Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Power Outage

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 8, 2013


You missed me yesterday? I apologize for not doing my Monday posting. 11:00 am, in the midst of a session, the lights went out, the computer made an “annoying beep” my patient told me, with good humor. I said “I would turn off the beep, but I don’t know what is going on, so it is hard for me to turn it off.” The annoying beeps continued, to which I said “I think this is the computer telling us that it has a few more breaths left before it collapses entirely.” So it did. My phone worked, thank goodness, but email went away, and so my communication with so many of my clients instantly disappeared. I did my due diligence. I called the office management. I called the city. Daylight made it such that I could see in my office (thanks for my window), but my waiting room was pitch dark. It was a late night for me, so I thought that this could be really challenging as the sun goes down. At the same time, I wanted to believe, that in this major metropolitan area, my electricity would be up and running quickly, given that I work in a business area and the city of Los Angeles, would not want to lose business. Of course, as so many of you readers predicted, I could not have been more wrong. The daytime turned into evening, and so patient care was by lantern. Email would have to wait. This blog, sadly, was the last priority. With a few minutes in between clients, I could run to Kinko’s, across the street, to do a quick email scan for emergent situations, but then run back to my dark, and somewhat frightening office. The keypad to get into my building was also not working. The stairway to my office was dark, scary and dangerous. Another call to my landlord, only to find out it is the problem with the city of Los Angeles. A call to the city, proved little help. They said they were unaware of the problem. I knew my landlord was telling the truth, so I was left to believe the city was not on the ball. Meanwhile, my clients took it in good stride. I took the darkness to discuss Sigmund Freud. He wanted his patients not to see him (and lie on the couch) so that they could get in touch with their own minds, without the distraction of the therapist’s facial expressions. Perhaps our dark sessions were an opportunity to see if new things could be brought to light in the midst of this darkness. And what about those folks who rely on my email communication? Would they call me if they really needed an answer promptly? I am not sure. Would they feel frustrated that I am not responding to an important matter? Maybe. Should I quickly put on my email an outgoing message which instructs the patient to text or call me? Maybe, but I wanted to believe the problem would be fixed quickly. Should I get a smart phone so that I have backup email? Maybe. The sun set. The sun rose. Power was restored. Emails were attended to. The world was right again. Oh, did I mention that amazon sent me the wrong toner for my printer? That’s another story.

2 Responses to “Power Outage”

  1. Shelly said

    I really enjoyed this blog. It showed me a side of psychiatrists that I didn’t really imagine before. I don’t think other specialists really care if their patients can be in touch with them if the electricity goes down for several hours. I wanted to touch on something you mentioned about Sigmund Freud and the dark: I think it’s very important for your patients to be able to read your face while they are speaking. In my mind, therapy isn’t just about voicing their thoughts; it’s about airing one’s feelings and emotions and receiving feedback. Feedback isn’t just auditory, it’s sensory. Sensory in the “sense” that people can read body language from the therapist, including tone and facial cues. Therefore therapy without seeing the therapist’s facial cues, to me, wouldn’t be very valuable at all. What do you think?

    • Thanks, Shelly.
      I think you can predict what I am going to say, but here goes. I agree with you that for some folks, the feedback of facial expression is critical to feeling connected and cared for. However, for others, the facial expressions are distracting from their internal process and hence serve to inhibit deeper exploration. Also, within one individual, there are times when facial feedback is important and other times, where a more “solitary” process is appreciated. Like all relationships, people need their “alone time” within the context of psychotherapy, and lying down on the couch can provide that. Thanks again.

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