Last Sunday night I dropped a pot of boiling water on my hand. My quick thinking teen aged son who was standing near by promptly grabbed me, led me to the sink and held my burned wrist under perfectly tepid running water. Shortly there after we took a quick trip to the ER where they wrapped me up and sent me back home.

I’m healing nicely. But the white bandage around my left hand has been good fodder all week in my office. There’s been an interesting hodgepodge of reactions from my clients, from not noticing at all to “Wow! What happened to you?”

It’s brought me back to the several pregnancies I’ve had while in private practice when my body was inflating in front of me, and in front of my clients. Some noticed early on, and others were shocked when – toward the end of the pregnancy - I said I would be out of the office for a bit. Some wanted to know why, others just wanted to know when I’d be back. It was indeed an interesting study in narcissistic transferences, object relations, relationships and character.

So here I am with white gauze wrapped around my literal wound debating about which figurative hat to wear in session. My own analyst, if wounded, (would I want her wounded? If so, why?) would most likely nod slightly and say something like “What do you think happened?” And then we might spend the session in some sort of fantasy exploration of my ideas, associations or feelings about what may have happened, about knowing or not knowing, and what that would or would not mean to me. Depending on my mood I would find this either interesting and helpful or downright annoying and useless. Probably some of both. But I would tell her that too.

That’s part of the freedom of being able to say everything and anything in therapy. It includes saying whatever you feel about the therapy and the therapist, which does often lead to better feeling states and more insight. So what’s better for my clients? To know? To guess? To talk and see what comes up? Or to satisfy the question if asked? Feed the desire, gratify the need? Or perhaps just to engage in the righteous social norm of polite dialogue? After all if I tell too soon, are we missing out on a memory of a mother being hauled off in an ambulance, or the time they cut their own finger? Maybe if I don’t answer too quickly I will find out that they feel concerned about me, that I mean a lot to them, or the opposite. Some folks just want to know that I am able to do my job or continue to take care of them or both. With some, the exchange has been sweetly and simplistically human, a currency of concern and connection that flows naturally through both the therapeutic and real relationship that exists between us.

Perhaps too, my injury offers an opportunity to explore empathy and to learn more about how aware we are of each other, of others, of ourselves. And for some, my injury means that I must know now, for sure, what it feels like to be hurt.

Mostly, my clients have been satisfied to know that my attention to them has not been affected by whatever has happened to my wrist, even though it does bring home, on some conscious or unconscious level the registration that I exist outside of the office and am susceptible to the perils of life just as they are. And that I too might benefit from an analysis of why I hurt myself, unconscious though it was.

Not mistreating the treatment seems to be the most important thing. That and taking very good care of the relationship. So, to satisfy or to analyze? It’s hard to know exactly all the time, but it seems to me that a little bit of both usually goes a long way toward healing and avoiding burns.

File under: The Art of Psychotherapy, A Day in the Life of a Therapist