Friday, January 22, 2010

Weird Social Situations.

Thank you all so much for your input on my Intrusions post. I'm going to sit with the chapter and your comments and try to get it all put together. Soon. I hope.

So I want to talk about a weird social situation. I have to confabulate this one, you'll bear with me and not get too involved with the details, because they aren't real.

There's this woman I know sort of vaguely. We've had a few conversations over the years, and she has always greeted me very warmly. We were never friends, but I like her, and like I said, the vibes between us were good. She called me at work one day and asked if I'd treat one of her family members. She's not a friend--- I said yes-- but I did make the comment to Family Member that I knew Warm Woman and asked if this was a problem. It wasn't. I saw the family member for a while, the treatment was successful and Family Member has left treatment with the understanding that my door remains open. Nothing that was said in the therapy changed my opinion of Warm Woman....Family Member cherishes her and didn't reveal any skeletons in any closets.

Yesterday I went to a small event for a group I belong to. Warm Woman was there, seems she's also a member of this group. She ignored me. I followed suit and did not approach her-- seems as the relative of the patient, it's her call. And I do know she's been in treatment herself, and that she understands all about boundaries. It felt weird though. I wanted to say Hi, and I wanted to tell her to give my regards to Family Member who has not seen me for a while. I almost felt like I was in the room with my own uncomfortable patient, but Warm Woman was never my patient. I even wondered if I should drop out of the group, but I like going, and I joined, in part, at the request of someone else in the group, someone who has no idea this interaction is happening.

Just thought I'd share a day in the weird life of a shrink.


Rach said...

This has happened to me on numerous occasions with my shrink - I once in a while run in to him at the grocery store/pharmacy/whatever - our paths cross a few times a year.

Anyways, after the first time it happened, he told me that I was free to say hi or to ignore him - that it was up to me to initiate whatever interaction I felt was comfortable (which is usually a nod of the head and a warm smile, which he returns).

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that for me at least, I don't necessarily want to have to tell someone how I know him - why I'm making small talk with a seemingly random dude - but at least there's acknowledgment of "hey, that's someone I know and care about and I'll at least not ignore him out right".

I dont know if that sheds any light or not...

Anonymous said...

Thanks Rach-- that is the standard of what people do when they run into patients in public. What's different here is that this is not my patient and we had an association prior to my treatment of Family Member, and this wasn't a grocery store, it is an ongoing group of 20 or so people in a small room having a social gathering, so no one else would ask Warm Woman, "how do you know Dinah?"
Warm Woman seemed to avoid eye contact and the fact that I'd treated Family Member (who never said an unkind word about Warm Woman) didn't seem a reason to avoid interaction in this setting.
There is the issue that Warm Woman does not know what was revealed about her in treatment, and clearly, I do now know much more about her than she knows about me.
--Dinah (too lazy to sign in)

Marie said...


Since this is someone you've been friendly with in the past, and she wasn't your actual patient, I would say "hi! Great to see you!"

I don't think this is a conflict of interest at all. (But I'm not a shrink!) She may be nervous about the boundaries and not want to cross them. Just a thought.

Rach said...

Dinah - i totally understand. I was in the shrink's kid's class at one point (and we played sports and did yearbook together later on)...

Maybe it's not so much the power imbalance as it is the knowledge imbalance???

Sunny CA said...

I think I would have initiated the "Hi, Hello!" interchange. She is not your patient, she referred "business" to you.

When I ran into my own shrink in public at a concert, I went over to him and had a brief, light social exchange and I introduced my date to him and he introduced his companion to me. When I was in college and said "Hi!" warmly to my therapist (an MFCC) in a Greyhound bus terminal, I was very hurt and confused when she looked through me and ignored my hello that she had to have heard because we were only 5 feet from each other. It made me feel like a social "cut" the way someone refuses to acknowledge someone else due to a breach of etiquette.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of responders are not understanding that Warm Woman was not your patient.

In any event, the next time this group meets, I would make a point to say "hello". If you get the same vibe back, I would change her name to "not so warm anymore". This is not about you, but clearly about her own struggles (at this particular time in her life). Maybe the dynamic between family member and warm woman changed as a result of his/her treatment with you ... and she is not liking the change.

Unknown said...

Oh, I hear your pain friend.

Eliza said...

Maybe warm woman now felt a connection to you through the family friend instead of your initial contact... therefore if she did have to explain how she knew you it would be "oh that was family members shrink." That label of shrink- does it all. Here is an extreme example, a Dr. at an abortion clinic. Often times, that Dr. is not easily accepted in society because of the controversy surrounding abortion. The same can be applied to shrinks.. there is a huge stigma invovled with mental illness, therefore being invovled with a shrink can create an 'unfavorable' appearance of you in public. I struggle with mental illness and experience the stimga of mental illness daily... Although I fight back, not everyone may do that, thus making the social sitution 'weird'...just another prospective on interactions between shrink and warm woman.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes see my T at the gym or at the showers (after a swim).
May be akward :-)

We even went to the same Yoga class once or twice.

We live about 5 minutes away so we see each other quite often, and I often walk by her house when I walk my pooch .

Anyway a polite hello or nod will do.

Aqua said...

I saw a therapist who I ran into periodically at social functions. my first session she explained she would never initiate contact if we ended up at the same function together, or ever say anything about my being a client. I really appreciated her saying this.

I was new to therapy then, so the protocal info was new to me and helpful.

It's funny now because I am pretty open about having a mental illness, and about seeing a psychiatrist. In fact, I am trying hard to not allow myself to feel any stigma for being mentally ill.

If I ran into my psychiatrist at a function I would be happy to say hello and introduce him to others just like I would anyone I knew.

Sunny CA said...

Apple announcement is due January 26th: It is rumored that Apple will announce an eReader on January 26th or a tablet computer that can double as a reader, and I am atwitter. I love my Kindle, but would ditch it in a second for a so-much-better-and sexier Apple version. I am so excited I feel a bit like Roy did I think when he was waiting for the last iPhone.

Also on January 26th: I start my first bona fide teaching job! I started the process in October, 2007 with inquiries, an exam on the Constitution, subject matter exams, substitute teaching, and entered the credential program June, 2008 and got my credential June 2009 in Chemistry, Biology, Earth Science, and General/Physical sciences. I was lucky in the environment of teacher layoffs to get a substitute teaching job in a great district in September, 2009. Now they have given me a one-semester temporary assignment filling in for a teacher taking off a semester for her first baby. My first day teaching is Tuesday the 26th. I am 58 years old and making a career change. Wish me well!

Dinah said...

Sunny Ca:
Absolutely FANTASTIC!!! I love it when people have the chutzpah to make changes. My best to you and good luck. Wow!

HP said...

Maybe she was just plain miserable for whatever reason? Maybe she felt uncomfortable because she had initiated the request for you to see her family member and may feel she overstepped the boundaries of the 'relationship' at that time. Perhaps she's concerned about what you might know about her family...
I'd wait and see what happens next time...

Sarebear said...

Wow Sunny in CA! That's MARVELOUS!

Well Wishes on those changes and new directions!

Jen said...

I know this is quite delayed take is that saying Hi is okay, asking to give regards to Family Member is absolutely not. A few thoughts come to mind - Warm Woman does not necessarily know that treatment was successful or that Family Member remained in treatment with you. Alternatively, Warm Woman potentially has no idea that Family Member is no longer in treatment. Again, none of her business.
While Warm Woman and Family Member thought highly of each other during the time you treated Family Member, you have no idea if that is still the case.
In any of those scenarios - all entirely plausible - you have no knowledge and no right to intrude. You could be causing damage, chaos, or simply a clear breach of confidentiality.

Similarly, if Warm Woman says hi, it is of course fine to chat. It is not, however, at all okay to include any mention of Family Member.

As far as people potentially asking how Warm Woman knows you, I can't see that as any issue at all since you knew Warm Woman well before you treated Family Member. Wouldn't you simply give that association?

I'm not surprised at all that you (appropriately!) did not approach Family Member, but I am surprised that it wasn't clear cut.

NB I do also wonder if your supposition that Warm Woman was "avoiding eye contact" isn't just in your shrink mind. Just saying....