Gone in 60 Seconds: How to Handle a Mental Health Workshop Heckler By Howard Rosenthal, EdD on 5/9/13 - 11:31 AM

Like most of you, as a psychotherapist, book author, and educator, I am often asked to give workshops, and educational seminars. For many of us, sharing our unique expertise is a part of our professional mission.

A while back I was contacted by a church group who wanted to give a series of eight different mental health workshops during the spring. Each of the workshops would be presented by a different expert. I was going to be the final presenter, number eight, and quite frankly was looking forward to presenting.

The week prior to my lecture, the workshop coordinator contacted me. His opening question threw me off guard. "Are you still sure you want to do the seminar?"

"Of course, I do. Why wouldn't I want to present?"

"I don't think you understand, Dr. Rosenthal. There has been a heckler in the crowd and she is so mean and critical that virtually all of the speakers who came before you said they wouldn't have done it, had they known how verbally vicious this woman was."

I must admit the reactions of the speakers sounded a tad extreme. "Look, why doesn't someone just put this woman in her place?"

Again he countered with, "I don't think you understand Dr. Rosenthal."

"Okay, please enlighten me, what exactly don't I understand?"

"Well, this woman—the heckler—is a well-known psychologist. At times she corrects the speakers on their information, and she seems to know more about the subject than they do. It has been very embarrassing for the presenters."

Now I wanted to deliver my speech more than ever. "Hmm. Let me ask you a question. I assume these are large crowds, but is there a way I would know who this woman is with 100% accuracy?"
The workshop coordinator explained that our friendly neighborhood psychologist from hell heckler always sat in the front row, dressed in a very distinct way, and that I could easily pick her out despite a crowd hovering near the 300 mark.

"Then, I'll do the lecture," I confidently announced.

The big day finally arrived. As I was introduced with a brief bio, and handed the microphone, I laid eyes on the enemy for the first time. Our friendly neighborhood psychologist from Hades was sitting right in the middle of the front row. She had a smug look on her face. Glancing at her body language I was certain she was ready, willing, and able, to sucker punch me or take me down at the knees, in moment's notice.

But trust me when I say Dr. Expert psychologist was in for a major unexpected surprise, because I was going to strike first. After making a few opening comments I asked the audience a very difficult, if not impossible question, I had researched. Just how hard was this question? Glad you asked. Well let's put it this way. If you could have magically placed Sigmund Freud in the audience the chances are good he would have nudged Theodor Reik, if he were sitting next to him, to cadge an answer. In any event, I asked if anybody in the audience knew the answer knowing darn well I had a better chance of winning the lottery that day and I hadn't even purchased a ticket!

I marched forward beyond the podium and into the crowd stopping right in front of you know who. I stared her right in the eye and said, "How about you ma'am? How would you answer my question?"
Miss Expert shared her answer. I was intentionally silent for a few brief moments.

I continued giving her an eyeball to eyeball stare and then I spoke loud and clear into the microphone. "Absolutely, positively wrong! Now I don't want you to feel bad. That's exactly what any other untrained person would say. But you folks are not psychologists, or therapists, or mental health experts, and that's why you are here . . . to learn something new."

It was at that moment that our psychologist's reign of terror ended. She grabbed her expensive designer handbag, grimaced, and made a bee line for the exit sign to the right of the podium.
Gone in 60 seconds. You've got to love it folks!

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