Yesterday I caught myself talking to a patient about something personal to me, prompted by what the patient was telling me. As I said it, I realised that I had made a mistake, for I could feel that my remark had slightly changed the direction of what the patient wanted to tell me. It was as if I had interposed my shadow between the patient and me.
I have often said that we should try to cast as few of our
own shadows over those we encounter, because these distort our relationships
with them. This is particularly true of
our encounters with our patients, where the need for maturity on the
practitioner’s part is at its greatest.
For if we utter an unwise remark or react clumsily, our patient will
feel constrained to adapt his/her behaviour, however slightly, to take account
of what appears to be a problematic area they perceive in us, and may well
hesitate to open themselves up further.
Then the chance for them to feel free to explain themselves without
inhibition may be lost, and our relationship with them may descend into the
kind of superficial encounter which characterizes much of everyday life.
The practice room should not reflect such superficialities. It should be the place where the patient
feels free not to have to adapt their behaviour to take their practitioner’s
personal needs into account. As practitioners we have to learn to remain
true to ourselves, whilst assessing with each patient how far it is appropriate
to share some of our personal views, but never to burden them with our