Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Fear

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 25, 2011

     Buck, the focus of the documentary, knew one thing. Fear inhibits coöperation, often resulting in aggression. By contrast, trust creates team work and serenity. This is as true for people as it is for animals. Paige, a fictional patient, reports to me that our relationship has taken a turn for the worse. She feels I am critical and judgmental of her. As she continues to describe her negative feelings, she is clear that she has come to fear my commentary such that it is very hard to work with me. Her trust that I will say things in a gentle way has been threatened. Sure, her fear could come from her childhood, which is now transferred on to me. Sure, I could have changed in a way that made her substantially more fearful. Either way, Buck’s point is still valid. Fear could destroy our working relationship. To build it back up, trust needs to be re-established. Buck shows in the film that creating trust involves patience, understanding, and calmness. As he worked with the horses, Buck reminded me of my work as a psychotherapist. He gives the horse a space to be so that he can develop an understanding of that particular horse, in the same way that I try to give patients a space to unfold in order for me to really understand their mental processes. Intruding into that space too soon can create fear. Waiting too long can cause the person, the horse, to feel abandoned. The art of knowing when to introduce a new way of behaving is the challenge.

4 Responses to “Fear”

  1. Jon said

    As you have pointed out, these situations are two examples of a more general condition – One does not “break a horse,” but works with her; one does not cure a patient, but works with her. Fear can be deleterious to catastrophic. Mutual trust must be developed for team work to work. The film is a realization of how to build such trust between human and horse; however, the lesson is much more general. As you have also noted, timing is also of the essence – a key part of the art.

  2. Shelly said

    Is “Fear” the name of a documentary? Why do you attribute Paige’s “fear” to childhood issues? How does one build trust in a therapist – client relationship if a client takes a therapist’s suggestions as criticisms? How does a therapist balance criticism of a client’s mistakes with advising them on a road to health or recovery?

    • Sorry for being not clear. “Buck” is the name of the documentary.
      I am confused by Paige’s fear, so I speculate that it could be from childhood issues.
      Building trust is the art of therapy. Understanding why she takes my comments as criticisms is my job. Yes, if a patient feels criticism, her defenses will go up and the therapeutic work will be halted, at least temporarily. My job is to decrease her defenses so we can examine her behavior. This job of decreasing defenses can sometimes take many years. Thanks, as always.

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