“What Is She Suffering From?”

Since coming back I’ve had several friends expressing interest in the course and my experiences as a MT student.

As I was narrating one of the more dramatic incidents experienced during placement, this question came back at me:

“What is she (the client) suffering from?”

Something about that sentence made me feel uncomfortable, and after thinking about it, I realised it was the connotations we associate with the word “suffering”, which reveals how we see “them” as different from “us”.

When we use the word suffering, we associate it with disease, that the person is afflicted with something that is not natural, that has to be removed in order for him or her to be considered “whole” and “ok” and “in good health”.

In reality, aren’t we all suffering? We suffer from trying to fit into society. We suffer from growing old. We suffer from mental discomfort. We suffer from media bombardment. We suffer from dying.

The notion of suffering aside, the principles of humanistic psychology, which MT is based on, also advocates the seeing of every individual as a given whole, to focus on what they can do, not what they can’t. To see what they have and work with that, not notice what they don’t have and try to “teach” what we think they lack.

While it wouldn’t do to disregard the discomforts and deficits people with disabilities have in dealing with the world around them, it also won’t do to see ourselves on a higher pedestal, thinking that we have higher authority, on grounds of being deemed more “normal”, and dictating what we deem to be socially appropriate. In reality, people with special needs may have as much, if not more, to teach us about how we interact and perceive the world.

And really, we are all suffering in our own way.

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