Image from The National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
Character Description 3: The Doctor as a Story-teller: A blog by Warren Bull
Let’s suppose that your character, a headshrinker, has made a diagnosis. What comes next? Your character needs to communicate their conception of what the problem is and work mutually with the patient to determine what to do about the issue.
The misleading, nasty professional term for this cooperative effort is “compliance.” The Doc is the professional. The patient’s role is to meekly do what they are told to do. Except, the concept leads to occasions I know about personally such as when a new psychiatric resident nagged a client with, “Stop resisting and start complying.” Unsurprisingly, that statement did not engender warm feelings and eagerness to cooperate.
We are back to differing world views and life experiences that make the client’s story quite separate from the Doc’s. Your shrink can either begin teaching the vocabulary of their universe or learn what makes sense to the patient and use their vernacular. Chances are the client starts with low self-esteem and an internal negative description of the issue.
Some cultures deal with this creatively. In some countries, a person who would likely benefit from anti-psychotic medication would be told, “You are not crazy. Not at all. But you seem sort of run down. I can give you something that will give you more energy and help feel better. Would you like to try that?”
Unfortunately, people discount problems that they have heard, “Are all in your head.” I once persuaded a woman reluctant to try a medication that would, “help her brain chemistry get back in balance.” It was an accurate description that she could accept. Other people agreed to try medication as an experiment just to see if it helped.
Getting people to agree to therapy got easier as I got more experienced and more confident in my skills. Clients always had to do the heavy lifting needed. I could only facilitate. I had patients who were determined to improve. My job was to listen and stay out of their way. My least was enough. Other patients who, upon hearing what their work was, declined to continue. My best was not enough.
In rural North Carolina, I learned Bible verses to express my input. In California I had a parent bring in her son because he “wouldn’t chill.” A friend who lived in Hawaii talked about a patient of Korean descent who refused life-saving medical treatment from two different physicians. My friend noted that both physicians were of Japanese descent. When the patient was switched to a Caucasian doctor, he accepted the treatment gladly. The patient had lived through wartime when the Japanese brutalized Koreans. He did not trust anyone of Japanese ancestry.
I had a couple come in because Child Protective Services worried that the father might be abusive. The couple, sitting in front of me, did not mention one factor in the referral that was obvious to me. I told the father, “I bet it didn’t help, sir, that you are a big, Black Marine.” He grew up where physical punishment for children’s misdeeds was the norm. If I had not acknowledged the racial stereotypes of my race, we might never have discussed them.
You can make your character more believable by showing their use of their patient's frame of reference.