A Steamy Situation

Friday, December 03, 2010

Question

I am accustomed to seeing people I know at the tubs and politely ignoring/acknowledging them, but nothing could prepare me for seeing my therapist in such a setting. It was awkward to say the least and made me question the etiquette around such an exchange, bathhouse and beyond. What do you do when you encounter a person in public with whom you have such an intimate yet structured relationship? How do you then continue this relationship comfortably and professionally?

Answer

I have what might be considered an irrational sense of boundaries with my mental health care providers. For example, I was relieved to see that my psychiatrist had her own private washroom. I lived in holy terror of running into her in the one outside her office prior to our session and having her think I was someone who assumed we had a relationship that required small talk. And what if I ever saw her on the streetcar? I couldn’t even imagine her speaking to anyone else, much less making mundane arrangements for public transportation.

A male therapist offered this:

“The circumstances described are not uncommon to most therapists. The complicating factor is that the individual was in a bathhouse, which may have heightened the awkwardness.

“It isn’t uncommon for therapists to discuss these possibilities beforehand in order to help prepare a client for the potential of such a meeting.

“If that has not been done, most therapists would have been trained to raise the topic at the next meeting to explore any relevant issues in order to help the client feel comfortable and to move the therapeutic relationship forward. If the therapist does not raise the issue, which would surprise me, then I would certainly encourage the client to raise it at the next meeting.

“As I read the letter,” he continues, “my sense is that shame is somehow connected with sex, bathhouses, etc., which might be a complicating issue for the client. If the therapist is comfortable in bathhouses, I would assume he/she is comfortable with public sex venues and may be able to work with the client on reducing personal issues of shame.

“It’s similar to running into a therapist at a movie theatre or the grocery store. It’s unexpected and therefore a bit awkward, but essentially not much different. What makes it awkward is damaging social attitudes about sex, bodies and pleasure. The difficulty, then, is with outdated and hypocritical public morality issues rather than with a client encountering a therapist in a bathhouse.”