I can not recommend highly enough a recent This American Life podcast: the program spends 24 hours in The Golden Apple, a diner in Chicago. Throughout the podcast, there are a variety of individuals who share a small piece of themselves with the audience in funny, sad, sincere and humorous ways.
Recently, I have been thinking about the introvert and the extrovert. In particular, I have been wondering (often aloud) which personality characteristic is most suited for the role of an empathic medical practitioner. As is often the case, I found a podcast to help clarify my thoughts.
In this particular episode, two friends are sitting in a diner, speaking of their differences. Each are the age of high school seniors. One friend is an obvious extrovert (Danielle), the other an introvert (Allison). The Danielle tries explaining to Allison how it is that other people are drawn to her persona:
Danielle: No, you are wrong…it’s not like it just happens like that [snaps fingers]. Okay, I’ll give you that sometimes…I don’t know…sometimes it happens like that, and it’s the fact that I talk and I’m not boring and I don’t just sit there. [backpedaling] I’m not saying that you are boring, I’m just saying that that is what I’m not. People (like I said before) are robots and they are going to want to follow the life of the party. That’s how people are. If you put an idea in their head – like if one person thinks you are a good kisser, you are deemed a good kisser forever and ever and ever.
I am reminded of all of the therapists I have met over the years who play the same role as Danielle in their own professional lives. They are the ones who make themselves (and their own stories) the center of an encounter with a patient. They are the clinicians who tell their patients what to do, without reasoning to explain why or without engaging the patient enough to help them see the value in their treatment. And why should they? They perceive their patients as programmable robots who seek their counsel regarding what exercises to do, how often to do them and how many times.
These therapists are the extroverts; they understand if they can convince a few people that they are nice (and if the patient just happens to get better), they will be able to continue to receive referrals forever, and ever, and ever.
Allison understands that Danielle is able to garner the attention of others naturally and without effort. She is envious:
Allison: But that’s the point. You have this… you have this thing where you radiate a positive vibe, you know? And you’re always upbeat, you know? I’ve been really outgoing, or tried to almost imitate you to see if it works; it doesn’t work for me.
Later, Danielle is discussing with a producer the differences between her and Allison:
Danielle: We are complete opposites…I love people. She likes staying home and reading, I can’t stand staying at home and I can’t stand reading. And, I mean, I don’t like thinking; it’s like thinking is something that you do in school and then when you need to. And she’s not like that and that’s cool…it shows that she’s not a robot. She thinks about things. You know? She cares. Me? I’m not. I’m not like that. I just want to sit back…have some fun.
What if both girls wanted to be physical therapists? If they both had to interview for acceptance into a physical therapy program, who do you think might be most convincing? Wouldn’t most people choose the outgoing personality that is charismatic and good with people?
Would that necessarily be the same person you would want to be your therapist 6 years later if you were experiencing excruciating back pain?