Today on the blog, I've got a great piece written by the one and only Diane Chamberlain to correspond with the release of her new novel Pretending to Dance.
Pretend Therapy: Fake it till You Make It
by Diane Chamberlain
Throughout much of my early life, I was phobic about all things medical. I refused to visit friends and family members in the hospital. I avoided movies where blood or gore might be on the screen. And as I attended graduate school for my masters degree in social work, I avoided classes where there might be a preponderance of medical social work students. I didn’t want to hear about their cases. I’d grown up with phobias aplenty and gotten rid of most of them, but as I approached the age of thirty, the fear of hospitals and all things medical persisted.
Then everything changed.
I was thirty years old and working in a youth counseling agency when my best friend was murdered in her home. In my devastation, I had one recurring, almost obsessive image. I pictured my beloved friend’s family arriving at the emergency room and being greeted by the hospital social worker. I knew this couldn’t possibly have happened since my friend died in Florida and her family was in New Jersey, but the image persisted. Suddenly, I wanted to be that social worker. I wanted to work in a hospital and help people through their most trying times. It seemed crazy and yet I’d never felt a pull quite so strong. But what about that small problem of my hospital phobia?
I knew what I had to do to get past it, if I could only muster up the courage. With the support of a behavioral therapist, I set up my own desensitization program. When I had case notes to write, I’d take them to the hospital and sit in the lobby or cafeteria to work on them. I forced myself to watch gory movies and a television series on the human body. I read medical journals. And I sent my resume to the biggest hospital in San Diego where I lived, never expecting a quick response.
I was filled with anxiety when the director of the social work department contacted me for an interview long before I felt ready. Yes, I’d done quite a bit of desensitization. I’d watched the movies and read the journals. But I was still scared. It was time to put the final emergency therapeutic technique into play: I would pretend to love hospitals.
It was all I could do to step into the hospital elevator and ride to the fourth floor for my interview. The interview process itself was highly intimidating. I met with the entire social work department while they fired questions at me. I passed that test and was called back for a second interview with a much smaller group. I remember only one question from that interview: “Why do you want to work in a hospital?” And I remember my answer: “I love hospitals!” It was the only lie I told during the interview and it probably sounded as goofy to my interviewers as it did to me, but that’s what popped out of my mouth before I could stop it.
I got the job. I would be the social worker for the maternity unit and high risk nursery and I would cover the Emergency Room every few weeks. During my first week, my co-workers oriented me to their units of the hospital and I recall entering the ICU for the first time.
“Let me know if you need to sit down or anything,” the social worker said to me. “The ICU can be rough if you’re not used to it.”
“Oh, I’m fine,” I said, pretending away my terror.
Within a few weeks, I was fine. Within a few months, I could say with all honesty that I loved hospitals. Pretending made it so.
Graham Arnette, the loving dad and psychologist in my new novel Pretending to Dance, says “pretend to be the person you want to be and you will become that person.” I’m proof his approach works. Graham was a bit ahead of his time as he wrote about his theory in the eighties. Today, his approach would be considered a variant of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and I’ve been happy to see the ever-rising popularity of that effective modality.
I worked as a hospital social worker for seven years. Next to writing, it was the best job I ever had. I like to think that I made a small positive difference in people’s lives. I know I made a huge difference in my own.
Thank you so much for stopping by Diane!
Pretending to Dance is out now! Thanks to Francesca Pearce at Pan Macmillan for arranging this and providing me a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review (to follow at a later date).