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Three Short Tales
From the Psych Ward

 

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Page Contents: Three Short Tales

 

 
MANY years ago, after I had received my Ph.D. and while I was studying for my Psychologist licensing exam, I worked the 4:00 PM to midnight shift in a residential treatment program for severe psychiatric disorders.

I had one close colleague, Art, a man without my extensive education but who possessed years of experience in inpatient settings and a vast amount of common sense. I learned much from him.

As for the other “counselors” in the program, well, let’s just say they left a lot to be desired. They tended to be afraid of the clients, and on weekends, when Art and I were off-shift, all chaos often broke out. Then, on Sunday evenings, Art and I had to pick up the pieces and quiet things down for the rest of the week.

Here are three short tales, all true, that illustrate how common sense and honesty work wonders to avert crises.

 
The Knife

SOMEHOW he had managed to get a knife, and he had climbed on top of some filing cabinets, threatening the staff. The staff members were all in a panic and were about to call in a SWAT team.
     Art, hearing the commotion, came down the hall to investigate. He recognized his own client. “Jimmy! What do you think are you doing up there! Get down from there right now!”
     Jimmy looked at Art and lowered his eyes. “I’m sorry, Art.” He climbed down.
     Art put his arm around his shoulder and led him away to talk.
     End of crisis. No SWAT team.

 
The Gun

IT was about 8 or 9 PM on a warm summer evening. From his office, Art heard some shouting outside the building. He started walking to the front door to investigate.
     Just about then one of our patients ran into the foyer, followed by a man with a handgun.
     Art walked up to the man with the gun and calmly told him, “These people here are all mental patients.”
     Then he turned to our patient. “Arnie, this man has a gun! Don’t argue with a man with a gun!”
     Arnie started yelling again. “But he said . . .”
     Art repeated, “Arnie, don’t argue with a man with a gun!”
     Arnie continued yelling.
     Art screamed back, “Arnie, SHUT UP!”
     Then Art turned to the guy with the gun. The poor guy was standing there with his eyes bugged out and his mouth hanging open.
     Art said to him, “Do you understand what’s going on?”
     The guy nodded.
     Then Art said, “OK. Now, get out of here before we call the police.”
     The guy ran away like the proverbial bat out of hell.

 
The Fishnet Stockings

HE was a new admission to the residential treatment program after being released from the hospital following a suicide attempt. Moderate height, thin, the handsome facial features of a Native American, long glistening black hair. Shortly after dinner he knocked on the door of my office.
     He stood in the doorway dressed in a black tank top, short cut-off jeans, and black fishnet stockings. Mascara and eyeliner on his eyes, he winked at me and said, “How do I look?” Art, my office mate, always quick to size up a situation, raised his eyebrows and excused himself from the office.
     I thought for a moment. “Do you want the truth?” I asked.
     “Yes, of course,” my client smiled. I could see the hunger in his eyes.
     So I told him. “You look ridiculous.”
     His jaw twitched. His eyes flared white. Whirling around to stomp off down the hall in a huff, he screamed, in escalating intensity, “I hate you! I hate you! I HATE YOU!” Doors from other offices popped open. Staff members stared at me, wondering if they should call the police. I just shrugged and closed my door.
     Art had seen it too. He came back into our office, shut the door, and broke out into fits of laughter, tears streaming down his face.
     “I couldn’t help it, Art. I just had to tell him. I couldn’t lie.”
     Art had seen just about everything during his long career in working inpatient psychiatric wards. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Clients need to be told they can’t play games in therapy. In the end, they always appreciate honesty. He’ll be back.”
     About two hours later he did come back—in jeans and a T-shirt, with no makeup. This time Art stayed. My new client looked me in the eye and held out his hand. “I want to apologize for my behavior and thank you for being so honest. You’re the first person in the mental health system who was ever straight with me.”
     I actually ran into him about two years later, when he saw me in the parking lot of a supermarket. I was surprised that he recognized me, but I recognized him right away. He had the same long black hair, but no makeup, and no fishnet stockings. He remembered me. He was no longer in the mental health system. And he thanked me again.

 


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
San Francisco
 
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