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.