If I look at my relationship with the Wood element, as my first example, I realise that it has taken me a long time to work out a way of dealing with its strong needs. I tend to go through almost the same pattern of behaviour each time I encounter a Wood patient. I pass through an initial period of wanting to step away, as though shrinking from the push I feel coming towards me, then I experience a flicker, or more than a flicker, of irritation at feeling that I am being outmanoeuvred in some way, before I finally reach a more balanced stage of understanding where I know that to help my Wood patient I have to stand firm and, as it were, counter-punch, however gently.
With all Fire patients, on the other hand, I experience first a slight feeling of relief, sinceI am moving on to the familiar territory of my own element, accompanied by an initial sense of relaxation. Fire is the most articulate of all elements, enjoying speech as its way of communicating. Since I, too, like communicating through speech, it is easy for the patient and me to fall into the habit of indulging in a kind of idle chatter with which we both feel at ease. Experience has taught me, though, that I must issue a warning to myself to take care and not let the ease of this interaction divert from with the reason why the patient is here. I have to be aware, too, that in its need to make other people happy, Fire may also feel it should make light of its problems, and I have to be on the look-out in case I buy into the cheerful mask and ignore what lies beneath it.
One way I have devised of helping me here is through the simple expedient of employing silence, a tool we too seldom use in the practice room. I try consciously to quieten the emotional tone by reminding myself to fall silent. Silence on my part gives my patient permission to stop any superficial chatter, and offers them the space to think out what they really need to tell me. I have often found falling silent is the most difficult thing for me to do, and I have had to train myself to be on the alert against encouraging a babble of words to flood the practice room.
Although it is easy for me to develop a very warm relationship with all my Fire patients, this ironically makes it harder to set the correct emotional tone which is helpful for my patients. Familiarity does not breed contempt, far from it in this case, but it certainly breeds a false sense of relaxation.