Over this past weekend I spent a sunny and mostly blissful Saturday afternoon and evening hosting a bachelor party for a dear friend. An afternoon of golfing replete with cheap beer and cigars, followed by the adventures of a swanky casino awaited us. The day and night was engulfed with comically coy remarks that seemed to float in the air and determined to never return to earth again. I actually caught myself imagining that our grouping of guys were like the junior varsity equivalent of the “rat pack”.
As I was chatting with some of the groom’s friends whom I have never met before the conversations seemed to have a natural cadence to them. Inevitably the following dreaded question, “so what do you do for a living?” seemed to be asked. Having a background in sociology I have learned that questions of this ilk are sometimes used to help create a mental pecking order for ascribing class, education, and financial status. Once a happy conversation for both parties was now interrupted with an awkward presence. “Yep, so that is what I do Jim, so what do you do for a living?” how does a psychotherapist answer this query without completely ostracizing oneself for the rest of the day. I believed for the longest time that I should be extremely proud of the type of work that I engage in, and that it speaks volumes about who I am and my moral beliefs. In my past I would proudly express “I’m a counselor and provide psychotherapy” however this does not seem to help open conversational doors at many social gatherings. I have had many people literally disappear and find someone else to speak with at a party once I told them of my profession. If I was lucky enough to still have a person in front of me after mentioning my line of work the next common reactions are silence or comments about “don’t go trying to diagnose me as being crazy”. Sensing their urgency to escape brought on by discomfort I try to lighten the mood with a joke. This usually yields mixed results.
I have tried in the past to avoid these conversations completely all together. Sometimes I will use broad statements like “I’m a counselor”. The ubiquity of the word “counselor” can allow me to bypass the fact that I provide psychotherapy and saves me moments of being ostracized. However, this last statement creates much inner turmoil and a sense of contempt for not being genuine and truthful. When in a conversation I work on creating a verbal exchange where occupations are not mentioned all together. This sometimes takes some creativity and serious energy to keep the conversation moving in the direction of a “jobless conversation”. As hard as I try to keep this “jobless conversation” moving people seem to naturally want to gravitate towards mentioning their line of work. Almost as if it is programmed into our DNA, we have this innate desire to say “I am ___________ and I do __________”. Talking about ones chosen profession can truly be enjoyable and can certainly fill up a lot of conversational time. Realizing that people are more than just the jobs they hold and how much money they earn sometimes can be a hard number to sell to the person standing across from you wanting to talk all about jobs.
Trying to decide whether to disclose to someone about my professional identity creates a mixture of emotions for me. I’m happy to say that even though yet another conversation was completely stopped over this past weekend due to my disclosure of profession. I’m now back to being comfortable saying “I’m a psychotherapist”. I have noticed that there are just a few professions that get a bad reputation in the context of social gatherings and really there is not a whole lot we can do to change the outcome of this. Some of these unfortunate professional titles include obviously psychotherapists, garbage collectors, and proctologists. So instead of trying to deny one facet of my identity I’m learning to accept it. I have noticed that it is helpful at times to “point out the elephant in the room” before they do. This usually helps ease the tension and normal functioning can resume. Now when I’m faced with people who abruptly discontinue speaking with me due to my disclosure I can easily rationalize that “it is just part of the job”.
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