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The Secret Keepers

 

One of the primary concerns in social work is confidentiality. It is important for clients to feel secure enough with their social worker to share difficult information, and many social workers make a point of telling clients, right away, that anything they say will be kept private, expect in cases of danger to self or others. In the case of a social work intern, though, confidentiality has to include a few more caveats: What you tell me is just between you and me, and my supervisor, and my coworkers, and my teachers, and my classmates. You don’t mind, do you?

I read instructions from a social work class, at another school, where they specifically told the students to camouflage not just the name of the client they were writing about, but also identifying details in their physicality, personality, and life circumstances. We were not told to be that thorough in our classes. My fellow classmates and I tend to use initials in our assignments, if identification of a client is necessary, under the assumption that since we do not work at the same agencies the initials will not be identifiable to fellow students. But some people choose to use false names instead, to make the prose flow more smoothly. I’ve been tempted to go whole hog and use “Cookie Monster” or “Voldemort” for some of my class assignments, just to see if people are actually paying attention, but I haven’t done that, yet.

I don’t think dogs care about confidentiality, but I’m not sure. I’m hoping my dogs don’t care, because I share an awful lot of their personal information online. Cricket doesn’t seem to experience shame when her behavioral quirks are uncovered, like pooping on the mat by the front door overnight, or peeing in the quilting area in the back of the living room (though that could be because she believes it is my fault, because I failed to get up when she asked for an outing at three o’clock in the morning). Butterfly is unconcerned with her missing teeth, or any leftover poopy on her butt, when she goes outside to meet new people.

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“The pee was up to my eyeballs, what did you expect me to do?”

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“What? I think I look great!”

Dogs are the ultimate secret keepers, actually. Cricket has never told anyone information she alone was privy to about me. And Butterfly lets people think that I am strong and confident and secure, even though she knows different. The dogs accept me as I am, with all of my facets intact. They’ve never suggested that I should be fired as a dog Mom because I have this or that imperfection, though they do expect me to make it up to them in extra chicken treats.

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“Secrets are yummy!”

Maybe we should all go to doggy therapists, instead of the human kind, and then we’d never have to worry about confidentiality (unless you believe that dogs are capable of speech, and are just barking to keep up the ruse that they are dependent on us, and there is actually a secret network of doggy spies collecting information about their humans to send to the doggy version of the NSA, or the real NSA).

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“You’ll never know.”

The fact is, humans are not built for unconditional positive regard, even though that’s what therapist’s try to offer to their clients. Even the most generous-hearted therapist will find herself looking askance at a client for one or two of his decisions. Most dogs, though, have unconditional positive regard down pat. Human therapists carefully guard their boundaries, conscious of how physical behaviors, and offers of support, can be misconstrued by people in desperate need. Dogs don’t do this. Human therapists are also taught to hide their own needs and vulnerabilities from their clients, both to protect themselves and to protect clients from feeling responsible for meeting the therapist’s needs. Dogs have no problem walking up to someone, even someone in deep and unrelenting pain, and asking for affection, and offering affection in return.

Dogs listen openly and without an agenda, whereas most human therapists have a goal in mind for each session: to find out the client’s story, to uncover the blocks in their life, and to offer healthy options for forward movement. Dogs don’t interrupt; they are more classically Freudian in their approach, allowing the client to free associate, and just know that someone is listening to them.

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“We’re listening.”

But, there are a few ways that human therapists can be more helpful than dogs, especially when you are ready to move past the venting stage of the work. It’s possible that, while the unconditional positive regard of a dog can be healing, you may take the positive regard of a human more seriously, because you know that their regard is conditional and you must have done something right to be winning their approval. Human therapists are also more knowledgeable about problem solving, unless the problem you need to solve is where to find the best place to pee, or how to fully appreciate the sounds of the backyard.

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“I can help with that!”

 

The fact is, human therapists are more than just secret keepers, or a safe place to confess the things you don’t want anyone else to know, they are bridges and teachers and support systems to help you make the connections to the life you really want to be living. A life in which, hopefully, you will have a faithful dog at your side to give you unconditional love.

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

72 responses »

  1. I wonder how the trained listeners can cope with all those secrets. Dogs seem to absorb it all and then go to sleep. At least that is what my therapist’s dog did on Thursday!

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  2. hairytoegardener

    Being a former nurse, confidentiality was strongly emphasized both in my training and practice. I carried this practice into my next career and held big secrets when there was nothing to keep me from blabbing my mouth. I think maintaining confidentiality is a good skill to have in any career. As far as my own dogs are concerned, they’ve not barked (yet) that Mom sometimes swears in anger, is slow to potty or that she doesn’t look absolutely gorgeous in the nude. (However, I don’t trust my dogs not to say something to my friend’s cats. Those cats seem like big gossips to me.)

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  3. I think it would be interesting to listen to how people react to therapy dogs who go into nursing homes and hospitals. I picture them stroking the dogs and just having a dialogue (well, I guess it would really be a monologue) with the dog–telling them things that they might shield from other people, even their social worker. I am so sure Butterfly could help with that. Cricket would probably have a whole lot to say on this subject!

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  4. Dogs have no sense of privacy. How could they when they sniff another dog’s butt in public with pride.

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  5. Great, great post. Made me smile, then laugh out loud.

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  6. Important thoughts here, Rachel.

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  7. Thank you for letting us sit in on your education, Rachel! Lots to learn here, and so beautifully said.

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  8. Maggie was great stress therapy when I was working. There are a ot of therapy dogs now, so there must be something in it. Like you say, they listen withoiut an agenda, neither are they on a clock.

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  9. My former Service Dog, Houston, was the best pain specialist/therapist/confidante/best friend I ever had. Dogs are the ultimate caregivers.

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  10. No transference either, in doggieness. They are who they are. And love us, thankfully and in some cases, mercifully.

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  11. Wonderful essay! Everything you say is dead on about the strengths and weaknesses of dog and human therapists. I love the pictures of your dogs, as always.

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  12. Most dogs, though, have unconditional positive regard down pat.
    Clearly, you have never met a certain highly judgmental Maltese whose name shall remain confidential but whose initials are M.A.X.

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  13. Trusting that a person will keep your information (and secrets) confidential is a hard, especially once you’ve been “burned” by someone. Dogs on the other hand….well, we know they won’t tell anyone.

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  14. You three will make a great team once you are done with your studies!

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  15. Dogs, cats and many other animals live fully the principle of non-attachment. Humans are attached to many things, like outcomes. Often this is very necessary but it makes human interaction difficult.

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  16. Just sent this to my daughter. She’s a therapist and a dog lover and I think she’d agree.

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  17. cute sayings and pictures. Good Luck.

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  18. It’s a good thing for me that my dogs don’t subscribe to HIPAA compliance though Sam and I must adhere to it if we recount any of our hospital visits. 🙂

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  19. I enjoyed your post, Rachel, especially the part where you compare dogs to therapists. Very clever. 🙂

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  20. As therapists, we fill up with other people’s secrets and then need to practice self-care. Dogs are great for that too!

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  21. Wonderful post! thank you!

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  22. We are the secret-keepers, indeed! But there is no grace in it, as silent acceptance is simply our way. Pip

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  23. I enjoyed reading your post…especially regarding the dogs. They are adorable!

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  24. Great post Rachel and love your photos. Your dogs make me smile 🙂

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  25. Butterfly and Cricket are adorable. I always look forward to reading your posts Rachel. So well written and you and the dogs seem like a great team. They listen but they’re such great characters!

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  26. I too enjoy these Rachel. Butterfly and Cricket do seem (in the pictures) to enjoy the attention of the photography and yes, makes me wonder if they know that they are also part of the topic of the blog? 🙂 What I love about animals is that they DO have the sense to know our emotions and have been therapists in helping those as well.

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  27. You have such lovely dogs.. I loved their pics I sat looking at them for a long time… I so long for one..

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  28. Pingback: Blogger Recognition Award – Ramblings of a Writer

  29. I love your blog especially those two smiling little dogs. I have nominated you for the “Blogger Recognition Award”, sharing it with my readers.
    Here is the post – https://ramblingsofawriter2016.com/2017/06/29/blogger-recognition-award-2/
    Hope you are having a great week and Butterfly is well now.

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  30. Brilliant! Lovely flashes of humor and a wonderful wisdom and understanding of both dogs and humans. You will be a wonderful therapist.

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  31. We can learn a lot from dogs!

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  32. This is fantastic! I’ve been a CPS social work for nine years, and my pets have been the best secret keepers! They don’t care if I come home and yell, tell them my stories (IN DETAIL), blah blah, they just sit there listen and give kisses. Wonderful post. GOOD LUCK!
    http://socialworksuperhero.blog

    Reply

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