During a graduate class for social work, our professor stated clearly, “You don’t have to love your patients.” I’ve been a social worker for three decades, and this advice has been helpful. I’m obligated to do my job; however, I don’t have to love the people I’m trying to help. But occasionally I do, because I’m human, my patients are human, and some of them are hard not to love.
I recently passed by the office of a colleague in the Outpatient Mental Health Clinic and noticed a woman who’d been assigned to my treatment team during her hospitalization on the psychiatry ward. I’d worked with her a couple of times several years apart. This patient impressed everyone with her natural sweetness, evident even when she was most ill.
I poked my head into the office and said hello. She told me her psychiatrist had stepped out for a moment. I asked how she was doing, and she confessed, “Not well.” I reminded her that Inpatient and Outpatient Mental Health staff were available to support her, and that we cared about her. She began to cry, and then she hugged me. We’re discouraged from hugging patients, but there are occasional exceptions, especially when refraining would involve rejection. As we hugged, I hoped she could feel my love, and I felt gratitude that this kind, gentle, sick soul trusted me and reached out to me in a bad moment. My love for her and her trust of me made my day better.