Thursday, August 12, 2004

Peer Counseling

When you've been doing something a long time, you forget, sometimes, how it felt when it was all new and you had to learn each piece of it step by step. But when you see others doing it, it makes you appreciate how far you've traveled. And it's nice to be able to help people just a little, even someone like this caller, who is a woman I don't know particularly well…

Ring ring!

Caller: Hi, Matisse, this is Chloe. (Not the name she actually goes by.) Can I talk to you? I kinda wanted to get your opinion about something.
Me: Sure, honey, what's up?
Chloe: So I have this client, and he's a nice guy. He's been seeing me pretty regularly for about six or seven months. But he said something to me that made me really uncomfortable and I don't know what to do about it.
Me: Okay, tell me what he said.
Chloe: Well, see, we had a session and I told him, just conversationally, that my boyfriend was going to be out of town for a week, and he didn't say anything then. But later on he called me up and left me a voicemail saying he wanted to make another appointment to see me – but he wanted to come see me at my house. He said since my boyfriend was going to be out of town…that we could do that. He said he wanted to have sex with me in my own bed, that it was a fantasy for him to be in my apartment.
Me: You usually do outcall, right?
Chloe: Yeah, and it's totally weirding me out to think about having a client come to my house. That's just not what I do. I mean, I don't think he'd, like, stalk me or anything, it's not that. It's just… (she pauses, groping for a word)
Me: It's just a boundary.
Chloe: Yeah! Yeah, it's a boundary. And the way he was talking about was so not cool – it was like, he just assumed I'd let him come there, so he wasn't really even asking me, he was telling me, 'I want to come over to your place'. Plus the fact that he also just assumes I'd be willing to lie to my boyfriend about it, too.
Me: Well, if you're asking me what I think, I think you should just call him back and say that you prefer to see him in the way you've been doing.
Chloe: Yeah?
Me: And I think some of what you're feeling is being uncomfortable with the idea of saying no to him. But it probably won't be that big of a deal, unless you make it one. Just say 'no thanks, I don't want to do that', and that's the end of it. If he tries to push it, then you'll have to get more firm with him. But I'm guessing he has absolutely no idea he's run into a boundary with you, and you just say you don't want to do it, he'll accept that.
Chloe: You think?
Me: Yeah, I do. Sure, it would have been nice if he had been able to intuit that the reason you weren't inviting him to your place was because that wasn't something you wanted to do. But it's okay to tell him no.
Chloe: I just hate having to say no to people. I always think they're going to be mad.
Me: Oh, honey, you need to be able to do that. That's important.
Chloe: I know.
Me: Well, I tell you – this job is a crash-course in assertiveness-training. You'll get lots of practice saying "no, thank you, I don't want to do that".
Chloe: Yeah?
Me: Yeah. Or else you'll burn out in six months.
Chloe: No, thank you, I don't want to do that.
We both laugh.

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