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The Etiquettes of Therapy/Religion/Business

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When must we say “No!” to etiquette?

tumblr_mftmigntTK1qdopmvo1_r7_1280-01292013We don’t talk in elevators. Many of us avoid taking a cell phone call in a restaurant. We don’t use church language at work. And we don’t use plumbing words at church (those words that come with a pipe wrench in hand and head under a sink—according to Steve Treichler). We observe all sorts of behavior habits and patterns from day to day, all of which we call “etiquette.”

In Encountering the Sacred in Psychotherapy (Guildford Press, 2002), James and Melissa Griffith attempt to bridge a taboo of talking about God with clients in their psychotherapy practice. As you may or may not know, conversation is key therapeutic tool and Griffith and Griffith believe therapists too easily dismiss a powerful ingredient when they don’t allow for stories of how people’s faith effects whatever is the topic of therapy. The caveat is that Griffith and Griffith have opened themselves to hear all sorts of faith stories—not just those they might have considered orthodox. The two therapists tell of their own journey toward openness to the varieties of ways patients tell personal stories. By the way: let the record show that openness to hear the wide variety of things our conversation partners say is not the same as giving up on our deep-seated beliefs. We too often confuse openness with wishy-washy. Not the same.

I was initially attracted to the Griffith and Griffith book because of the details they reveal about conversations: how to help each other talk, the amazing nature of a simple conversation, and the mechanisms of speaking that prove so healing. Along the way I’ve come to realize they’ve done something substantial by breaking down a Berlin wall between problems and potential solutions (though perhaps psychotherapy practices have changed quite a bit since 2002).

Over the years I’ve found that colleagues at work will talk about all sorts of stuff in the course of a day, from money to sex to faith to the Twins to the boss to marriage and kids—plus everything else. This is to be encouraged—this flow of words is both natural and cathartic. It’s all about encouraging relationships (which are the primary source of joy for many at work) and work talk routinely breaks across walls of etiquette.

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Image credit: fredrikrattzen via 2headedsnake

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