I believe in staying curious. About my own motives, words I don’t know, what my body will still do and what it won’t, how people experience their lives. It seems essential and nearly impossible sometimes to stay curious, for example, about others’ opinions very different from my own, to be still and really listen rather than devising a response in my head , interrupting with an emotional rant about my own perspective. If I stay curious and sit with my discomfort, I can learn something, get outside of my own head, which is often a curiosity to me.
In my work as a psychologist and clinician, I believe that staying curious is how I best work with people. In these times of quick diagnoses and prescribed, short-term treatment for specific mental “diseases,” I remain adamant and unrelenting about staying curious about the client’s experience—what depression means to him, how he defines it, how it affects his life, what change might mean for his relationship. To stay curious is to see him as an individual, not a depressive. Once I stop being curious about what depression is to him, he becomes a diagnosis rather than a person. Then I think I know what he needs, and I stop listening.
I believe it is important to stay curious about the woman, wheelchair bound in a nursing home hooked up to oxygen 24 hours a day, who smokes every chance she gets. What is her experience? What is she getting for herself? What does she lose if she gives it up? Does she want to?
I believe that once I stop being curious, I lose contact with the person, seeing them only as schizophrenic or anxious. If I stay curious, I might begin to understand the meanings of the voices someone hears in her head and what she may lose, good and bad, if they stop with medication. If I stay curious, we can talk about a client’s anxiety. Perhaps, we can both be curious about her disease, her impending death and what those mean to the her. Maybe then we can laugh together and play in the moment.
And I believe it is important to stay curious about myself as the therapist. About my feelings and reactions to the client who calls and fills my voice mail with angry accusations or the woman who keeps a picture of the father who sexually abused her in her bedroom. It was my mentor, brilliant, generous, and intensely curious who first challenged me to look at my assumptions and to attend to my own and the clients’ experience, the meanings of those experiences, the costs of change. And he has challenged me to remain curious throughout my professional career and in my own life. I believe that if I can remain curious about myself and the world, I have a chance to stay fresh and alive, in my work and in my life.
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