On Being
(At the Hyatt
Regency Bar)

(Our author has just survived a five day conference on family therapy in Phoenix.)


The last night I repair to the Hyatt Regency watering hole. I have become autistic from psychodynamic overload, coupled with traces of anxiety (will I ever get out of Phoenix?), alienation (there are too many psychotherapists in the world), displacement (I need another drink) and psychotaxis depression (if I hear one more schizophrenia success story, I'll cry.)

Despite my burgeoning catalepsy, I attract the attention of a wiry counselor from the eastern shore of Maryland by, the name of Lisa. She is a helper, another that I define as a Trench Worker. She, tells of alcoholics, the wife-and child-abusers, the lonely and the depressed, all the terminal cases that she sees in the course of a week. "The trouble with this conference," she says, "is that they tell you techniques for dealing with stuck families, or wife beaters, or alcoholic, violent fathers --- but they don't tell you how to deal with all of these in the same family: Where do you begin?"

Like most people in her profession, Lisa is in there trying to help. She gets a crummy salary, miserable working conditions, and terrible bosses. Every time, there is a budget cut in Maryland social services it is her department that is affected. She does what she can as best she is able --- to bring some kind of solace to the hundreds of clients in her all-too-large service area. Like most of her peers in the profession, she is conscientious, thoughtful, and wise beyond her years. She also does some counseling on her own.

"What do you do for a living?" she asks me.

"I'm a taxidermist," I tell her.

"Really?" she says. "How interesting. Why are you attending this conference?" she says.

"Actually I'm at the meeting next door," I tell her, "The AASA --- the Ataxic Animal Stuffers of America. We just happen to be here at the same time as...what do they call your group?

"What do you do for a living?" she asks.

"Actually, I was just joking. All that about me being a taxidermist. I'm a reporter --- press and radio. I'm here covering your conference," I say. "I just said all that about taxidermy because I'm basically shy."

"Hm, she says. "You say you're shy. What do you mean?"

"It might have something to do with the fact that my father was a taxidermist, and my mother was into ichthyology. I was always afraid that they were going to stuff me."

"You say your father was a taxidermist?" she says.

"No, I'm just being silly. Actually my father was a lawyer, who divorced my mother and married his job. And my mother divorced her children and adopted stocks and bonds."

"What makes you think you are shy?" she say says.

Those therapists! They never really stop practicing their craft, do they? Do surgeons come home and cut up their children? Do plumbers come home and take the hot water heater apart? Do attorneys come home and cross-examine their wives?

"l never know what to say to people." I say, "so I just shut up." "Can you think back to the time in your life when you first felt that way? I mean, can you close your eyes right now and go back to where you first felt this?" Lisa is the complete therapist, and I suppose she'd have to be fairly enthusiastic about her chosen profession to stay in it for thirty years and stay alert and alive, much less go to the trouble of psychoanalyzing me in the Fern Room of the Hyatt Regency. I can tell by her determination that she is a full time mind-worker.

"I don't have to shut my eyes," I tell her: "I already know." I haven't been on the receiving end of the Shrink Biz all these years for nothing. I tell her a few of my secrets. Lisa and I embark on a bit of Friday evening barroom Psychotherapeutic Sunday Afternoon Touch Football. She's been a "helper" for as long as I have been a "client." We both know the rules of our respective trades, and we are both I good at them. This brief interchange hints at what she and I do in our outside, non-conference world, a give-and-take, leading us together into the next stage of our lives, whatever that might be.

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