Why do I feel the VA (Veterans Administration) likes to push my face into the mud every once in a while? Like treating me like a number, not a person, another Vietnam War survivor that someone on some staff gets paid for seeing, stamping and shuffling off after extracting information to satisfy the Great Bureaucracy.
Dr. Roach (not his real name) was the latest bureaucrat I’ve had to face. For my money (and your American tax dollars), he was the worst. A psychiatrist who could care less about earning a patient’s trust. He got nothing but contempt from me. But, I have a narrow perspective — that of a “grunt” who suffers from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) along with 17 to 20 percent of the military population that fought in combat.
I could not trust this doctor who questioned me at a Compensation and Review Board hearing last week. Particularly, after confiding in him and feeling “shut out” by the chilling effect of his body language and his tone of voice.
I must have “encroached” upon his sacred space when I got animated and “touched” him. Sitting in his office tucked away from a couple dozen other veterans waiting to see mental health providers, I felt confused and a little lost. I made a joke. One to break up the nervousness I felt and then said “you know what I mean,” tapping the shrink on his knee.
He pulled away. So abruptly, I felt like I had just put my hand into a fire and got burned. “Don’t touch me,” this little man said. It stunned me. Here was a professional who gets paid for “listening to” a person relate their pain, yet could not stand to be “touched by” their hurt, their discomfort.
I shut down, refused to fully cooperate and tailored the rest of my answers out of distrust to a person who lacked even the smallest of people skills during the 60-minute interrogation. How could I open up to him? I knew my answers were confidential. I also knew there were situations when a therapist “gave up” the patient-doctor confidentiality and I believe Dr. Roach would not hesitate in revealing anything personal I said to him.
But what if there was another reason for this aversion of him? Could I view his action as a “gift?” A “gem” to be treasured as a more saintly person might when seeing such harm being caused to another? Not just turn the other cheek, but try to see behind the act to understand that there may be other reasons for such behavior? View him, in other words, with compassion?
Perhaps he displayed an unsympathetic demeanor and glum attitude to get me to react in a certain way with an unguarded, more honest response.
Sure hope this was the case, and that I did not face a VA representative bent on saving the government money by setting out to deny a veteran an increase in a disability rating no matter what the facts.
I can understand your feelings, Michael; and I sympathize. I think I can also understand the psychiatrist’s behavior. He has a difficult job. I’m sure he has to disassociate from any ‘feelings’ he might have in order to get through a long line of (physically and emotionally distressed) people waiting to see him. Additionally, in this situation, he was not acting as a psychiatrist; he was acting as a bureaucrat. It was not his job in this capacity to “earn your trust.” His job was to determine your qualifications for continued (or increased) compensation. And in his position, he is of course dealing with a long line of people who want to play on his sympathy. So I can relate to your pain in feeling rejected, Michael; but I also feel that it was your unrealistic expectations that caused you such pain.
So yes, forgiveness and ‘turning the other cheek’ is good, but simply understanding his position is better.
I bow to you, oh master one.
I hope you’re smiling.
Sorry, I do sincerely wish I were better at diplomacy.
Wasn’t it Osha who said diplomacy was for popes and not saints?
Waaaait. He actually said THAT? “Don’t touch me”?! I can understand your discomfort. I doubt he was testing you. It sounds like he has issues himself. This sounds like such a difficult process you’re going through.
He didn’t know me from Adam, and deals with vets with violent backgrounds. Maybe he was simply afraid.
Want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Don’t want to linger with a bad taste in my mouth.
I agree you don’t want to ‘linger’ there in negativity, but even if he has issues he deserves compassion. I used to talk to a therapist who yawned and fell asleep on me. I was paying her to listen, and it really upset me a couple times because I was telling her gut-wrenching things. BUT– she was about seven months pregnant at the time. On a conscious level I totally understand she was dead tired. Still, I couldn’t help feeling hurt by her lack of professionalism. I guess psychologists are human, like the rest of us. Doesn’t mean we need to stick around if we don’t like the treatment we get from them. In your case, I’m not sure you have options.
At least you knew she was on your side. I felt from the very beginning we were miscommunicating with each other.
I actually said I beleived we were not on the same page, particularly, when he asked me when I thought of Vietnam.
I don’t think about it, I get flashbacks to “feelings” I experienced while in combat in Vietnam when similar situations arise today.
Couldn’t get through with one or two other of these discussions, and that’s when I tried for a touch of “understanding.”
Never felt he was on my side, but against me.
I understand. He was also in a position of power in that you were depending on his positive evaluation for help. I didn’t need my therapist to be on my side. It didn’t matter if she was bored or tired. In the end I found help elsewhere with someone who had a better understanding of my issues. But what you’re going through is different because you don’t have the option of picking and choosing your therapist in this situation. I do feel the VA possibly has a conflict of interest. I wonder if this guy has a monthly quota of people he’s supposed to weed out.
He might have a quota, and it may be his job to weed out people. Would not want to do that for a living.
If I get a bad report, I’ll just appeal!
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Michael, this post really resonated with me in so many ways.
First, I’m sorry that you had to go through that bureaucratic S#@% in the first place–I’ve seen it “in action” (sometimes at the VA, but elsewhere too), and it seems designed to make people feel small and without worth.
And, as for psychiatrists, I don’t think I’ve ever met one (and I’ve met a few) who didn’t seem damaged, deluded, and sometimes dangerous–not to mention stunningly arrogant. They seem to be more prone to the “God complex” than people in any profession (not saying that they’re all like that, but I don’t recall meeting any who weren’t, at least so far!).
And, of course, your question on how to see the man, how to relate to him…it’s a question I’ve been asking myself a LOT lately–especially after my unpleasant incident and all of the hateful, racist attitudes I heard coming from the people I work with (not to mention a lot of things that I hear about in the news). I find myself asking, “Are there some people that I’m “allowed” to hate?” And then I feel terrible for asking the question–no; of course I’m not. I have no way of knowing what brings a person to become cold or hateful or manipulative or, for all intents and purposes, “evil.”
But how to keep oneself from having those awful feelings toward someone (especially when they’ve done what always feels like the ultimate evil–mess with our egos!)? That’s the really hard part,even when you do have some sense of why they act the way they do, and I still don’t have an answer. It’s such a struggle, every day.
But to look at the shrink’s behavior toward you as a “gift” seems to be a wonderful and productive way to think about it. The fact that you even THOUGHT of that says so much! If nothing else, the attempt to see him “in full”, and try to imagine where all of his damage came from, and to see him as somehow worthy of compassion too, has to have a lot of value. And it’s good practice for the next time…
Let us know what you come up with!
Bodhisattvas’ (Compassion) Practices -27
To Bodhisattvas who desire the pleasures of virtue, all those who do harm are like a precious treasure. Therefore, cultivating patience devoid of hostility is the Bodhisattvas’ practice.
The Six Far-Reaching Attitudes
A bodhisattva’s practice is to build up as a habit patience,
Without hostility or repulsion toward anyone,
Because, for a bodhisattva wishing for a wealth of positive force,
All who cause harm are equal to treasures of gems.
For the first time in my life, I was able to apply this practice, number 27. Could not go all the way, but thinking about an alternative did help me quit seeing only the negativity in the episode. Those thoughts nagged me for several days. I became unable to write, or read and answer many e-mails. Threw me into a tail spin, which I have only recently come out from.
How I looked or presented myself to another seemed so important then. Now, it’s just a false covering I don’t really need for not only my spiritual growth, but my mental and emotional well-being.
You’re a heluva advocate. Thanks for being on my side.
Thank you for reminding me to go back to the “Practices,” which I originally came across thanks to you and this blog, thank you very much! They really make things so simple and clear–a perfect “manual”, and a wonderful place to go for “refresher courses” (of which I tend to need a lot!).
They’re also so…Jesus-y… 🙂 I’ve come to the conclusion of late that Buddhists follow Jesus’ teachings more closely than anyone else…
Is that anything like “Buddha-y?”
Wouldn’t it have been great to live in the day they walked the Earth? To see them, hear them, speak to them.
All we can do is to emulate them and try to stay on the path both showed humanity to reach the mountain top. I think a “happy ending” awaits any who make it without straying too far on their journey.