Over 20 years of practice as a qualified homoeopath, I’ve seen a variety of different patients. I felt compassion for all of them within the sacred space of the consulting room, but there were times when I got irritated with some of them. These were the patients who would phone me out of hours, or keep me too long on the phone, or who promised to send a cheque after the appointment and somehow forgot. There was the patient who wanted me to write to her university to excuse her from exams, the mother who thought I could see two of her children (first appointment) within the timeslot allocated to one, and another mother who left messages on my answerphone saying, “I’m just phoning to ask…”
Doubtless all of these people had their (unconscious?) reasons for this sort of behaviour. At first, as a naive practitioner, I wanted to blame them all for their lack of respect for me. I felt I was doing my utmost to help them and they were taking me for granted, or treating me like an auntie who can be picked up or discarded at will. Then I started going to a supervisor and gained many new insights into what was going on.
With my supervisor I started talking about the mother who always said, “I’m just phoning to…” often coupled with the word, “quick”. It seemed to me she was asking for a service that was quicker and cheaper than normal; as if she were saying, “just do this as a favour”, her implication being that it would cost me neither time nor money. I felt she was devaluing the work that went into taking a case and choosing a remedy.
My supervisor proceeded to help me unpack this issue from several different angles.
– She asked me who the lady reminded me of, a question that made me laugh because I had missed such an obvious connection. She reminded me of my mother, of course.
– Then my supervisor asked me what I understood about boundaries, and whose responsibility it was to put them in place and maintain them. Through our discussion I began to see that it is the responsibility of the practitioner to make all boundaries clear.
– Finally my supervisor suggested that I write an unsent letter to the lady, in order to purge my feelings of negativity about her.
I began my letter with thanking the lady for bringing her two boys to come and see me. They always arrived on time and never outstayed their welcome – the mother paid promptly and the boys routinely tidied up the basket of toys before leaving.
I wrote that I didn’t feel my work was valued by her because she kept asking me to “just” do something more. I felt she was assuming I could do my work faster, more efficiently and cheaper over the phone than I could do face-to-face. I told her that I felt indignant about this expectation.
I questioned whether I had interpreted her use of “just” correctly. Perhaps she was simply trying to apologise for disturbing me, when all along I hadn’t made my phone-in times clear to her. Maybe my conclusion that she thought I could work faster or cheaper by phone were just my own wild imaginings.
I finished my unsent letter with apologies for not having clear boundaries, and a promise to clarify my phone-in times and fees for all my patients.