rivka: (her majesty)
[personal profile] rivka
Twelve years ago I posted about how important it is for therapists to learn the specific language used by their clients. Back then I saw clients in an inner-city HIV clinic. I needed to know phrases like dope-sick and ready rock, and understand the difference between hustling and tricking, not because my clients didn't understand the more formal language I was trained to use but because

They can tell that I'm not part of their culture, but I still owe it to them to at least show intelligent familiarity with that culture. They can tell I haven't been there, but at least I can convey that I know where there is.


I called that post to mind today. My client population has changed entirely, of course, but the principle is still the same:

"So there's this term, 'off the derech'-"
"Ah, right, and these kids are off the derech."
"Yeah, and they..."

Or, watching a perfectly cheerful baby who was nonetheless repeatedly bouncing his mouth off the front of his mother's shoulder:

"If you need to feed him, go right ahead."
"Well, he ate before we came, so he shouldn't need to..."
"Okay, I just thought he kind of looked like he wanted to nurse. I remember those days."
[Relief spreads across the mother's face. She pulls her breast out of the top of her shirt and then goes back to telling me about her older child's learning issues.]

Very few people go to see a psychologist for specific techniques, or for particular expertise - although those things are also important. You go to a psychologist to feel understood. And so your psychologist should speak your language.

Date: 2014-12-03 04:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chapstickqueen.livejournal.com
Your patients now are Orthodox Jewish? Or at least, speak Hebrew?
Yeah that's quite the change in colloquialisms!

Date: 2014-12-03 12:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rivka.livejournal.com
Some of them are, yeah. Maybe 5 percent?

Date: 2014-12-03 05:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] naomikritzer.livejournal.com
That's an amazing and fascinating essay.

And yeah, it's depressing how many professionals feel no obligation to learn this stuff (and, worse, will make fun of people for saying they've got "the sugar" instead of "diabetes," for instance.)

Date: 2014-12-03 01:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] singinglark.livejournal.com
I agree. When you're trying to communicate with someone, it's much more effective if you try to meet them where they are, rather than expecting them to come to where you are.

Date: 2014-12-03 03:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lydy.livejournal.com
A long time ago, when I was in therapy, I had a spectacularly good therapist. We so very much did not speak the same language, but she was very good at _learning_. I think the funniest conversation was the one where I was admitting to certain kinks, and she said, with amazement, "You mean, it hurts?"

"Um, yes," I said. "That's kind of the point."

I watched her think, regroup, recalibrate, then ask several very smart questions about BDSM. She thanked me for the information, which she had not previously had, and we went on. It was interesting to watch her integrate the information without getting upset about it. I worked with her for ten years.

Date: 2014-12-03 06:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] adrian-turtle.livejournal.com
Being willing to learn is really valuable, but it's different from already knowing some of the background. Needing to teach Kink101, Poly101, Fat Acceptance101, and Invisible-Disability101 can really get in the way of talking about my anxiety around looking for work. I'm generally ok with teaching one and covering one...but the more background understanding the therapist has, the easier it is for us to actually accomplish stuff.

Though covering can be really weird. I'd been seeing my primary care physician for quite a long time before I came out to her as poly. She had always been concerned about my emotional health and social support network. She knew the name of my boyfriend in Virginia, and that we visited back and forth, and remembered to ask if I'd be spending Rosh Hashanah with him (rather than if I'd be spending Christmas with my mother.) So she was really shocked when I told her he was married. And that he had BEEN married all this time. And his wife and I had an understanding, and it wasn't a problem. Oh. And I also had a girlfriend who lived out of state and was married to somebody else.

Date: 2014-12-04 04:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lydy.livejournal.com
By the time the kink stuff came up, we had a very valuable working relationship, so to me it was completely worth it to spend a little while on education in order to continue our relationship. I don't remember her specific questions, but I do remember that they were smart, insightful, and that she was obviously trying to understand whether or not what I was describing was healthy for me without having preconceived notions about whether or not it was healthy. She was very, very good at catching me when I was bullshitting myself, but also very good at noticing and validating honesty and insight. While some of the things I told her surprised her, she evaluated the information within the context of my life and values, not her own.

On the other hand, I had a primary care doctor who, every year like clockwork, would tell me that monogamy was healthier than polyamory, and that I should cease and desist with the multiple sexual partners. She was irritating, but I just kind of ignored her and got my necessary care. There was one time when I got a urinary tract infection from doing exactly the stuff you're not supposed to do because it causes that, and she was even more judgmental than usual. She actually threatened to put me in the hospital on IV antibiotics, and I think that her primary reason was that she was pissed at me, not because I was that sick. In the end, she decided I didn't have enough of a fever to warrant it. Bitch.

Date: 2014-12-04 01:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rivka.livejournal.com
Lydy, waaay waaay back when I was a grad student, I had a client who was excessively pleased with how edgy she was. She went to a Halloween party dressed as a dominatrix - although, as far as I could tell, she wasn't kinky IRL.

She was telling me a story about the party, and said "And then I took my flogger - "

Then she stopped, and defined it for me helpfully: "a flogger is a whip that has lots of tails, and..."

It was all I could do, in my carefully neutral therapist's persona, to keep a straight face and just nod.

Date: 2014-12-04 05:02 am (UTC)

Date: 2014-12-04 04:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lydy.livejournal.com
It was very kind of you to let her be all edgy at you.

Date: 2014-12-04 04:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rivka.livejournal.com
Or, depending on how you look at it, it was unkind of me to deprive her of a shocked and impressed reaction.

Date: 2014-12-04 04:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lydy.livejournal.com
You didn't laugh. You get so many points for that.

Date: 2014-12-03 08:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] balmofgilead.livejournal.com
"Off the derech" is such an interesting, loaded phrase. (I grew up Orthodox, and people probably describe me using those words.) It is not lost on me that the phrase plays into the belief that there is ONE path and that everyone (or at least everyone born Jewish) should be on it.

Date: 2014-12-03 08:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rivka.livejournal.com
Yeah, no kidding. Which is why it can be incredibly helpful to have a therapist who is familiar with cultural issues in that community while not actually being part of that community. Someone who, for example, understands why "I had a boyfriend" is a shocking bombshell of a revelation, without actually herself being shocked.

Date: 2014-12-03 09:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] balmofgilead.livejournal.com
Oh, totally. When I was in high school, hanging out at the kosher pizza shop on Saturday nights was considered extremely risqué (and eventually forbidden by the school) because there were boys there.

Date: 2014-12-08 02:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lynsaurus.livejournal.com
I don't have anything insightful to add, I just want to appreciate your ability to learn where "there" is.

Date: 2014-12-09 05:51 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Hm. It also sounds like how they recommend that you at least try to learn a few phrases in a country in which you'll travel. You might have hideous pronunciation and accent, but if it's done sincerely, there's a clear element of goodwill.

(And if done insincerely, well... just don't :-).)

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