Google defines the term “patient” as one who receives or is registered to receive medical treatment, and it lists the most common synonym for patient as “sick person,” with “invalid” not far behind. Also, Wikipedia, in its definition of patient, specifies that a “patient is most often ill or injured and in need of treatment …” In terms of etymology, the word patient originally meant “to suffer.”
It’s no coincidence that the other meaning of patient, the adjective, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “able to remain calm and not become annoyed when waiting for a long time or when dealing with problems or difficult people.” Historically, this is exactly what many medical patients were expected to do—to wait passively at the mercy of the all-powerful doctor and his or her orders, without questioning the doctor’s medical opinion.
Indeed, in the traditional medical model, healing and change does not come from within, as it does in psychotherapy, and the medical patient is dependent on the doctor’s intervention, which for the most part does not require insight or direction from the patient. In the medical model, the physician has the answers and responsibility.
Given the above definitions, the hierarchical relationship (or one-down dynamic) between physicians and their patients, and the influence of the medical model on the field of mental health, it’s no wonder there has been an “attitudinal carry-over” into the realm of psychotherapy. Unfortunately, there are mental health professionals who intentionally or inadvertently promote the one-down power differential between themselves and the people they work with, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
One unfortunate symptom of the one-down power differential are mental health providers who refer to the people they work with as patients. These practitioners either view the people they work with as somehow sick, invalid, and/or helpless, or they are oblivious to the meaning of the word patient. Whatever the case, inadvertent or not, these providers contribute to a number of damaging myths which further the stigmatization of psychotherapy.
I have reviewed these myths in the articles listed below and explained why their continued propagation is reason alone to stop the practice of viewing people in therapy as patients. However, it’s also important for therapists to stop viewing people in therapy as patients because it creates a barrier within the client-therapist relationship and renders the therapy far less effective than it would be with therapists who view the people they work with as people, not patients. The bottom line is that people in psychotherapy should not be viewed as or referred to as patients, and I will demonstrate why this attitude is so important for effective psychotherapy.
To argue this case, I have addressed the significant myths fueled by mental health providers who view the people they work with as patients. These myths lead to the devaluation of those who seek help and promote the idealization of helpers.
- The Devaluation of the Person in Therapy
- The Idealization of the Therapist
- Myth: The Therapist Has the Most Important Information
- Myth: The Therapist Is More Powerful than the Person In Therapy
- Myth: The Therapist Has It All Together
- Challenging the Myths that Stigmatize Psychotherapy
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