Archive for November, 2009

Problem Solver

Friday, November 27th, 2009

He is having problems in his marriage.

After the first session he tells me that he is waiting for me to tell him how to fix things.

I tell him that I will have to triple my price to do that.

I doubt that he got my message, and I could have said it better anyway. 

The point was missed, and the moment gone.  But it will return.

My profession is frequently referred to as a “helping” profession.

Patients come to be “helped” with their problems.  Those riddles of their lives they have not been able to solve, but continue to repeat–over and over and over.


She has returned to ground zero–again.  She tells me that all her relationships end badly.  This recent one has just gone that way.  She cries hysterically and looks at me imploringly wanting to know “what to do”.

I usually respond with “Why do you have to do anything?”  But I stop myself.

I am aware of an immense pressure to “help”–to give her the answer to make the pain go away. 

She looks at me like I’m crazy, missing my point.  All she wants is the pain to stop.  She doesn’t want to learn anything from this repeat performance.  Just make the pain go away.

I am struck that no matter what I say, it won’t satisfy her.  She is greedy for an answer.  Anything to stop the pain.  Perhaps that is why alcohol and drugs are so effective.  They do make the pain appear to go away.


There is an incredibly strong pull I feel to be helpful in the consulting room.

Yet I am distrustful of being helpful.

I doubt that most patients want “help”. 

Being human, we just want the pain to stop and go away.  We don’t want to learn and suffer the pain of learning.

I read this last sentence and I think to myself, “How cynical”.  The part of me that wants to help has kicked in and begins to criticize my own thoughts.

It is a struggle for me some days to NOT be helpful and tolerate the suffering of the patient.  It is easier and less painful for ME to rush in and be helpful.  Then I don’t have to tolerate the patient’s pain and suffering.

And I feel good about myself. I have “helped” somebody.


But have I really?

Oh I have “helped” create the illusion that the pain is gone.  But I doubt it really is.

What has the patient learned other than to depend on me the next time they have the problem/pain?

Will they be able to solve their own problems next time? Will they be able to suffer their pain a bit more?


These of course are my biases.

Perhaps I should just give the patient what they are asking for-“help”.

But I distrust the plea for help as real.  It is usually a manner to avoid the pain and suffering involved in learning to think for oneself and solve one’s own problems.

But doesn’t this make me cruel–refusing to help?

This back and forth conversation is endless.

I imagine it is a way for me to avoid the pain of not being helpful.


I had a patient once who ran a human resources organization.

She said that she tried to help all her employees.

I asked “why”?  And she looked at me perplexed.

I told her that one has to be careful about who one helps.  Not everyone wants help.  Most just want you to solve their problems for them.


In years gone by, when I started in this “helping” profession, I hung a poster in my office that read “Everyone wants to be somebody, nobody wants to grow”.


As I write this piece, I have come to realize that this issue of “helping” has been a struggle for me for a long time.

How do I discriminate persons that actually want help from those that merely want me to solve their problems?

And who am I to make such a discrimination/judgement?


One theory that I like goes something like this.  The baby communicates what it needs help with, and the mother understands, takes the problem in, and returns it to the baby in a way that the baby can use and learn from.

The problem seems to be when the mother attempts to return the problem to the baby.

I imagine the baby thinking/saying “No thanks.  It’s your problem now”.

And if the mother agrees, then…..

Then at least she can feel “helpful”.  But what has the baby learned?

And does it matter?


Dr. Brody