When a person goes to a psychologist, the hope is that the professional will be a person of some significant smarts. Of course, you want that psychologist to really understand you and what you are going through. But also, it’s important for that professional to know a lot about things like mental health disorders and ways of helping.
But those are two different vastly different kinds of smarts. One is receptive and connected, the other is objective and analytic. Over the course of my career I found that among professional colleagues there was not always a good balance between the two.
Some of my former colleagues were really good at the analytical side. They could add up symptoms really well to make a definitive diagnosis. Psychologists of that kind were really good at saying what was wrong with the people they served; that was totally what they focused on. When they entered into treatment, they followed the protocols, always knowing where they were in the treatment process.
But then there were those with the other kind of smarts. Psychologists good in this other way were intuitive and sensitive. More important to them than “getting” the diagnosis right, was that they “got” the client. They strove to really understand the suffering, perspectives and, values of the person they were with. Rather than standing at the distance of objectivity, these psychologists were right there with the subjectivity of the person they were helping. From the very first contact with the client they were easing the suffering. And then in the midst and even the end of their work with the client they still were learning and appreciating the uniqueness of that person. Somehow, they were always somewhere in the middle of the work of relationship with the people they served.
Good service to the client meant that both types of smarts were held in balance. Intuition and sensitivity needed to be tempered by clear thinking and the ability to make sound judgments. At the peak of my career, I remember the two smarts running side by side. The intuitive and sensitive side ran the interview with the client, pacing the flow and focus of our conversation. The analytical and critical thinking side ran in the background, always focused on keeping on track in providing the professional service.
But then I got tired of that analytical and critical thinking part. I came to increasingly value the intuitive, human, side over the objective, critical thinking side. Funny thing, that.
In retrospect, I sense that as psychologists get good at one or the other of the two smarts they came to rely on just it more and more. I noticed the profession become increasingly polarized between the two. With the polarization came less respect for the other, and perhaps even more concerning, fear of the other. Toward the end of my career I watched as the critical thinking, analytical ones kept making up rules they expected the intuitive, sensitive (and, dare I say creative?) ones to follow. By the time I retired, the profession was becoming increasingly obsessed with rules and protocols of practice.
So now I venture into writing. There is a part of the process that is deeply intuitive, perceptive and sensitive to the characters and their circumstances. That writing has a sense of discovery as the plot emerges and characters display their idiosyncrasies, baggage and courage. Then there is the editing process, a practice of great discipline. The editing provides the polishing so the reader will be able to easily and knowingly grasp the story, its people, and the vicissitudes of the plot.
Discovery versus discipline. Writing versus editing. If the first comes as a gift, the second is an acquired skill.
Did you know that there are 18 things to watch for when an author edits their own work? I learned about it in a self-editing workshop. It’s best to do them one at a time. 18! Wow! One of the things to watch for are the darlings. Darlings are little bits that feel really great at the time of writing but don’t really contribute to the plot. In the editing process we are supposed to get rid of them. This makes the read more straightforward and gets the word count down. By the way the “18!” and “Wow!” above are darlings. This paragraph would’ve fallen flat without them.
You might want to check out my short story Four of us, (clickable link) a contest winner available on-line. There are darlings in there; see if you can spot them. They don’t really add to the plot. But when you get to the punch line at the end (the required element of a wooden mask) they make the whole story more poignant.
These little darlings are much like the diagnostically unnecessary parts of a client’s story that deepen the therapist’s sense of the person for who they are.
I recently read a book that was devoid of darlings. You can catch the review of Science and the Good: the tragic quest for the foundations of morality (clickable link). It does yeoman service to summarizing the philosophical quest and the recent scientific pursuit of what makes something good. But I was neither compelled by or satisfied with it. As much as it broached a topic that is fundamental to human nature, both our peril and our promise, it lacked the sparkle of passion and the insistence of insight into what it means to be a moral being.
And so, venturing along this different vocational path, now as a writer rather than a psychologist, I strive for the same balance. In the writing, I wish to be deeply receptive to my characters as persons navigating the struggles of human nature. And then, through the multiple rounds of editing, I discipline myself for your sake, my reader. I want your experience to be impactful and deeply human, too.
But as necessary as is all the editing that I do, the piece is nothing if it doesn’t have at its very heart the intuitive, the sensitive, and the creative. It is those very smarts that lift the piece above the otherwise drab, dutiful or downright dreadful.
Clickable links to all my blogs
May 2023 - Who gets to write the story?
April 2023 - Intersubjectivity. Hunh?
March 2023 - A disturbing trend
February 2023 - About being in the middle
January 2023 - Can we have a little heart here please?
December 2022 - A story about story
November 2022 - Facing One's Fears
October 2022 - Transitional folk
September 2022 - Transitions
August 2022 —At the other end of life's journey
July 2022—The problem with what emerges.
June 2022 — So who am I doing this for anyway?
May 2022 - Wait for it ... wait ...
April 2022 — Someone called me a Nazi.
March 2022 — Shush! Don't tell anyone.
February 2022 — So does life imitate art? Well, maybe sometimes.
January 2022 — The two most powerful lines in the book.
December 2021 — About time and being human.
November 2021 — Not a tidy little murder mystery
October 2021 — Flow versus focus.
September 2021 -- It's beautiful because it tells the truth.