Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Accidental Patient

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 1, 2011

Jack, fifty-four, was telling me how hard it was to cope with his ailing ninety-three year old father. He agonized over how much stress his dad was putting on his fifty-six year old sister, Juliana. I wondered aloud, “maybe I could meet her; maybe that will help me understand you better. Also, maybe I can suggest some ways for her to get some relief.” Jack, hesitant and enthusiastic at the same time, said “well, I will ask her.” Six months later, Juliana and Jack come for a session. Jack sits there quietly as Juliana and I get to know each other. Juliana is there as an informant, not a patient. I need to tread gently, so as not to make her feel like she is the focus of attention, yet at the same time, my questions are directed at her about her concerns about her dad. Some moments are more sensitive than others. She tells me that certain things are private and she would rather not discuss them. I readily agree, but I am curious about whether the issues are private or shameful. Maybe that is the same thing. At the end, Juliana and Jack leave. I think the session went well, but I am not sure. Jack returns to his next appointment with great enthusiasm. “Juliana wants to go to therapy,” he says with great hope. Juliana has never been in psychotherapy, and in the past she had little respect for the process,  but she is now open to going. Although she has had struggles before her father became frail, she has refused any mental health intervention. Now, Jack feels the tides are turning. The one session with me, according to Jack, made Juliana realize that she could be understood; that her conflicts could be resolved, at least partly. Maybe she also felt unburdened. It seemed that way to me, although I am not sure she would agree.  “The accidental patient,” I say aloud to Jack, thinking that I was not sure that Juliana would be open to  psychotherapy. In the end, Juliana felt like a dry plant, with psychotherapy giving her the needed water in order for her to survive her fears. The experience of feeling heard can be powerful. I know that, but it is always a challenge.

2 Responses to “The Accidental Patient”

  1. Shelly said

    Was this helpful to your patient, Jack?

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