Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. James 1:19 (NIV)
One day I was running later than usual. I greeted the next patient in the waiting room -- but she did not return my smile, and I could sense that her handshake was unwilling. She looked grim! We had hardly sat down in my consulting room when she burst out with 'You kept me waiting nearly forty minutes and I had to rush from work to get here on time. You care more for your other patients than for me -- you should keep them to their time. I don't go over my time!'
The patient had been in intensive psychotherapy with me for some months. For a moment I felt hurt and angry, for I had invested much thought and emotional energy in her therapy, and her accusation seemed unfair. Moreover, I had had a lot of phone calls that day and had steadily slipped behind in my appointment schedule. I hadn't asked for those phone calls!
Fortunately, I quickly remembered an important principle of counselling and psychotherapy -- it is usually better to explore anger than to return it. That way, the potential quarrel can be turned to good therapeutic use. And the gift of the Holy Spirit for which I prayed that morning, was with me. So I replied: 'I'm so sorry -- and I'm glad you can tell me how you feel...' She interrupted: 'I know, I know. My adult tells me you couldn't help being late and I shouldn't be angry -- but I am -- my little girl feels shut out and angry, as if you don't really care about me...'
I listened as she went on, and she recalled that her father often derided her and closed the door on her -- and she used to lie awake terrified as a child when her parents were late home after evening outings. Her anger subsided, and the usual warm rapport and trust returned.
What would have happened if in my own anger I had forgotten my therapeutic and Christian principles? I think it likely that if I had been quick to become angry and had given her a stern lecture about what a hard day I had endured, etc., etc., she would have retreated into crushed silence as she used to with her father, and the opportunity for self-expression, insight and growth would have been lost.
Lord, help me to love my patients with your kind of love
and to be sensitive to the pain that so often lies
behind their anger.
Further reading: Tit 1:7-9.