Second impressions also matter

In the last article, we met Jasper, a 40-ish, employed, married man. Jasper’s telephone introduction was high-pitched. His initial session, too, was at a high, feverish pitch. I had to interrupt him in order to clarify what he shared in mass doses.

Much of the information he provided was rooted, I speculated in his over-assumption of what I needed as a foundation for building an understanding of this man’s story. Some of his information was helpful. However, he had merely glossed over what I wanted to pursue for deeper understanding. Well, I’d have to wait for our next session.

Clearly, Jasper had taken control over the first session. Unless a client is in crisis or emergency mode, generally, the first session is for introductions and information gathering. Frequently, the session ends with a preliminary plan. Jasper’s high-pitched monologue of sorts served him. I pondered often the first session whether his presenting manner was chronic (normal for him) or display for me. People provide messages about their personality, their mental-emotional state in ways not always clean and concise. Therein lies my challenge. I wondered if Jasper’s presenting manner was high defense. Next session may offer more clarity. I had to make certain that we shared control. I didn’t need to take control. Control matters are often problematic for clients. We shall see.

Jasper came early for his second session. As I bid goodbye to my client scheduled before him, he yelled out, “Hey doc, how are you doing?” I said that I was fine, thank you. I invited him to my office. He sat and gladly accepted my offer for a bottle of water. The time was 10 a.m. He agreed to this time even while working third-shift until 7 a.m. He wanted to see his kids after school. Therefore, he opted not to take a later-day appointment. I asked him how his night at work went. “Oh, great, doc.” He didn’t elaborate. I wondered and asked him if he was tired and sleepy. “Naw, doc, I’m used to it.” This was my lead in.

Before Jasper could take control of the session, I asked him about his job. He explained that his job as a machinist meant a lot to him. His supervisor expected a quota of work, which Jasper proudly (and loudly, I’ll add) stated, “I get it all done every night, doc. Pretty good, huh?” I asked that if he was meeting a quota without a hitch, then that was great. He smiled and said, “Thanks, doc.” I decided to pursue this favorable line of questioning.

I asked Jasper to describe his day. Given his five- to six-day work week and life schedule, I was interested in how Jasper spent his non-working hours. Though energized, I took notice of a small sign of fatigue. I thought to myself, “Hey, the man worked eight hours at a standard pace to meet quota. Isn’t he tired?”

Jasper used the balance of the session to describe his day in fine detail. He started with his morning. He got out of work at 7 a.m. He didn’t work any overtime. He went home quickly in order to have a few minutes with his school-aged children. He got them on the school bus. He followed with a few minutes with his wife. She was getting ready for work outside of the home. They said hi, kissed and embraced and then she drove off to work.

Jasper was home alone. He greeted their cat, named Max, and their dog, named Maxine. Funny names, I said. He laughed. Jasper continued. “I feed Max and clean the litter box. Then I feed Maxine, give her a treat, and then take her for a walk. We trot around the neighborhood. I say hi to neighbors who are on their way to work or walking their dogs. I pick up Maxine’s poop and throw it in the garbage can at home. Then at home I clean the breakfast dishes from the wife and kids. Then, I pick up the living room and clean the bathroom of stuff left on the sink.” On and on Jasper described in detail his duties. Before the session ended, I asked him when he slept. He stated, “around 11 a.m., doc. I get up at 3 p.m. to greet my kids, then drive them to after-school activities. You know … soccer, stuff like that. Then I come home and start dinner. My bride comes home at 6 p.m. She’s too tired to cook except on weekends. See you next week, doc?” We made another appointment.

Let there be peace, and let it begin with me.

Marshall Greenstein, a Cassadaga resident, holds a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling and is a licensed marriage and family counselor and a licensed mental health counselor in New York state. He has regular office hours at Hutton and Greenstein Counseling Services, 501 E. Third St., Suite 2B, Jamestown, 484-7756. For more information or to suggest topics, email editorial@observertoday.com

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