Dress and Decorum in the Clinic
Every year the matter of dress and decorum must be addressed in the clinic. This has become a bit more consistent and broader in applicability especially as our students have been getting younger.
It is easy for students to forget that they are in a setting in which clients, behind closed doors, are taking risks into revelations and emotional states that are profound. And, each year we get at least one complaint around October from a client who was distracted, or worse, by the laughter or loud chatter outside the office. For each complaint that is voiced, I figure there are at least a few others that went unmentioned.
Related to this is the matter of appropriate dress. We have had young men and women who needed some intervention for clothing that was not befitting the professional they were aspiring to be. This is a sensitive area as we all know. A few years ago one of our female ADPTC members, at our national meeting, talked of how her confrontation of a woman clinician on the propriety of her dress turned into a nearly year-long nightmare of payback and grievances. Some of this is culturally seated in the late adolescent/early adult sartorial genre of the times, but when a young woman is administering a battery of intelligence tests to a 14 year old heterosexual boy, while she is wearing a severely low cut blouse might reasonably skew the scores. Worse, she had no idea what the concern might be.
To Dull the Pain
We have learned a few things over the years. First, we wrote what we thought would be clear yet non-inflammatory language in our handbook about dress and decorum. Second, we specifically include it in orientation. We do this generally and then with a presentation from one of our women faculty, herself a former director of a training program. Finally, supervisors are advised to monitor this during the year.
As always, thus putting the matter into the "frame" of clinic conduct, orientation, and expectations, may avoid trouble later. We tell the students: well-crafted therapy frames at the beginning are your best buddy, and poorly created ones can turn into real headaches. This applies to the clinic as well. It is much easier on all of us and our physical and mental health to have this within the "benign matter-of-fact" ambience as established with good framing, as opposed to having to react to situations. When that happens we are vulnerable to resistance and defense in many familiar forms, not the least of which is accusations about unfairness, prejudice, sexism, or hostility.
Finally, what can make it more difficult is a department's or faculty's blind eye to these matters. If "anything goes" within the culture that holds and moulds the students, then the clinic's "imposition" of different expectations can be seen as anomalous and, heaven forbid, rigid. Cultivating a departmental awareness, attitude, discussability and action regarding professional conduct and dress helps greatly.
Here is Vic getting some much-needed therapy from his rock troll therapist on Block Island, RI
last summer. A future ADPTC meeting site? (The therapy is free.)