Therapists Share The Times They Had To Tell A Client 'No, That's Not Normal'
Therapists don't coddle their clients, contrary to what some people might believe. Therapy works when therapists are able to be 100 percent real with their clients, as we learned when 88mica88 asked: "Doctors/therapist of Reddit, do you have any "no, that's not normal" stories? If so, what abnormal habit/oddity did the patient have thinking it was normal?" Patients also weighed in.
"Woman came to the hospital..."
Woman came to the hospital because she was feeling "tired" and casually mentioned her persistent vaginal bleeding she'd been dealing with for 2 months. She said it wasn't ever a large amount so she didn't think twice about it. Labs were done and her hemoglobin was 3.9. For context, that's low. Like, you should be dying low. But she looked perfectly fine.
"I examined him..."
Guy in his 20s came in complaining of bellybutton problem. I examined him, he had an irritated scab inside the bellybutton caused by aggressive lint picking. But dude was sweaty and had a slight tremor. Looked like crap. When I asked how he was feeling overall he said "Oh ok I guess. Just a little tired, drank a little more this week than usual. Probably overdid it."
I had to pry for details and turns out he drank a gallon of gin over the last 3 days and stopped drinking alcohol when he started vomiting large amounts of blood and pooping a mixture of bright red blood and dark sticky stuff (melena- digested blood).
He was totally unaware of the fact that he was going through alcohol withdrawal (sweating, shaking) because he hadn't stopped drinking long enough in recent memory to experience symptoms. I sent him straight to the emergency room, where they found a tear in his esophagus that required immediate intervention, and he was admitted for inpatient alcohol detox.
I read his hospital note, he still insisted that the ED doc examine his bellybutton.
"I'm a therapist..."
I'm a therapist and a couple came in and were fighting because they didn't want to have sex. I told them they didn't have to, they were fairly confused and thought I was lying to them... Now they have 3 kids.
"In my psych rotation..."
In my psych rotation, me and my fellow students were interviewing this anhedonic patient.
A guy asked him does it feel like nothing matters and that you'd rather die.
I promptly responded of course, but that's just normal. Thinking about death because there's so many bad things in the world that we know for sure are happening but have no actual way of subverting or preventing. (In my mind, scenes of forced prostitution, organ harvesting, domestic abuse, sadistic torture). That just all collectively said, No!! That's not normal. If you're having problems, please tell us more. I just responded, oh. And justified in my head that it's just a lack of proper communication.
"I currently have a patient..."Giphy
I currently have a patient who, for no seemingly good reason, consumes food via their nose. It wasn't so bad when it was a softened diet but the salad was a real shocker.
"It was more like..."
It was more like... I realized what was happening was not normal and it lead to the client being diagnosed with what I can only assume was rapid cycling bipolar II with psychotic features (was referred to a more appropriate agency after initial intake so I didn't do the official diagnosis). He came in and was so down about his life that I called in another therapist to do a suicide assessment together. Once we were going through the questions the client became excited at having an audience and did a 180 in demeanor. I had never experienced someone flip so quickly. Aside from the mental health stuff, the client was a really cool person whom I hoped would get proper medication and go on to live a happier life. Lots of achievable hopes and dreams, and a really intelligent person, delusions aside.
"Turned out that, no..."
I was the patient, but when I went in for a routine physical the doctor poked my extended belly and asked how long it had been like that. I laughed and said, "What? My beer belly? Oh, since I was 21 probably." Turned out that, no, the 'beer belly' was a cyst that had grown really large and that was why my friends kept saying I looked pregnant. I thought I just had really shitty friends. Had to have emergency surgery and for a week or so there did not know if it was a cyst or ovarian cancer. It was a pretty big scare.
"I had no idea it wasn't normal..."
I was the patient.
I had no idea that it wasn't normal to uncontrollably sob for 2 weeks out of every month, have breasts so sore I couldn't go down stairs (jiggle), and then have it all stop the day you start your period. It took me getting a female roommate at 30 for me to realize that wasn't typical. I asked my obgyn after charting my symptoms for 6 months. PMDD, a depressive disorder that is tied to your menstruation.
A change in birth control pills fixed it right up. He also looked at me like I was crazy for thinking that was normal for 16 years. I asked my mom after my diagnosis, "oh yeah. remember in high school? Your friends would come over and ask if you were crazy that day or not?"
No mom. They didn't ask me that. Thanks for letting me know.
"From the other side of the therapy couch..."
From the other side of the therapy couch as a client, I once described a new emotion I was feeling that was really difficult to process. Turns out I was just fully experiencing sadness.
I'd built a defence mechanism where I'd go straight from zero to angry, and whatever was trying to make me sad I'd just get angry about instead. So I'd never really spent time in the sadness area long enough to experience it properly. It usually flicked me straight through to anger at high speed.
I can't imagine what it's like as a therapist to have a 33 year old telling you about this weird new feeling, and you having to explain to them what a normal response sadness is.
"A few years back..."
A few years back my mental health totally took a skydive. As a result I dropped out of school and had to start a recovery program. The first thing I had to do was talk to a psychologist. During these conversations with the psychologist, she'd focus on different parts of my life. So one day she'd ask about relationships and the next, childhood memories and so on. After a few conversations she focused on my social life. I then told her that it's pretty much nonexistent, and it always has been.
She then stated that I must've suffered from loneliness a lot then. I just told her that I've never actually felt lonely at any point in my life. After all it's pretty hard to feel lonely with the 2 voices in your head always keeping conversation. But surely she knew that, right? Well as it turns out, no. Apparently everybody else only have their own voice in their head. My entire life has been a lie. Turns out I'm schizophrenic.
Teachers have a hard job and empathy can make all the difference, as we learned when Redditor 2minutestosundown asked the online community: High School teachers of Reddit, what is the one thing that you want your students to know that you'd never tell them in person?