9/11: A Therapist or American

It happened ten years ago, and I have not resolved it yet. I believe I will always ponder it as an ethical dilemma.

First day of work after 9/11:

I have been seeing this young couple for about five months, dealing with issues regarding their engagement. I was feeling the horror of 9/11 in my body, but tried to focus on engagement ring discussion, possible wedding plans etc. The couple was from the Middle East, and she was very focused on adhering to her Christian traditions, and there ensued an argument whether some of his Moslem traditions should be part of the ceremony.

He commented that he is uncomfortable telling people that he is Moslem after 9/11, and I empathized with his discomfort. The fiancé then turned to him and said that he should not be that concerned because the Americans got what they deserved!

I knew that I heard her clearly but I was so taken aback that I managed to ask her to repeat it – probably because I was hoping that she would simply change what she just said, and then I would not have to struggle with a reaction.

She repeated more emphatically that in her opinion “Americans do whatever they want, so it’s about time someone taught them a lesson.” The future husband was clearly ill-at-ease, and tried to mitigate her reaction, to no avail.

When one is a good therapist, one knows that everything is grist for the mill.  However, I wanted to not be a good therapist and to tell her to get out; to tell her that she was heartless and cruel; to tell her that what she just said horrified me, but I didn’t. So, I continued the session analyzing her anger, illuminating her feeling of being different than the average American and how she identified the fatalities in the Twin Towers with the blond girls at Beverly High who used to reject her because of her Middle-Eastern appearance.

The therapist in me did a pretty good job considering my internal struggle. The American citizen – the person that I was at that moment wanted to shriek, to tell her to go away and never come back; and that her heartlessness created terror in me, a reaction to her hate so complete as to forget humanity.

In parting we said to each other “see you next week”.

The session ended.

I sat down in my chair trying to figure out which part of me sold out… Asking myself whether I lost my integrity by maintaining my therapeutic stance; or should I have been true to the feelings of the person who experienced 9/11; the person who wanted to scream with pain, who had fresh images swirling in my brain and who was “hearing” the smoke.

I do not know.


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About rachel bar

Psychotherapist and supervisor.
This entry was posted in 9/11, American, Bigotry, Discrimination, Ethical Dilemma, Freedom, Moslem, politics, Therapist, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to 9/11: A Therapist or American

  1. mim collins says:

    Well said, Rachel, Mim

  2. Jackie Rosenson says:

    By persevering in the therapist mode, I think you stand a chance of examining the ethical core
    in both you and the client, a chance for enlightenment for all three of you. Would you have had
    a special moment to make a positive mark on the aggregate whole of our Country by reacting negatively and perpetuating the cause of her hate?

  3. Truett says:

    Who was paying for the session? If the couple was paying, you made the correct choice to remain therapeutic and not react because of your feelings. I wonderful supervisor once told me the one doing the talking is the one getting the therapy. I love and respect that supervisor.

  4. Martha Carr says:

    I admire you Rachel for the containment of your strong reactions! It breaks my heart to hear the words your client said and the pain you held. You did a remarkable job. Just this week a woman (as part of a couple) described how her husband uses the N word and other derogatory slurs (except she used the words) and how it bothers her. Didn’t seem to bother him. But I noticed he sat there somewhat sheepishly at her exposure of it although his words tried to justify it. I sat there also in an ethical and personally moral dilemma – do I stand up as someone who fights racial injustice, or minimize the content and work with the material? I hated being in that position. But there it is. Yours was more raw for sure. I wonder if the empathy you gave her helped her work through her own identification, and if she still feels the same way or if she now is ashamed of what she said.

  5. Cameron Ashby says:

    I doubt I can say anything “magical,” as the questions you pose, each and every one are challenging. Yet, the weight and poignancy of what you’ve carried from that day until now deserves, is owed a response, or at least my attempt.

    The burden of your wondering and unresolved 10-year-old pain delineates much more than your gifts, sensitivity and even authenticity. In fact, from the level you’re so poignantly addressing the latter may feel like a bunch of hollow words. It appears you engaged a deeper reality, one that is spoken around, and generally hushed. Hush, hush…

    Your pen put a small bright light on the complexities, hush, of our helplessness, hers, his, mine as well as your own. Hush… Yet you chose to recognize, and I believe profoundly and skillfully dealt with her experience of helplessness, during a moment of national and personal anguish. You slipped into kindness, immersed yourself full length in something greater than “therapy.”

    Who can say what the results of your gift were and will be for that woman, that couple who experienced your kindness (the only antidote for helplessness)? For me, you did something much more than you “job.” You transcended every role to reach and touch her vulnerability, her psychic wound, while going without the crucial recognition of your own. She got the gift. You were left with the remainder, a burden, a question, a mouth without a scream, yet one that’s perhaps finally reached gestation. Perhaps it’s ready to breathe on its own given this anniversary of its inception?

    I want to say your kindness, hard or soft, confronting, wondering or soothing, provided that stranger with the comfort of knowing someone else, you, can feel, recognize, and were able to tolerate the burden of her distress as you remained present with her, and in the turbulent moments of a more general terror.

    I suggest the power, the red haired glory of your kindness in that seemingly distant moment has been leading you to a new clearing in the woods, a green vista that opens on the lived experiences existing beyond thought, and reveal such essential facets of our human needs and connections, our unspeakable vulnerabilities to helplessness, for which all self-protections are created, hush, hush, and further reveal in your act what the other person is finally good for… It seems it may be time to take the bow and party colored paper off your present, and see what’s been waiting for you.


  6. Barbara Cooper says:

    I think the important thing to ask yourself Rachel is, if the identical thing happened today, would you do/say anything differently? 20/20 hindsight might help here. You were working as a professional, and you did your job beautifully. That was obviously important to you then as now. That is to be commended. Now ask yourself, if you had said what was in your heart would it have made a difference? Would that woman suddenly have had an epiphany? Would you have felt better about yourself for venting your feelings? I think not, because as a true professional therapist you know it is not about your feelings at all in a session. In a perfect world, if she was no longer your client, you would run into her on the street someday and get to express exactly how you felt that day! But the chances of that happening are slim. Bigotry is based on pain and then finding an outlet for that pain by blaming and hurting others. We Jews understand that better than anyone. Our history has shown we’ve been blamed for almost everything that is wrong in the world. This woman was not a happy person and I suspect she never will be. You showed compassion when it went against everything you believe. How can that be wrong? She should be pitied for her ignorance while you should be commended for your restraint. There is a time and place to vent your feelings, and that particular time and place was not it. Kudos to you for recognizing that.

  7. rachel bar says:

    Such great reactions. Thank you for making me feel better. All the reactions are so much kinder towards me than I am to myself.

    I am on vacation so I don’t have the time to respond to each of you individually. Maybe later.

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