There are many lessons I’ve learned that I’ve forgotten.
If I can’t recall an important lesson, what good is it that I’ve have experienced it, but not able to recall it?
Memory is the mother of all wisdom.- Aeschylus
About two years ago, this geriatric problem confronted me. I was in my group private practice in Western Australia (SPOT), and I was seeing a young adult male, Jonah, who was depressed over the past two months. After the first two initial sessions, even though I felt that we had a good working rapport – along with his scores on the Session Rating Scale (SRS) indicated good engagement levels, I was daunted by the fact I still didn’t seem to get a sense of who he was. It was this paradox of communicating with
My drive home left me thinking about Jonah. I ruminated, closed to bashing myself (with soft pillows) for not being able to get deeper with this pleasant and friendly client in my therapy office. Then my mind wandered. I felt like listening to the Beatles (Perhaps I wanted some Help!). Sgt Pepper was near at hand. I hit that last track.
It was “A Day in The Life”… That’s it! I’ve learned this before. Several years back, during my post-graduate training, I read Irvin Yalom’s wonderful book, The Gift of Therapy. One of the golden nugget that struck me then was about Asking for a blow-by-blow account of a person’s daily activities. How could I have forgotten this?
At the start of the next session
This session with Jonah struck home on two fronts. The first was that we were able to progress further on improving his life situation. He ended up sitting his mother down and having a talk about needing to move along in his life. The second was for me. I was confronted with the fact that my retrieval memory was like my old bookshelf, messy and
Since then, on
At the end of every typical work week, look at your work calendar to recall all of the clients that you’ve met. Pick one of the cases that strike you the most in that week. Write down one thing that you want to remember about your experience. This could be a lesson that you’ve learned from interacting with that client,
1. You develop your own learnings, bespoke from your own clinical experiences.
2. In a month, you will have 4 learnings. In a year, you will have 48 such gems in your pocket! (well, probably less
3. The act of writing it out helps with the consolidation process of the memory, as well as aiding future retrieval. Be forewarned of this pitfall: “Since it’s so important, I will be able to recall it.” For a busy professional, things easily slip us by, and we miss making a pit-stop at the memory bank
You can choose to do this on a notebook that you dedicate to your own TherapyLearnings, or you can choose to do this on apps for portable devices (e.g., tablets, smartphones). Free note taking apps like Evernote and Simplenote are available, and it syncs on multiple devices. Although I use Evernote premium for my web-clippings and other more advanced note-taking, I use Simplenote for my TherapyLearnings. As the name alludes, it is no-frills. Just create a tag
Title: A succinct and catchy title helps e.g., A Day in a Life
Learnings: A one-sentence summary of this therapy learnings
Example: Provide a brief snippet of the case that led to this learning, in order to make it more alive and
TherapyLearnings Group: I recommend doing this on
Recall -> Pick one -> Write
Psychotherapy is one of the few professions that practice actually means the real thing. Our task is to predispose ourselves to learn from our ongoing clinical practice. In order to learn, we must develop the ability to have a retrievable memory. This is the hallmark of a memorial life. This is worth remembering.