Having recently retired from my decades-long university clinical training position, and having significantly reduced my private practice, I no longer feel tethered. While my use of the word “tethered” may suggest a state of involuntary constraint, all has been quite by choice and fortunately, according to plan. As part of my elaborate and strategic exit plan, I crafted a clever, professional, and appreciative “gone-golfing” out-of-office memo with the university and left no forwarding address. But because I have, in the past, received clinical referrals through that encrypted email server, I have not completely separated myself mentally from my role of teacher, supervisor, and clinician. I still occasionally check that email, partly out of separation anxiety, partly out of FOMO, and partly in hopes I might still receive something interesting—a challenge, an offer, an invite, or even the possibility of a few unanticipated bucks.

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Then, just the other day, one of those enticements arrived. An out-of-state attorney asked if, as a clinician, educator, and play therapist, I would be interested in serving as an expert witness in a malpractice case against a clinician, also out-of-state, who, according to the plaintiff, had erred in their treatment of a young child while providing play therapy services and divorce/custody-related assessment in the shadow of an acrimonious divorce.

I guess those old circuits had not completely faded, because within moments I had created a litany of considerations and possibilities, and applied a “valence of acceptability” (VOA) to each (1=highly acceptable, 5=highly unacceptable):

  • Divorce, malpractice, and court-related meant high fees and up-front payment for anticipated work involved, from record review to expert testimony (VOA=1)
  • Excitement, intellectual challenge, professional reinvigoration, opportunity to put my extensive clinical/assessment experiences to use (VOA=2)
  • Rapid amortization of the above (VOA=5)
  • Sacrifice of free time (VOA=5)
  • Diminution of already-fragile golf course concentration (VOA=5)
  • Concern over of subsequent litigation against me (VOA=5)
  • Random, unanticipated, but highly likely agita (VOA=5)

Total average unweighted VOA=4.0

Decision=Decline Invitation

Follow-up=Increase Daily Dosage of Vitamin N (No), Play More Golf

With this decision made, I re-contacted the lawyer, who politely asked me for the basis of my determination. Rather than share my entire mental litany, I simply said, “Thanks so much for the invitation to work on this case, but at this stage of my career, I simply don’t want the agita.” He understood and interestingly, revealed his own age, shared the toll these kinds of family law cases take on all involved, and wished me luck on the golf course. Funny thing is that I never mentioned that I played golf, so assume he associated that with retirement and the fact that I live in South Florida. I did not bill him for the 45 minutes of rumination and 15 minutes it took to compose the email.

As a clinician/evaluator, and in particular play therapist who has worked in the shadows of court orders, as well as with young children, their warring parents, and typically zealous, although more often aggressive, non-family-oriented attorneys whom I later found out had their own shares of painful early childhood experiences, the decision made complete sense to me…and still does. I knew from my own clinical experiences that while the first victim of divorce and custody-related battles is the truth, my own peace of mind typically ran a very close second. And while a sense of gratification often attached to having done a good job, the ensuing sense of relief and goodwill rarely extended to the players in the respective case, and the children continued to suffer the slings and arrows of the parent’s (and attorneys’) unfinished business. And all of this came rushing back as I made my decision.

***

In my previous blog, “Are We Really Ever Off Duty,” I wondered aloud whether I will really ever be fully able to simply cover that “third ear” and re-enter “civilian” conversational life without the desire, need, or intent to somehow help by offering an unsolicited psychotherapeutic salve to soften scars and mend wounds. This particular sense of wondering related more so to that part of my career when I was on active duty, so to speak. But what about when the “gone golfing,” or “gone fishin,” or gone wherever I want to go” sign is officially hung on my door? When will I no longer be drawn to the enticements, at least those of a professional type? Stay tuned, I’ll let you know.


File under: A Day in the Life of a Therapist, Musings and Reflections