoid the negative viewpoints asociated with this event..
    Paula
    ps. Sorry if you don’t find this amusing, I did my best to convey the humour intended when I posted this comment.

  11. J says:

    Stop blogging at 4AM and start shoe shopping online at 4AM. It might actually put you to sleep.

  12. not a doktor says:

    Don’t become a shoe head; picking up a heroine-made-by-the-finest-atlantian-virgins is a cheaper and less streesful habit
    http://www.sneakerfreaker.com/
    Dr. Rob Note: ???

  13. bajonista says:

    Why no bare feet? I immediatly take my shoes off when I sit down on the couch. Granted, this is Texas and I am usually wearing sandals, slip-ons or flip-flops, but I would feel terribly uncomfortable if I slid my shoes off and the therapist told me to put them back on.
    Dr. Rob Note: This is a very good point and I need to post on this in the future.

  14. I’m with bajonista…..shoes come off whenever possible, though I don’t do it when I’m working with someone…as I tend to have dress shoes on. 🙁 Oh and the moccasins are an acquired taste I do admit, but if you can pull it off, your feet will thank you!

  15. Amber says:

    When I’m deep in though I bite on my lower lip. My sister sticks her tongue out when she’s concentrating on something. I think everyone has something little that they do during those kinds of situations.

  16. Agamemnon Jones says:

    You know, Doc, you’ve really said nothing unreasonable here. In my experience, people can be total jerks when they’re feeling especially vulnerable. In a therapy session, I would imagine that they feel more vulnerable than ever. However, that doesn’t ever excuse acting like a pecker to someone who is earnestly attempting to help you. Think about it: they paid for you help them resolve their problems. If you happen to have a few minor quirks, so what? How does that affect what you’re trying to do for them? So you glanced at the clock. So what? So a client didn’t like the way you dress. So what? So you stare off in a certain direction when a client is speaking to you. So what? People need to realize that everybody does these kinds of things, and getting pissed off about them in a session that you’ve paid for is just stupid.
    Now, I know that this whole thing was kind of your point, so forgive me for the rant. I suppose I just had to let some things out. I do agree with you, though, and I think most people would be much better off if they weren’t so retarded. Myself included.

  17. Jones’ post was at least worth a consulting fee. 😀

  18. BorderlineBetty says:

    I hate your rules. And you. (Not really. All this stuff you write is faaaaacinating)! Hahaha. So, anyway, if you are strong enough for it – here are My rules, delivered to you and all therapists, from the other side of the couch (or chair, or whatever):
    1. Stop asking me a question when I ask you a question.
    2. Don’t be late. Ever.
    3. Don’t even Think about answering a phone call when you are in session, you $$##!!
    4. You are just as messed up (in your own way) as me; admit it! So, don’t act superior. Ever.
    5. Your “50 minute hour” does not mean you can obsess on the clock. If you Must look at it, put it somewhere discrete, already.
    6. I’m not crazy, I’m just unique. Remember that.
    7. In a past life we were Lovers. Hahahaha!!!
    8. In this life you must save me, so Stop the Resistence, already.
    9. I love you, but I hate you. It’s all your fault for being so intriguingly complex.
    10. Your personal life is Not the most fascinating thing for me to (try) to discover, but it sure beats alot of the lame TV out there.:)

  19. s says:

    *Gasp* – no bare feet? I always kick off my sandals and curl my feet under me on the couch.

  20. Not crazy yet says:

    No bare feet? Really?
    The first thing I do when I get into my shrink’s office is take off my sandals. I asked the first time if he minded, and he said I could do whatever I wanted in therapy except hit him.
    Makes me wonder about clients who have gone before me…

  21. Domenic Lominack says:

    I really have fun reading comments of other people on the posts…good or bad. At least people are actually reading the stuff.

  22. Annie says:

    I would have issues with the yawning, but I wouldn´t mention anything about it…. I mean, I know that your reasons are valid regarding the yawning, but I would certaintly stop talking and let you take over… I´m good with silence.

  23. Banksie says:

    Dr. Rob,
    WOW….what rules. My therapist only had two. No violence, no throwing things…however; I can soooo relate to the rest of your rules. They made me laugh!!!! Keep up the great work with this website. Just sorry I got onto it so late!!!!

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