On the whole, in our relationships with the people we choose as friends we tend to show only one side of ourselves, the one which fits comfortably with the other person. It is likely that we will have discarded early on any too uncomfortable fits, unless we enjoy punishing ourselves or unless, as I as a young girl found I did, I felt it was somehow my fault that I didn’t get on with somebody and persisted in maintaining the friendship long after it stopped adding something to my life. Things are much more difficult with family relationships, because on the whole they are there for a lifetime; we therefore have to learn ways of avoiding those areas we find uncomfortable, and we do this more or less successfully.
With patients we enter quite a different level of relationship. We do not choose them as we do our friends. They ask to see us, and we agree to treat them unless there is any professional reason why we should not accept them as patients. We are expected to enter into a patient/practitioner relationship with them whatever our personal likes or dislikes, for our personal preferences should not play a part here. Whether a patient votes the same way as we do or has religious beliefs that we do not should not be a reason for our not treating them. There is also something reassuring in the fact that, unlike in the case of our family and friends, we do not need to extend our concern for our patients into that part of our life which lies beyond the practice room. It is one of the signs of a maturing approach to our practice that we learn not to let it overshadow the rest of our lives as often happens in the early days of our practice, when we may become too preoccupied with analysing every tiniest part of our interaction with our patients.
I have often quoted the words of Sogyal Rinpoche, “Do not get attached to your giving”, but I am happy to repeat them here for they have in many ways helped me maintain the necessary professional detachment without which we may allow our own feelings to cloud our perceptions, and in this way fail our patients.