Some of you know what it is like to step into a counselor’s office to discuss the most intimate thoughts and emotions you’ve ever experienced. You open up and reveal your fears, your confusion, your quest to know where the illness came from, how it can be treated, and lots of other questions. I’ve poured my heart out to people who nodded in predictable places, who said things like, I understand, or asking, How does that make you feel, What do you think about that, What do you think you should do? Here’s some homework, Ben. Work on it and we’ll discuss it when you return.
I still see my doctor regularly. The thing that seems to always put the visit in perspective isn’t something said. It’s a quick turn of the wrist and a glance at a watch, or eyes shifting to a clock on the wall. That’s the signal to wrap it up. Time’s up Mr. Overby. Stop by the front desk and the receptionist will make an appointment for next time. And just like that, I’m out.
We are not peers. Not a complaint. Just a difference.
I’ve found that one of the less obvious differences between a peer and a clinician is eye contact. Psychologists really look at you. I’ve tried to out stare them and always lose. They are analyzing, assessing, and formulating clinical judgments.
Recently I purchased a coffee pot. Ignoring the insult of written instructions, I studied it, analyzed the buttons, tried to figure out how it worked. I punched Power and waited for a response. I haven’t figured out how to work the auto on function, but it won’t be long.
We pay clinicians to figure us out, voluntarily permitting them to punch our buttons, jot down our response, eventually suggesting a treatment plan. That’s how it works according to my experience.
Peers don’t try to figure each other out. We don’t stare at each other or push buttons or attempt to provide treatment. When I’m talking with a peer he or she doesn’t look at me but with me. I’ve had lots of people gaze into my life through their eyes; only peers can look at my life through my eyes.