I first met Dr. Lenny when I was interviewing for an inpatient position many years ago and he was part of the the small panel that interviewed me. He was a stickler for privacy even before HIPAA was the law of the land and he seemed to enjoy grilling me on confidentiality and all things related to substance abuse. Having graduated from a Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Counseling program (which by the way should actually be Drug INCLUDING Alcohol Rehabilitation Counseling) among others, I was well versed and enjoyed as he seemed to playfully spar with me asking ever harder questions. I remember his final question being a potential "AHA" or "gotcha!" moment and apparently stunning him with a text book quality answer before asking him if he agreed.
He looked surprised and simply replied that I was quite correct. He then informed me that the interview was over and to expect a call.
When I started working, Dr. Lenny was the one to show me the ropes even though he directed another program. He had me sit in on some of his groups and though our styles differed some, we worked very smoothly together. There was a natural flow between us from the first group. I considered him not just a colleague but also a friend as well. Dr. Lenny was having some health issues and was taking a small leave of absence so that he could have surgery and then some time to recuperate. The day of his surgery I heard a page for him, then another. I called the front desk to remind them that he was gone and the receptionist acted strangely before saying thanks and hanging up. Less than an hour later all clinical staff was called into the conference room and we were notified that they received a call asking if Dr. Lenny was in the hospital as he had not shown up for work. The page was to verify that he had not in fact come in without being noticed. When it was confirmed that he was not there, the authorities were asked to do a health and welfare check on him at his home (he lived alone) and he was found. I can only assume he died in his sleep but the cause of death was never disclosed.
The clinical director of the hospital gave this information to us and advised us that we could all go home for the day due to the loss. Everyone was stunned and beside themselves; many a tear was shed. As we exited the room she pulled me aside and advised me that I was not going to be able to go home as someone needed to advise the patients of the loss of Dr. Lenny. I asked her when this was expected to take place and that I would like some time to collect myself. She advised me that she was having the patients collected as we spoke and that they were waiting in the group room for me but I could walk there slowly if I needed to. Needless to say, I was shocked at what I felt was a callous way to treat a professional who just lost a friend and coworker but I set aside my emotions, shut them down to the best of my ability so that I could be fully present for my patients. I went directly to the group room, performed my duties and finished my day of work. Tears were shed inside, on the outside I remained professional.
Sometimes I feel that there is a dissonance in our profession between what we help others do and what we are expected to do ourselves. I cannot help feel like a hypocrite when playing the role of the professional requires me to do the opposite of good mental health. While I understand the need to be professional and making the session about the client and the client's experiences (I decline to call them patients) I wonder if we sometimes come off as machine like when we seem to fail to react to tragedies in a normal way. Years later I was meeting with a family who had just lost their child; a child that I had known as well. I played my role as professional to the best of my ability but at one point I noticed a tear run down my face. Instinctively I attempted to wipe it away without notice but realized that I had done so in vain. I felt the need to apologize for the distraction and that I knew that it looked unprofessional of me. The mother stopped me and said "Doctor, you knew our son, you lost someone too. How could you not be upset? Actually I think more of you for being real..." We started grief work immediately and developed a close professional bond. They requested that I attend his service and later share in a fellowship meal with friends and family. It was a first for me, but I attended and have no regrets. I learned so much about the family that day and the information helped with the grieving process.
Sometimes as counselors we need to remember that we have ethics and moral guides but that they cannot be followed 100% of the time like they were the gospels. Sometimes it IS ok as a clinician to be “real,” to show emotions within reason, so long as the focus remains on the client and does not prove to be a distraction. Sometimes showing that we too are human can help in the process. Sometimes it’s ok to say "He was my friend and colleague and I am hurting; while I don't know how you feel about his loss, I want you to know that I am here now to help to the best of my ability...”
I still remember Dr. Lenny...
________________________________________________________________________ "Doc Warren" Corson III is a counselor and the clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT Inc. and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.docwarren.org)