Sunday, March 30, 2014


I love my patients. When I say this it oftentimes makes others uncomfortable.On one occasion I was being interviewed by a psychiatrist on radio and she said,"I read your book and I really liked what you had to say. However, your using the word love made me uncomfortable. I think that I would have preferred the word nurture - I nurture my patients." I responded,"I am aware that it makes people uncomfortable- sometimes it makes me a little uncomfortable too. We need to ask ourselves why does saying'I love my patients' make us feel that way?" One of the reasons is that in our culture the first associations to the word love are usually to sexual or romantic love. Of course,those expressions of love would probably be harmful to our patients. Yet, in other areas there is a wide spectrum of acceptable expressions of that feeling. We can easily say "I children, my wife,boyfriend,friends,animals,home, community etc. Why not include patients?
Another explanation for the internal struggles is that it feels unprofessional to say,"I love my patients." We tend to define professional as objective and not emotionally attached. Yet, in some other cultures that is not true. Several years ago a dear friend,who is a psychotherapist, was on a trip in Cuba sponsored by a social justice organization. On this two week trip she was among a group of health care professionals who were in Cuba to witness how their health care system worked and to interact with Cuban health care professionals. She was very surprised to witness how often and easily the Cubans said,"I love you" and were openly expressive of their love toward their patients. And how openly they expressed that love of their patients at professional meetings. When she returned we had several interesting conversations. We discussed how our training emphasizes this other notion of "professional" as objective and non-attached - more scientific. It led us to recall how important it was for the early leaders of the fledgling fields of psychotherapy to be accepted by members of the medical and scientific community. They felt that in order to establish the legitimacy of this field among the other sciences that it was essential for them to be viewed as objective and emotionally distant. It seemed to both of us that we were still unnecessarily holding on to that earlier model.
When I am asked during interviews how I express my love I reply that, first of all,it is important to state that I am not talking about sexual or romantic or sentimental love. Those expressions of love towards our patients would be unprofessional and harmful. I am talking about open-hearted expressions of praise,encouragement,compassion,acts of loving kindness,warmth,celebrations of growth,consoling touch,non-judgment,caring challenges etc. A common response from other psychotherapists and counselors is,"I do those things too although probably not as often as I feel them and I don't really talk about it with my colleagues. Also, I don't usually think of those things as an important part of the treatment." Yet,according to the research literature about effective psychotherapy, when clients are asked what was most helpful to you in your therapy most frequently people reply that,"My therapist cared about me as a person." Moreover,there is increasing research on brain patterns indicating that compassionate caring over a period of time changes brain patterns in positive directions.
For most of us psychotherapists, counselors, life coaches, pastoral counselors a significant part of our original intentions in doing this work was our heartfelt desire to help people with their problems - to alleviate human suffering. For many of us our training with its emphasis on theories, techniques and professionalism has caused us to suppress those original heartfelt feelings.
A primary motive for me in writing the book,"Working From the Heart:A Therapist's Guide to Heart-Centered Psychotherapy", doing this monthly blog and Twitter, and making my youtube videos is to advocate that we return to our original heartfelt intention by being more openly expressive of our caring. Then our patients benefit not only from our theories and techniques, but also from our open-hearted expressions of love.