My very first “career job” was in a Psychiatry unit of a local hospital. In retrospect, I was 23 years old, fresh out of college with a B.S. degree, still very wet behind the ears and had NO idea of what I was doing at first (actually, a lecturer and then life experience have taught me that you’re not good at ANY job until you’ve been doing it for at least 7 years). It also wasn’t my first choice for where to work (long story) but I slowly meddled through it all and eventually learned to truly enjoy and be really good at working in Psych.

I was hired to work in a Geriatric Psychiatry unit that, at the time, was still being built. When we finally opened a few weeks later, there were just 2 of us in the Activity Therapy Department…me and an art therapist that I’ll call Dee. Dee was in her very late 50’s and was officially my supervisor, although that moniker was quietly turned to “stupidvisor” in very short order. Despite 20-something years of experience, she was an absolutely horrible supervisor – very much a dictator, very much a control freak. But more on that another day.

Anyway, as an art therapist, Dee’s self-proclaimed role was to have the patients draw pictures during Art Therapy Group and she would interpret them because, as she would tell us ad nauseum that “the artwork goes deeper than the CAT scan.” When she wasn’t going deeper than a CAT scan by interpreting what the artwork meant (sex and anxiety. Always sex and anxiety) to any staff member who would listen, she would explain to me (her captive audience – our desks were in the same room) what she saw and what it meant. I became really good at sounding and looking professionally interested but, interpretation by interpretation, slowly picked it up as an amusing parlor game more than anything else – curtains on a house meant paranoia, animals in a picture referred to sex drive, flowers that were as tall as people meant poor self-image, what certain colors meant, how to “see” obsessive compulsiveness, etc. (In later years I got a much better idea of what true Art Therapy when it turned out that the mother of a friend was an Art Therapist and, a good decade after my experience under Dee, she set me straight during one of her trips to Central Florida to visit my friend. But until then, whatever crap Dee told me was all I knew).

Over the 6 years that she worked on the Psych unit (I was there for 11 years – at the time of my departure, I had longevity amongst the non-nursing staff members), Dee had her admirers (usually Administrators with whom she allied herself and whose asses she kissed) and a much longer list of people who ran the gamut from ambivalence to hatred (HELLO! Hand raised on that latter one!). Whatever our feelings were though, we all came together twice a week for our Team Meeting to discuss the patients and their progress (or, sometimes, lack thereof). We would speak in a specific order, usually based on hospitals hierarchy, so the doctor would speak first, then the nurse, then the social worker, then the Activities Therapy staff (that was me and Dee). That’s when Dee would start her strutting, pulling out the artwork and explain how the patient who was drawing rocket ships was anxious and sexually preoccupied (this was after the doctor, nurse and social worker had already said the patient was anxious and sexually preoccupied – so glad she went deeper than a CAT scan, huh?). Over the years I noticed the eyes starting to roll whenever she pulled out the artwork. After years of oppression under this woman, I can’t even begin to tell you how much I LOVED that.

Anyway, one cold day towards the end of the year, we were having a Team Meeting and it was Dee’s turn to talk. She pulled out a picture someone had drawn of a man inside a house explained how the patient was not oriented in reality because he had also drawn a tree inside the house. And how he was sexually preoccupied and anxious because there was a tree that was pointy at the top. And he was conflicted about that because of the multiple colors on the pointy tree. He was also very obviously angry because the of all the red that the man was wearing.

And one of the nurses looked at Dee and said, “He’s not angry, Dee. We’re in December. It’s a picture of Santa Claus and a Christmas tree!”

Dee’s face turned beet red and her hands shook a little as she put the piece of manila paper back in the envelope. With furrowed eyebrows and lips in a grimace, she pulled her seat back, stood up and left the room.

Best Team Meeting EVER!