By P. Berman, A. Hosack, & K. Hecht
Will Dr. Berman be able to read my mind? Will she think I’m a waste of space? I feel like I am being sucked in to nowhere.
Dr. Berman came in and called Claire’s name. Jumping up in a daze, Claire looked at Mr. Carson. He smiled at her, waved her on, and then picked up his book and started reading. To Claire, he looked so calm; everything must be okay. Mr. Carson was just pretending to be calm. He had never met a therapist before. He didn’t know what to expect but he trusted Ms. Alexandra and she thought this Dr. Berman was the right one to help Claire. He took a moment to close his eyes and pray that his Claire would get the help she needed.
Claire followed Dr. Berman into the room where they would be talking. It was bright and sunny, so different than the basement she had been dreaming about last night. Claire had tossed and turned hearing her dad’s belt strike her back for most of the night. But it was a different dream, a worse dream that sent her into a fit of screaming and woke everyone else in the house. In this dream, Claire was standing over Davy in the basement- holding her dad’s belt; was this her future? The Carsons wanted Claire to tell Dr. Berman about her nightmares. She just couldn’t. They were too private, too painful.
I feel like I am being sucked down into agony and pain. The Carsons think it would help to let the memories come out. But, maybe it would make things worse!
The sound of Dr. Berman’s voice pulled Claire back to the here and now. “Claire, please sit down anywhere you want.” Claire looked around and took the chair across from Dr. Berman. “Before I ask you anything about yourself, I wanted to tell you about me and what I can and can’t do to help you.”
Claire was relieved she was expected to talk first. She looked into Dr. Berman’s eyes. She saw someone looking very seriously at her but reassuring somehow. “Even though Miss Alexandra is paying for your visits, I made it clear to her that everything we talked about would be private between us. If you wanted to share something with her or the Carsons, that would be up to you.”
“They want me to talk about my past. I don’t know if I want too,” Claire whispered into clasped hands.
“You will decide what to tell me. (1-minute silence) But, even though most things we might talk about would be completely private, there are a few things that couldn’t be private if they came up.”
“I won’t tell you anything if you won’t promise me it’s private,” Claire whispered desperately.
“The only thing I care more about than your privacy Claire, is your safety, Davy’s safety, and people like the Carsons’ safety. If I was worried someone might not be safe, I am required by law to report this to the authority whose job it is to keep this person safe.”
I should never have come here. This is a mistake. I can’t tell her anything. It isn’t safe. What can I do?
“Claire, you looked so stressed by what I said. Let me give you an example of when safety might come first. I work hard to help people take good care of themselves and their children. Let’s say that two children came in with their parents to talk to me and I saw the children had a lot of bruises on their bodies. If I believe the bruises were caused by the bicycle accident they were talking about, then our conversation would remain completely private. However, if I was worried the parents had intentionally caused the bruises, no matter how much I cared about the parents, I would have to put the safety of the children first and call someone like Ms. Alexandra.”
“What would happen if those parents had accidentally knocked their children down when they were on bicycles- it really was an accident!”
“I have confidence that Ms. Alexandra would figure this out. She would apologize for asking the parents so many questions and then she would say goodbye to the family.” (two minutes of silence) Claire was thinking about the time she slapped Davy. He did get a bruise and it hadn’t been an accident. When the Carsons asked Davy about it, he had just looked at her. He didn’t tell them the truth and they got distracted getting by something and didn’t ask again.
“Claire, I can see you are thinking carefully about something. Do you have any questions for me about this?” (1- minute of silence) “It would be understandable if you were worried I wouldn’t keep something private between us if you didn’t want others to know about it.” (1-minute silence) “Claire, I notice you have shrunk down into your chair, can I help you think through something?”
Dr. Berman notices everything. What should I say? I am not telling her about hitting Davy. I can’t let Ms. Alexandra know she would be so disappointed in me!
Claire hadn’t hit Davy again since that really bad day. But, Davy was getting harder and harder to guide as he got older. The Head Start advice helped but some days, thoughts of hitting him did cross her mind. He had listened and done what she said after she hit him- it had worked, but it felt bad inside to do it.
“What if someone thought about hitting someone, who was being really annoying, but didn’t do it?”
“Everyone has thoughts of hitting or hurting someone from time to time. If someone told me this, I would keep this private unless, I was afraid that something terrible might happen. Then, I would have to try to stop it from happening.” Claire was sweating now and staring into her lap.
“I don’t know what you are thinking about Claire, but I can tell it is painful to think about. This is the type of choice you will have to make a lot in here. Will you share something with me, and maybe I can help you, or keep it to yourself and continue suffering alone?” (two minutes of silence) “It’s not an easy choice to make when you are unsure what I would do if I knew what the painful thought was.”
Claire blurted out, “I’m not afraid of Ms. Alexandra. She has always helped me!”
“I know she would be pleased to hear that, but I will keep it completely private, so it is up to you if she finds out you said it.” Claire smiles and then remembers something that made her look serious again.
“I met a girl, Nancy, just once at Ms. Alexandra’s office. She was about to be drug tested. She was scared because Ms. Alexandra did take her daughter away for a while. Nancy told me that when she was high, she would forget to care for her baby.”
“That is the safety issue I was talking about Claire. If I thought Davy wasn’t safe, I would call Ms. Alexandra even if you didn’t want me to. But, I wouldn’t just say Davy was unsafe, I would say what the two of us where doing to try to fix whatever the problem was.”
“You would help me even if I hurt Davy?” Claire said with a sob.
“Yes, Claire, that is why I am here. (1- minute pause) I want to do everything I can to help you.”
“Would you have Davy taken away just because I was getting really frustrated with him?”
“First of all, I can’t take children from their parents. (Claire is relieved to hear this.) Would I call Ms. Alexandra because you said you were really frustrated? No, all parents get really frustrated sometimes (Claire sighed). But, if I was worried that Davy might not be getting the food and shelter he needed to stay full and warm; I would call Ms. Alexandra. If I thought you were always talking to him in a cruel way, not once when you had a bad cold, but all the time. I would call her. If I thought you purposely injured him but called it discipline, I would call her. You can trust me, I will always put Davy’s safety first ahead of your privacy.”
Claire looked into Dr. Berman’s eyes and looked intent. “I might get really angry if you called Ms. Alexandra and told her things I didn’t want her to know.”
“I would be sorry you were angry at me but, that wouldn’t stop me. If I thought you were in danger of hurting Davy, the Carsons, or anyone else – including yourself, I would try to help you control yourself, so no one would get hurt. But, if I thought you might do something dangerous, I would take action to protect the person- even if it was a person I didn’t like or respect. Even If I totally understood why you would want to harm the person.”
“I might never want to see you again if you did this?”
“I would understand why you were angry at me. I would not want to disappear from your life Claire. But, safety must come before privacy. Even if meant Ms. Alexandra would need to find someone else for you to talk to.”
I guess it’s a good thing she would put Davy’s safety first. Davy might need to be protected from me. The dream felt very real. I was in the basement with Davy. I was holding the belt up and looking at him. I can’t let this dream come true! (2- minute silence)
“If you come back next week Claire, you could take time, like you are now, deciding what you wanted to talk about. It would be a partnership between you and me. We would decide on how to proceed together, on the goals you would want help with, using the strategies I have for helping people that would make the most sense for you. Your life is your life; I would not be sharing what we talked about with anyone, but you could tell anyone you wanted what we talked about.”
I don’t know what I want. I want to leave and run away. I want to stay and sink into the chair. What do I want? (2-minute silence)
“Claire, we will be talking together about some of the toughest things people face when they try to have a happy family. It would make sense if you weren’t sure you wanted to be here. (2 -minute pause) It is time to end for today.” (Claire is still sitting in the chair lost in thought)
“If you don’t want to come back and talk to me, just tell Ms. Alexandra and she will find you another therapist. I hope you come back. I will always be ready to listen to your point of view even if it means hearing you say that I have misunderstood you or that you don’t think I am helping you.”
Claire got up abruptly and almost knocked the flowers off the table by her feet. Dr. Berman caught them before they fell. Claire said, “I think I’ll come back but….I’m not sure.”