While studying for my masters in psychology, I worked briefly as an assistant to Mrs Meier, a licensed psychologist and therapist. Mrs Meier was a woman in her early fifties who looked like a cover model for The Trusted Therapist magazine; she was well dressed, sported a distinguished bob of grey hair, and always carried reading glasses around her neck. But Mrs Meier did lack a skill that some would assume essential for a therapist: in her late teens she had suffered through a vicious ear infection which had left her 90% deaf. Over the years, Mrs Meier had become masterful at hiding her handicap: at school, at university, later from her colleagues, the insurance companies, and even from her patients.
I was flabbergasted to discover that none of her patients seemed to detect that she was deaf. As you can imagine, her ability to lip-read was quite developed, but because she alerted nobody of her impediment, people did not make an effort to talk slower or pronounce their words more clearly when around her. Quite often, her lip-reading was amazingly sufficient to keep the conversation flowing, but sometimes she could not decipher in real-time what was being said. For later reference, Mrs Meier had me transcribe the audio recordings of her therapy sessions, which she used to review her sessions and supplement her own notes in the patient’s file.
I was fascinated how Mrs Meier’s clients didn’t think to question her when she responded in ways that made no sense. While transcribing the therapy sessions, I witnessed countless misunderstandings, some of them rather hilarious. Mrs Meier’s patients sometimes seemed confused by the randomness of her comments, but they never appeared to be fundamentally disturbed by them. Whenever there was a breakdown in the flow of communication between Mrs Meier and a patient, it was always the patient who assumed they must have made a mistake. They responded as if they had misunderstood something that Mrs Meier had implied, or as if what she had said was part of a skilful and paradoxical intervention intended to challenge their thinking. And in most cases, it did challenge their thinking. Even the most severe misunderstanding did not cause the session to stop. Mrs Meier never once acknowledged that she hadn’t heard something and eventually, the session carried on in a more or less logical flow. Since most of her patients returned on a regular basis, I assume they got value out of these interactions, even if the interaction often appeared nonsensical to the outside observer.
During this period as Mrs Meier’s assistant, I understood something important about the human psyche.
When we believe something has to make sense, we will make sure it does.
Mrs Meier’s patients were practically conducting a form of self-therapy, generating the meaning they needed out of her arbitrary responses and disjointed questions. They played ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ and filled in the blanks of the conversation. We may laugh at the ‘crazy’ patients of Mrs Meier — but in reality, all of us are doing the exact same thing all of the time. We interact with in an internally created and fluid universe only logical to us.
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