In various modalities of training over the years, I have been instructed not to get too involved with people and their problems. The admonition is: don’t become enmeshed with the issues of others. There are a host of reasons for such words of caution. I am fully aware that individuals in people helping professionals will suffer from burn out if they fail to erect meaningful boundaries. But there is a flipside to this issue that is not referenced as often at training events.
Maintaining professional distance can evolve into a callous and even uncaring approach to people. A counselor listens to a client’s problems, but it is obvious to the person in need that the therapist they have sought out is not engaged on an emotional level at all! Probation officers have heard every excuse known to man. They in turn miss an opportunity to help a sincere probationer, because they have become so emotionally disengaged. Medical doctors deal with life and death situations every single day. They can’t get wrapped up in the lives of their patients. Emotional distance is the order of the day, or is it?
This week I am serving as a guest lecturer for my longtime friend and mentor Dr. Charles Siburt. In August of 2009, Dr. Siburt was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Multiple Myeloma. He was referred to a local oncologist for immediate consultation, but as it turns out that particular physician was on vacation during that time period. He was then referred to another oncologist by the name of Jose Vega. After three years of exceptional treatment, Charles and his family now refer to this young gentleman as: “Our beloved Dr. Vega.”
I have heard numerous stories about the beloved Dr. Vega over the last three years. Needless to say I was thrilled when I got to meet this hero in the medical field Monday morning. Dr. Vega showed up for the class focusing on pastoral skills for ministry leaders bright and early Monday morning. He told Charles: “I have wanted to see you in action.” He sat in class with a group of theology students for most of the morning. He engaged in the discussion. He asked good questions. But most importantly his significant commitment of time touched Dr. Siburt and members of his family in ways that I can’t find the words for.
When he was in medical school, Dr. Vega must have been absent from class on the day they discussed being professionally distant. As an oncologist, he has invested of himself as he has cared for Charles. I fully realize that healthy boundaries are a necessity for anyone in a people helping profession. But on the other hand, it is tempting to become to become aloof and even uncaring. When I find it difficult to invest of myself in people, I think I will allow my thoughts to drift back to a Monday morning class when an oncologist spent a few hours with some theology students…. After all he is not just Dr. Vega. He is the beloved Dr. Vega…