Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Power of Self Disclosure

Brian was a tall, handsome sixteen year old boy.  He had been admitted to the hospital in a semi-catatonic state.  He barely moved and didn’t talk.  He had always isolated himself, but recently he had gone over the edge and regressed far back into his own head. Brian had witnessed his father's murder.  When it happened, he was sitting quietly on the back porch watching his father talking to another man.  Gradually, the talking had become shouting.  Before he could react the man pulled out a knife and shoved it into his father's chest.  By the time he reached him, his father was unconscious and the other man had run away.  His father died on the way to the hospital.  The effect was immediate.  Brian shut down.
Needless to say, he was difficult to connect to.  As a staff, we agreed to let him reconnect at his own speed.  I suppose my wife did the best job of relating to Brian.  As a communications therapist, she encouraged him to relate to people again.  She actually brought him back to reality.  However, I did make my contribution.
It occurred to me that Brian and I had something in common.  We both had lost parents to murder.  One day I came across him alone, sitting on the floor.  I sat down next to him, leaving only a foot or two between us.  We both looked straight ahead.  I wanted to avoid the pressure he would feel if I faced him.  I told him I wanted to tell him about an experience I had.  I proceeded to tell him about my mother's murder and how I drowned for several months and then learned to survive.  I told him I struggled with feeling responsible but finally let that go.  He did not say anything the entire time I talked.  He sat and listened to me for almost ten minutes.  When I was finished, I waited for a response, expecting something back.  Nothing!  After some time, he asked if I was finished.  He didn't look at me.  He never looked at me.  I said yes and he got up and left.  I was disappointed as I had hoped my story would be supportive.   He never said another word about it to me.
Several weeks later, my wife mentioned something to me about Brian. I told her about my experience with him, and how I had failed to make a dent.  She was surprised as she knew differently.  Brian had told her how important my talking to him had been.  He totally related to my story.  It gave him courage that he could overcome his own loss.  According to my wife, it gave him strength in the knowledge that he could recover.   
Prior to his discharge from the hospital, he became involved in a staff/patient talent show.  He was able to get up in front of the crowd by himself and recite.  As he spoke I looked over at his mother.  She had tears running down her face as she watched her son recite from Genesis before a room full of people.  Brian was able to grieve his loss and rejoin reality.

As a therapist, you throw out seeds never knowing if they will grow root.  If my wife hadn’t accidentally mentioned him, I never would have known the impact of my talk to him that day on the floor.