Thursday, February 16, 2012

I'm Skeptical

This is probably one of the most frequent phrases i find myself saying: "I'm skeptical." It's true - I take just about everything with a grain...or sometimes a shaker...of salt.

I haven't always been this way. In fact, I was exceptionally gullible as a child (and was frequently tricked by my father, perhaps contributing to my eventual skepticism). I attribute the majority of my skepticism to two other sources, however.

The first is endemic to the information age. We have almost limitless information at our disposal, some of it from legitimate sources, and some of it...not. It's much easier for anyone to get their ideas out there (take this blog, for instance!). As a result, my first year curriculum at college emphasized making us "critical consumers of information." Where it was enough for our parents to try to find relevant sources for research projects, we were up to our eyeballs in sources and needed to know how to scrutinize the quality of available information.

We're also connected to one another in new ways, through digital access points that also introduce new security issues: cell phones, email, social networking, etc. We have therefore had to learn to be cautious about how we're presenting - and protecting - ourselves, while also paying attention to how we're connecting and with whom. In the last week, news stories have reported teens having pictures taken from the facebook pages and posted on a porn site, as well as an extortion attempt against another teen based on information revealed online. In the same period, I've gotten multiple emails "pretending" to be from a friend, and Paypal, both of wanted me to click a link to enter information. I've also gotten phone calls telling me I've won a prize and just need to enter information. Skepticism is both a natural outcome of, and much-needed defense from, this kind of environment.

The second reason I'm as skeptical as I am is because of the work I do. Yep, I said it. Call me jaded, if you will, but being a therapist has rid me of whatever naivete I  had left. I have learned not to equate what someone says with "the truth," both because everyone sees the world through their own (often distorted) lens, and because sometimes people don't tell the truth, even (especially?) to therapists! Defense mechanisms, transference, addiction, delusion, shame, anger, fear, etc., can all lead a client to say things that are distorted, or downright lies. We sometimes euphemistically say that the worst offenders are "poor historians." But, to recognize when things aren't adding up, we have to have our antennae up. We have to be skeptical to be effective. Gullibility can interfere with effective treatment.

That's been my experience at least. As a result, I'm almost always at least a little skeptical. Do you agree? Disagree? How do we strike the right balance of respecting our clients, while also respecting their treatment enough to be...skeptical?

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