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Old 11-10-2009, 08:13 PM   #1
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Default Talking about being a fat woman with a person who is neither

The Question, which I would like to specifically direct at other fat women:

Are you reluctant to discuss issues related to being a woman of size with people who aren't other women of size? Why or why not?

The (Hopefully Not TMI) Backstory:

My therapist has been trying to get me to talk directly about my feelings regarding my weight, since I've given peripheral suggestions that it's been an issue I struggle with. The few times we've poked at the subject, I ended up getting really uncomfortable and shutting down.

He mentioned during our last session that he thinks it's a conversation we should have, and I told him straight up that it's not something I want to discuss with him because he can't directly empathize with being a fat woman. (Although I did admit that's somewhat judgmental on my part, since I don't know any personal information about him.) He was pretty shocked, and asked me why. I didn't have an answer, it was just a very strong emotional reaction, but I told him I'd think about it.

I have yet to come up with an explanation that I'm satisfied with. The closest I can come are these two observations:

1. I feel like the cultural default of thin people having a sense of superiority over fat people is so pervasive that it would be intrinsically present in our discussions. I know it sounds horribly cynical, and I know that I'm being unfair to him (and other thin men), but I pretty much expect that he will be fat phobic.
2. He, as a straight (again, assuming), attractive man in my age range, is exactly the kind of person whose judgment I fear with regards to my body.

I realize that my reactions and assumptions are pretty unfair to the thin men out there who sincerely endeavor to be accepting of and empathetic toward fat women. To you, I apologize. It is not my intention to make you feel offended or ostracized. However, this reaction was so strong in me-- and I feel safe in assuming that other fat women on Dims have had similar feelings-- I just felt that it needed to be parsed.
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Old 11-10-2009, 09:08 PM   #2
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I think it's pretty safe to say that he would have no idea what it's like to be a fat woman. He might be able to sympathize, but would be, IMO, unable to empathize. There are a few filters this could be run through, including a feminist filter, which would say that just by virtue of his own male privilege he wouldn't be able to totally get it. Add to that the power dynamic and then the seeming fact that he is thin...

Did you ever ask him any sorts of 'interview' questions regarding his feelings towards fat people and fat women in particular?
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Old 11-10-2009, 10:18 PM   #3
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I have no want to discuss being fat with anyone who isn't fat unless they are my partner or someone I really care about.

I know that we should want to spread the word and share...but depending on the place it simply does not feel safe to share. I always worry and always have worried that someone isn't asking for real interest but rather sexual pleasure, gathering info to confirm why I'm wrong for being fat or treating me like an oddity.

Perhaps that is my own inner issues, but I'd rather not share if I don't need to.
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Old 11-10-2009, 11:13 PM   #4
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I guess for me it depends upon the venue. I'd also wonder if their questions, depending upon the person and how the questions were asked, were some kind of a trap so they could use my information to either prove me wrong or themselves right about fat people and how we're weak, are pigs at the trough, etc. Or just that it's a preamble to a lecture. I tend to take it as it comes and not get all worked up unless I see that the person has an agenda, and then they'll get my opinion. An opinion they are likely to not care for...
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Old 11-10-2009, 11:51 PM   #5
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I agree with Tina..Not unless that person has been through some of the same stuff they have no empathy for you...They may think they do but I would say it is more sympathy then empathy...

I personally stopped going to any male Drs,not unless they are the only ones I can see...They just do not understand,no matter how much they studied and how many females they see,they just do not get it...
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Old 11-11-2009, 12:06 AM   #6
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I agree with Tina..Not unless that person has been through some of the same stuff they have no empathy for you...They may think they do but I would say it is more sympathy then empathy...

I personally stopped going to any male Drs,not unless they are the only ones I can see...They just do not understand,no matter how much they studied and how many females they see,they just do not get it...
I always thought that sympathy was you've been through it too, and empathy was I feel for you.

Like if someone says my dog died.

Empathy: I am so sorry, that must be very hard.

Sympathy: I am so sorry, last year my dog Chippy died in a car accident. So sad.

Either way, I agree with you on the point of some people will never get it.
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Old 11-11-2009, 12:07 AM   #7
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Could be...With the meds messing with my head it might be both! Sorry I am really sleepy and barely reading!
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Old 11-11-2009, 12:17 AM   #8
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Could be...With the meds messing with my head it might be both! Sorry I am really sleepy and barely reading!
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Old 11-11-2009, 01:17 AM   #9
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Great question. I am not reluctant if it is someone who feels safe, and who has the kind of personality where they are willing to question the status quo and look at things from other angles. I don't have any fat friends, so if I'm going to talk about being a fat woman (which I need to do sometimes), it's going to be with someone who's not fat. And I do this often, because people I choose as friends are the types of people, typically, who would be openminded about learning and seeing things from another viewpoint. It most often works out well.

But I've actually run into similar issues in therapy before, as I've seen a few over the years of my life. Sometimes I didn't want to talk about my fat at all, because I know if the therapist says a certain thing, it will really make me defensive, and break a lot of trust, and set back the work I had been doing with them. Even if they don't say something overtly idiotic, sometimes I can just read something in their face or tone that shows me that they really think it would just be better for me if I lose weight. I hate having to become the educator of my therapist, and it's really hard to not feel like they are on my side (or even know how to be, or what that option would look like). One therapist seemed to understand my struggles with body image and desire to accept myself as I am, but on our last session she referred me to OA (I had never talked about having problems with overeating). Another one never brought it up, but when I finally did in one session, he said something like "I was waiting for you to bring it up" as if *I* was the elephant in the room and the fat was the most important thing to him. Then one other therapist, during our first (and only) session said, "Have you always had problems with your weight?" Whatever lady, you're the one who has a problem with it.

The most recent one I had (geez, I'm beginning to sound like a nutjob, with all the therapy I've been to over the years) was an average-sized woman, but also a lesbian, and working in an environment that was not overly friendly to gays and lesbians. So I trusted her more, since she knew what it felt like to be an outsider in another way. I felt totally safe with her, talked about my body positively, and she never said something that made me feel like she secretly wished I was thin. That's always my main fear with therapists, I think, in terms of talking about the weight stuff. That they won't accept me as I am, and will always think I would be better thinner.

Don't know if any part of that rambling offers anything to you in your situation, but I hope you are able to sort your thoughts and feelings out, and make a decision that you can feel good about, that will move you forward.
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Old 11-11-2009, 01:25 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by StarWitness View Post
The Question, which I would like to specifically direct at other fat women:

Are you reluctant to discuss issues related to being a woman of size with people who aren't other women of size? Why or why not?

The (Hopefully Not TMI) Backstory:

My therapist has been trying to get me to talk directly about my feelings regarding my weight, since I've given peripheral suggestions that it's been an issue I struggle with. The few times we've poked at the subject, I ended up getting really uncomfortable and shutting down.

He mentioned during our last session that he thinks it's a conversation we should have, and I told him straight up that it's not something I want to discuss with him because he can't directly empathize with being a fat woman. (Although I did admit that's somewhat judgmental on my part, since I don't know any personal information about him.) He was pretty shocked, and asked me why. I didn't have an answer, it was just a very strong emotional reaction, but I told him I'd think about it.

I have yet to come up with an explanation that I'm satisfied with. The closest I can come are these two observations:

1. I feel like the cultural default of thin people having a sense of superiority over fat people is so pervasive that it would be intrinsically present in our discussions. I know it sounds horribly cynical, and I know that I'm being unfair to him (and other thin men), but I pretty much expect that he will be fat phobic.
2. He, as a straight (again, assuming), attractive man in my age range, is exactly the kind of person whose judgment I fear with regards to my body.

I realize that my reactions and assumptions are pretty unfair to the thin men out there who sincerely endeavor to be accepting of and empathetic toward fat women. To you, I apologize. It is not my intention to make you feel offended or ostracized. However, this reaction was so strong in me-- and I feel safe in assuming that other fat women on Dims have had similar feelings-- I just felt that it needed to be parsed.
Tell him to go fuck himself and to stop running the agenda in the therapy session. You are the one who defines the problem not him. You are driving the bus - not him. I would ask him if he was experiencing some sort of perverse pleasure in wanting to discuss your weight.
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Old 11-11-2009, 04:37 AM   #11
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Tell him to go fuck himself and to stop running the agenda in the therapy session. You are the one who defines the problem not him. You are driving the bus - not him. I would ask him if he was experiencing some sort of perverse pleasure in wanting to discuss your weight.
But if she's mentioned, even in a round-about way, that her weight is an issue, isn't it his job to suggest they talk about it?
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Old 11-11-2009, 09:36 AM   #12
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Well, he could have a fat or supersize wife or girlfriend. You never know. I do know that since my boyfriend and I have lived together, he has seen a LOT of the trials and tribulations I face daily, and it has opened his eyes quite a bit. I don't think it's all that hard to imagine a thin man having some inkling of what it can be like.

That being said I honestly don't blame your feelings about it. I tend to share MORE with thinner people because they need to understand.
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Old 11-11-2009, 09:53 AM   #13
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First of all, SW, this is a really excellent topic, and I look forward to following this thread. Thank you for bringing it up.
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Originally Posted by StarWitness View Post
The Question, which I would like to specifically direct at other fat women:

Are you reluctant to discuss issues related to being a woman of size with people who aren't other women of size? Why or why not?
Yes, I'm very reluctant to discuss the emotional issues related to being a fat woman with non-fat people. The sad truth is, history has taught me repeatedly that as you say, society's stance on fat is so incredibly, poisonously pervasive that is has seeped into most subconsciouses, albeit, well, subconsciously. In my experience, I find that even the most sensitive people in my life (we're talking family, friends, FA bf's, not just casual observers), seem to essentially believe that we've just eaten ourselves to this point, and if we have bad feelings about our weight, then just put the eclairs down and lose it, right?

Many years ago I found myself in a pretty deep blue funk and started seeing a therapist who was absolutely wonderful in so many ways, and helped me with a lot of issues, but believed wholeheartedly that I was depressed because I was fat, and if I could just lose weight, I wouldn't be depressed. I knew in my heart that wasn't so. As time went on and she regaled me with tales of how she'd lost weight doing abc or xyz, I realized that we weren't talking about my weight, or my depression, anymore, but her own issues with her weight. I finally had to stop seeing her. Now I'm fatter, and not depressed, so 2+2 did not equal 4, in this case.

Still, though, I'd add that there are levels of empathy, and wfc's example of her lesbian therapist "getting it" is a very good one. The thing is, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in the world, and is a therapist to boot, who is going to truly empathize with you in every sense, so I'd definitely try talking about it with a therapist who I felt might have some empathy for my situation on some level, even if it wasn't directly related to weight issues.

SW, the fact that he expressed surprise when you told him you didn't think he could empathize is a little weird (I mean, it seems pretty obvious to me why you'd think that; so would I!), but maybe there's an opportunity there to ask him why he thinks he *could* empathize? Who knows, maybe he's experienced something(s) that actually would make him able to in this situation.

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Great question. I am not reluctant if it is someone who feels safe, and who has the kind of personality where they are willing to question the status quo and look at things from other angles. I don't have any fat friends, so if I'm going to talk about being a fat woman (which I need to do sometimes), it's going to be with someone who's not fat. And I do this often, because people I choose as friends are the types of people, typically, who would be openminded about learning and seeing things from another viewpoint. It most often works out well.
And this is my other "exception", too. I will talk about it with non-fat people whom I feel are exceptionally open-minded, non-judgmental, sensitive, independent thinkers, that kind of thing. There are some non-fat F/FAs here at Dims with whom I'd sit down to have a heart-to-heart about in a heartbeat, because they either already get it, or possess the emotional intelligence to learn it. Yes, "it".

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But if she's mentioned, even in a round-about way, that her weight is an issue, isn't it his job to suggest they talk about it?
Agreed. You don't go to therapy to talk about daisies and puppies; you go to talk about the hard stuff. It's a therapist's job to figure out what the hard stuff is for the person and help guide them through those emotional mindfields. SW said "My therapist has been trying to get me to talk directly about my feelings regarding my weight, since I've given peripheral suggestions that it's been an issue I struggle with.", so I think it's pretty appropriate for him to gently pursue it, though it absolutely should be in accordance with her comfort level and wishes. If he pursues it after she tells him it's not a topic up for conversation, that's another matter entirely.

SW, I wish you much luck with this. Therapy is not for the faint of heart, that's for sure. But you strike me as being an incredibly intelligent and self-aware young woman, so I think you'll navigate this just fine. Do remember that the bottom line is, he's working for you, and don't allow yourself to be guilted or bullied into talking about things you're not comfortable with. Only do it if you feel okay about it.
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Old 11-11-2009, 09:59 AM   #14
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Well, he could have a fat or supersize wife or girlfriend. You never know.
Isn't that funny, that never even occurred to me! I feel like a dope. But yes, he sure could.
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I tend to share MORE with thinner people because they need to understand.
Just wanted to say I love this comment, Toozy. Go, you.
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Old 11-11-2009, 10:47 AM   #15
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That being said I honestly don't blame your feelings about it. I tend to share MORE with thinner people because they need to understand.
You said it much better than I could. There are some questions, specifically about hygiene and the like, that I won't entertain when people ask them, unless I am discussing an issue with a doctor.

Personal philosophies, trials and tribulations, that sort of stuff, though? I'm an open book. I've found in the past that the majority of the people asking are really just curious about your life and want a greater understanding, and sharing information has helped make them more compassionate when it comes to interacting with other fat people in their life.
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Old 11-11-2009, 12:31 PM   #16
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I always thought that sympathy was you've been through it too, and empathy was I feel for you.

Like if someone says my dog died.

Empathy: I am so sorry, that must be very hard.

Sympathy: I am so sorry, last year my dog Chippy died in a car accident. So sad.

Either way, I agree with you on the point of some people will never get it.
It's the other way around. The way I keep it straight in my head is that Deanna Troi from Star Trek is an empath - she feels what other people feel. Sci-fi saves the day. LOL

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Originally Posted by Carrie View Post
First of all, SW, this is a really excellent topic, and I look forward to following this thread. Thank you for bringing it up.

Yes, I'm very reluctant to discuss the emotional issues related to being a fat woman with non-fat people. The sad truth is, history has taught me repeatedly that as you say, society's stance on fat is so incredibly, poisonously pervasive that is has seeped into most subconsciouses, albeit, well, subconsciously. In my experience, I find that even the most sensitive people in my life (we're talking family, friends, FA bf's, not just casual observers), seem to essentially believe that we've just eaten ourselves to this point, and if we have bad feelings about our weight, then just put the eclairs down and lose it, right?

Many years ago I found myself in a pretty deep blue funk and started seeing a therapist who was absolutely wonderful in so many ways, and helped me with a lot of issues, but believed wholeheartedly that I was depressed because I was fat, and if I could just lose weight, I wouldn't be depressed. I knew in my heart that wasn't so. As time went on and she regaled me with tales of how she'd lost weight doing abc or xyz, I realized that we weren't talking about my weight, or my depression, anymore, but her own issues with her weight. I finally had to stop seeing her. Now I'm fatter, and not depressed, so 2+2 did not equal 4, in this case.

Still, though, I'd add that there are levels of empathy, and wfc's example of her lesbian therapist "getting it" is a very good one. The thing is, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in the world, and is a therapist to boot, who is going to truly empathize with you in every sense, so I'd definitely try talking about it with a therapist who I felt might have some empathy for my situation on some level, even if it wasn't directly related to weight issues.

SW, the fact that he expressed surprise when you told him you didn't think he could empathize is a little weird (I mean, it seems pretty obvious to me why you'd think that; so would I!), but maybe there's an opportunity there to ask him why he thinks he *could* empathize? Who knows, maybe he's experienced something(s) that actually would make him able to in this situation.


And this is my other "exception", too. I will talk about it with non-fat people whom I feel are exceptionally open-minded, non-judgmental, sensitive, independent thinkers, that kind of thing. There are some non-fat F/FAs here at Dims with whom I'd sit down to have a heart-to-heart about in a heartbeat, because they either already get it, or possess the emotional intelligence to learn it. Yes, "it".


Agreed. You don't go to therapy to talk about daisies and puppies; you go to talk about the hard stuff. It's a therapist's job to figure out what the hard stuff is for the person and help guide them through those emotional mindfields. SW said "My therapist has been trying to get me to talk directly about my feelings regarding my weight, since I've given peripheral suggestions that it's been an issue I struggle with.", so I think it's pretty appropriate for him to gently pursue it, though it absolutely should be in accordance with her comfort level and wishes. If he pursues it after she tells him it's not a topic up for conversation, that's another matter entirely.

SW, I wish you much luck with this. Therapy is not for the faint of heart, that's for sure. But you strike me as being an incredibly intelligent and self-aware young woman, so I think you'll navigate this just fine. Do remember that the bottom line is, he's working for you, and don't allow yourself to be guilted or bullied into talking about things you're not comfortable with. Only do it if you feel okay about it.
Star this is a great topic and I agree with Carrie.

I've been thru the same thing with my thin therapist. She's a woman tho so that stuff she gets. But from the beginning (I brought up the weight issues) she made it clear that because she isn't fat there will be stuff she doesn't understand and that I need to explain it so she understands what it's like to be fat. It was difficult at first, no, more like frustrating, but she was great about not making judegments. And after a while she's thanked me for explaining some things because she wouldn't have known or understood otherwise. Now I feel totally comfortable explaining the hard stuff, even the graphic body stuff. She never once expressed any assumptions about my fatness, which is something I worried about in the beginning. If your therapist hasn't made any assumptions either I'd say that is a good thing. It could also be that he has had other fat patients who have explained some things to him or fat people in his personal life that have as well, so it's entirely possible he does in fact understand some things about being fat. Ask him about it and see what he says. In the end tho you need to feel comfortable with your therapist and if you don't then you can always switch to a new one. But no matter who you go to, if you bring up your weight they will likely want to talk about it and it will be difficult no matter what.

In the rest of my life, I do have difficulty discussing fatness in detail with thin people, but usually it depends on the situation and the person. Some things, like why size discrimination is bad is easy to explain, but other things like all the graphic fat people stuff is not as easy, so I'm more judicious in who I tell. Sometimes I just don't have the energy for a "fat people problems" lesson.
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Old 11-11-2009, 07:07 PM   #17
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Did you ever ask him any sorts of 'interview' questions regarding his feelings towards fat people and fat women in particular?
No; in retrospect, that would have been a good idea. When we started out, I thought we would be focusing on a completely different set of issues, and didn't intend to bring up my body image stuff at all. I've made a lot more progress and had a much longer and more consistent relationship with him than originally expected-- which is good news in pretty much every other capacity.

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Sometimes I didn't want to talk about my fat at all, because I know if the therapist says a certain thing, it will really make me defensive, and break a lot of trust, and set back the work I had been doing with them. Even if they don't say something overtly idiotic, sometimes I can just read something in their face or tone that shows me that they really think it would just be better for me if I lose weight. I hate having to become the educator of my therapist, and it's really hard to not feel like they are on my side (or even know how to be, or what that option would look like).
That's an excellent point, WfC. I agree completely. Hearing something judgmental or negative about my body from someone I've worked so hard to build trust with-- even if he doesn't realize that he's being judgmental or negative-- would break my heart.

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Originally Posted by Carrie View Post
SW, the fact that he expressed surprise when you told him you didn't think he could empathize is a little weird (I mean, it seems pretty obvious to me why you'd think that; so would I!), but maybe there's an opportunity there to ask him why he thinks he *could* empathize? Who knows, maybe he's experienced something(s) that actually would make him able to in this situation.
That's true. I don't know anything about his personal life-- as Tooz said, he could have someone close to him who is fat. And considering that he is a short man who wears shoes with thick platforms, I think it's safe to say that he knows what it's like to feel insecure about his body. That was actually what I kept in mind the first time I tried bringing up weight-related stuff, but... I dunno, I was still incredibly uncomfortable and shut down the conversation before it got too far.
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Old 11-11-2009, 09:27 PM   #18
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I always thought that sympathy was you've been through it too, and empathy was I feel for you.
Nope. One is "I feel badly for you," and the other is "I can relate to how you're feeling."

Star, why not just ask him now? Interview him now? I mean, unless he's the only choice you have for a therapist, isn't it better to know sooner rather than later, so you can switch if he's not fat-friendly, or at the very least neutral?
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Old 11-11-2009, 11:21 PM   #19
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That's true. I don't know anything about his personal life-- as Tooz said, he could have someone close to him who is fat. And considering that he is a short man who wears shoes with thick platforms, I think it's safe to say that he knows what it's like to feel insecure about his body. That was actually what I kept in mind the first time I tried bringing up weight-related stuff, but... I dunno, I was still incredibly uncomfortable and shut down the conversation before it got too far.
I work in the field and it's been my experience that a lot of professionals use the word "empathize" in a different way than most of us understand. They are just trying to build a relationship and connect and though they likely can genuinely empathize on some basic level/emotion, they often just offer up certain buzzwords to build the relationship.

Counter-productive when they run into those of us who have spectacularly effective bullshitometers... but on the majority of people, hearing those key words can get them to open up and spill the beans. Going off of nothing more than what was written, I'd say his shock/reaction was more due to not having anticipated your strong feelings about the situation rather than any sort of personal feelings on his part about why you wouldn't understand his empathy.

His attempts to explore your reaction are pretty standard as far as therapeutic techniques. Some treatment modalities are nothing but pushing buttons and then exploring the reactions to those pressed buttons. It's not typically encouraged that a therapist would try to truly empathize with a client. Both for reasons of professionalism and boundaries as well as for personal protection. Compassion fatigue occurs in professionals if they "feel" too much while in their positions as caregivers. So, true empathetic and intense interactions are discouraged in lieu of setting up the scenario for interactions and role play of those emotions in a more safe setting for both client and therapist.

That being said, I don't talk about my weight with thin people either. They don't get it. My best friends have pretty much always been thin and they just NEVER understood (or even really tried) why I felt odd in groups with them or didn't approach guys or even why (or how) I felt lonely sometimes. It was a weird situation. So, I eventually stopped trying to discuss those things. As for therapists, I have never had a therapist bring it up. Not once... but then again, I don't stick around for too long. Ironically, I don't like therapy with me in the client position. Doctors have brought it up, of course, and female doctors I'm ok with... but just want to smack the crap out of at least one of the male doctors. They can be such smartasses about it...

Good luck with your next session. I hope you get the answers you seek in one way or another. I agree with the others that you should feel free to turn around and ask him some questions if you aren't sure about the direction he's taking the conversation. You have control of that session.. he's employed by you.
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Old 11-13-2009, 07:36 PM   #20
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Star, why not just ask him now? Interview him now? I mean, unless he's the only choice you have for a therapist, isn't it better to know sooner rather than later, so you can switch if he's not fat-friendly, or at the very least neutral?
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I agree with the others that you should feel free to turn around and ask him some questions if you aren't sure about the direction he's taking the conversation. You have control of that session.. he's employed by you.
I'm really glad that a lot of you can relate to this issue. I don't want this thread to be just about my individual situation, so I hope going into further detail won't prevent others from bringing up their own.

I'm considering bringing up his perceptions of fat people during our next session. I'm loathe to switch therapists, since (a) I've been with him for almost 2 years, and (b) he's the best therapist I've ever had, and I've gone through several. Moreover, our sessions are also a learning experience for him-- he's a PhD student, and I see him at the clinic run by the Psychology department of the university I graduated from-- so there is something to be said for sticking around and making the case that fatness is a more nuanced issue than he might be assuming. Besides, he's graduating at the end of this academic year, so I'm going to be switching therapists whether I want to or not. :P

I think part of the reason I'm so reluctant is an issue of language. He uses the same words that I use to describe a situation-- and I understand that's a technique to prevent my thoughts from becoming tainted by his perceptions, and it's usually effective, but... dammit, I'm still trying to find a term that I'm comfortable with to describe myself. Hearing someone else describe me as fat, pretty much in any other context beyond Dimensions, makes me feel defensive and upset. Any other word I can think of sounds patronizing.

Eh, maybe I just need to suck it up and act like a grownup for 50 minutes.
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