The education, training and development for young therapists is changing rapidly. They are receiving more training in how to address and monitor issues related to psychiatric medications, in coordinating with medical providers, and far more training in evidence based services.
But, young therapists today lack any knowledge or confidence in what to do if their client farts during therapy! Therapists today don’t even seem willing to consider the therapeutic implications of this very important issue. They seem to think that bodily functions, fort both them and their patient turn off at the therapy room door.
Some of these things are “gross,” and unprofessional! We’re not supposed to talk about them. We’re therapists man, we deal with the mind! It’s even rather impolite, improper, edgy and challenging that I’m writing about this.
But, these things happen. Our patients are human, and we therapists, well, we are even more human sometimes. Yoga therapists talk about farting during classes - why don't therapists? When we don’t talk about these things, we perpetuate the myth that therapists are infallible, and that the things that aren’t discussed, don’t need to be discussed. I disagree. I think in fact that the things we don’t talk about, are exactly the things we need to explore.
These are terribly amusing, but painfully funny situations. A friend told me a story once, of seeing a therapist who insisted on having her dog (a pseudo-therapy dog – don’t get me started on that debacle) in the therapy room. Unfortunately, the dog had a stomach condition, and tremendously odiferous emanations, to which the therapist was apparently immune. Sadly, my friend, the patient, was not.
These are silly situations, but I’ll be honest, I believe they are the test of therapeutic skills. They are opportunities to engage with patients, at a human level. I recall reading once, where a famous psychologist recalled with horror when he once urinated a stall, next to one of his mentors. The writer was stunned and shocked at the realization that his idol was human, with human conditions and needs. But that writer, Maslow, I think, used that opportunity to examine and consider his view of the world, and his place in it.
So, here you go. Based on many years of real-world experiences, this is what you consider in these situations:
When you have to go to the bathroom
When your patient has to go to the bathroom
When your body, or theirs, is a distraction during therapy
When somebody passes gas in therapy
We therapists are human, as are our patients. It is through our shared humanity that we are able to facilitate healing. We help people, through empathy, self-awareness, acceptance, and the courage to observe and comment on things that others do not. Our society treats many bodily experiences with shame, disgust and feigned ignorance. It is truly a therapeutic gift, when we are able to help a patient to break free of those suppressive social messages.
Got stories of your own, of humanity intruding into the therapy session? Share them in the comments! You can follow Dr. Ley's musings on therapy, sex, and the business of mental health on Twitter @DrDavidLey