I had an amazing experience recently. In a lot of ways it wasn’t particularly extraordinary, but it was special in its own way. I’m discharging my first client. We’ve come to the end of therapy and it’s time for them to leave the service and move on. The timing felt right, we’d focused on a particular problem, and now he felt that it was much better. We’d got on well and at the last session I did feel a bit sad to see him go. As he left he quickly gave me a bag, saying ‘this is for you’, and then slipped off. I was completely stunned, I felt a bit like I might cry! I’ve never had a thank-you gift from a client, and it felt really moving, it left me on a high that lasted for days.
Now I’ve checked my trust’s policy, and given that there’s no sign that the gift was meant as a bribe or some kind of inappropriate intent, and it’s of low value, I can keep it. It really took me by surprise. In the kind of work we do, you get quite used to not really expecting a thank-you from the people you see. But sometimes that can mean it’s hard to really know if you’re doing a good job and meeting people’s needs. In my last job I work in a dementia assessment service. People don’t really thank you for giving them a diagnosis, regardless of how sensitively and efficiently you’ve done it! I remember one day a client telling me that he’d found the service really helpful and he’d like to comment on it formally. I was completely flumoxed! We weren’t used to receiving positive feedback and there wasn’t really a system in place to receive it. In the end I gave him the complaints line, I figured they’d know what to do with it! But his comments really touched me.
It got me thinking. I’ve seen countless health professionals throughout my life, doctors, nurses, therapists and others, but it’s never occurred to me to even send a card to give some thanks. Why not? We tip when we get good service in a restaurant, what about healthcare professionals? Admittedly not all my experiences have been 100% positive, but I have met some clinicians who were very considerate and helpful and it felt like they put a bit more into supporting me. Maybe I feel like ‘doing it well’ is just their job, it’s what they get paid for and I needn’t thank them for it. But my recent experiences have really made me think about what it means to get a thank-you, even just verbally, to the individual. We can all suffer from a kind of professional-neurosis, are we actually any good at our jobs, are we just frauds, pretending we know what we’re doing? And there is a difference between fulfilling your job-description, working in a way that your service considers acceptable, and really making a difference to an individual, the client who actually has to sit in the room with you and have your ‘treatment’. Sometimes it can feel a bit removed, am I really helping them at all? And it may seem a bit cheesy, but receiving some positive feedback really does make it all feel worthwhile. The job can be a hard slog, the money isn’t always great, but knowing you’ve really helped someone, that’s an incredible feeling. It pushes me to be better, to become more, to really push to give a strong, person-centred focus, and to not loose track of that important person in the chair, the reason I’m here.
With this in mind, I am sending a card to my old psychologist. I completed a course of therapy with her 3-4 years ago. The therapy was a challenge and I wasn’t happy with the time-limited nature of it (NHS restrictions) and was very upset when it ended, feeling I needed more time. I was probably quite resentful in our last sessions. But I often think of her and the work we did, and I maybe didn’t see it immediately at the time, but it has done me a lot of good. I am using what she helped me to work out every day. I also learnt a lot from her and it has shaped how I think of the professional I want to become. I want to just send her a card and let her know that I am ok and I really appreciated the work she did with me. I know it’s her job to do therapy and she’s good at it, but I felt like she really took the time to get to know me and take my needs and point of view into account. I’d like to let her know that she did a good job, and to keep up the good work, because it means a lot to people like me. Have you ever given a thank-you card or gift to a professional? Would you?