Empty Spaces
by Barry Brody, PhD, LMFT
August 19th, 2009

...Recently I was attempting to describe what I do to a friend. I was explaining that I try to not listen to the words that the patient is saying, but to what is not there. She commented, “the empty spaces”. Which is precisely it.

New patients frequently assume that therapy works like going to see a medical doctor. They tell the doctor what their symptoms are, the doctor diagnoses the problem and treats it. But therapy ain’t like that. So after a new patient finishes telling me what their symptoms/problems are and they look at me with that expectant look that I am going to diagnose their malady and fix/cure them, I usually shock/ surprise them and say something like, “That’s what you know/think is the problem. But if you knew what the problem is then you wouldn’t be in my office. The problem wouldn’t exist. I am more interested in what you don’t know about this”.

After the shock has worn off, or perhaps in the midst of it, I attempt to convey that therapy is not like going to see a medical doctor. That we are not dealing with physical ailments. We are dealing with the human mind. And the mind is not sensible. Thoughts, feelings can’t be seen, touched, heard, etc., only sensed and experienced.

Some patients can tolerate this shock and decide to continue working with me in search of the unknown, the unthinkable, the empty spaces.

Others only want my answers to solve their problems. They usually don’t continue with me but find another therapist to diagnose their ailment and tell them how to fix their problem...

Barry Brody, PhD, LMFT is practicing psychotherapist in Florida offering telehealth.