Why I Told My Clients about My Surgery

Years ago, when I was 6 years old, my family was in a massive car accident. That event, which nearly killed my parents, is a nodal life event for me. It is the source of many years of mental suffering, as well as the focus of eventual healing and my interest in psychology.

I was seated behind my father, who was driving, when the drunk driver hit our station wagon head on. The driver’s seat slammed into my knee, and jammed my hip into its socket. For the last 20 years or so, I have gradually lost range of motion in that leg, and felt occasional pain that has kept me in PT steadily for the last 5 years.

I finally decided it was time to find out what was what with my leg. It turns out the joint is destroyed by arthritis, and that there remains nothing more to do for it but replace it. I am going in for surgery next week.

As I have had to plan for a gap in my practice for the 2 weeks my surgeon anticipates I will need to rest and rehab at home, I decided to tell my clients why. I know that most of them would have asked me directly anyway, since we regularly talk about vacations, or trainings, or family obligations that change my practice schedule.

But the primary reason I share my personal health decision with my clients is that appropriately sharing more of myself within our therapeutic relationship is central to the way I believe good therapy works. I bring the whole of myself to our conversations, and that includes general personal information that connects me as a human being to their own lives.

I don’t believe that my clients need to know everything about me. Far from it. After all, therapy is about Them, and the worlds and issues they wrestle with in my presence and with my help. But sharing basic social information, stuff that connects us at a human level, is healing because it builds our connection as well as our equality before one another. My clients know I’m married, something about my hobbies, that I have young adult children, that I worry about how they are doing in their lives, that I have family I visit on vacations. They know I was a parish pastor; some of them have asked me why I left. I have shared some of that deeply personal and difficult journey with them. And we continue to build our relationship, even as we focus on their lives.

I believe what the research describes: that with over 200 or so discrete psychological theories, techniques and perspectives on human change that currently exist, what lies at the center of all of their effectiveness is the relationship between the clinician and the patient. The trusted, caring space between us that I work to sustain.

That is why I have told my clients about my hip surgery. My leg issue is not secret; most of them have noticed my limp. Nearly all of them have wished me well. For me, the old model of a clinically distant, intensely private therapist is less than helpful. As I see it, without trusting me to be human and real, how can my clients be real and human with me?

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