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
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.
the other counselors in the program, well, lets 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
wonders to avert crises.
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. Im
sorry, Art. He climbed down.
Art put his arm around his shoulder and led him away
End of crisis. No SWAT team.
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! Dont argue with a man with a gun!
Arnie started yelling again. But he said . .
Art repeated, Arnie, dont 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 whats
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
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?
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
I couldnt help it, Art. I just had to tell
him. I couldnt lie.
Art had seen just about everything during his long career
in working inpatient psychiatric wards. Dont worry, he
said. Clients need to be told they cant play games in therapy.
In the end, they always appreciate honesty. Hell be back.
About two hours later he did come backin 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. Youre 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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