Listening

When I’m treating persons who have ADHD, I need to remember that there is more to effective treatment than prescribing the right amount of the right medication.

I’m all for medications. I’m aware of their effectiveness but also of their limitations, dangers and side effects. Sometimes I have to re-learn that the central curative factor in treating any patient is listening and responding to the person. Whether or not they have ADHD.

This hit me forcefully recently when I was reading The Last of the Just ,* by Andre Schwartz-Bart. The theme of this astonishing book is that in each generation of Jews a just man takes on the sins and sufferings of the world.

Chaim Levy, one of Schwartz-Bart’s just men, was a cripple who claimed no special powers other than, “perhaps,” the power of tears. “Even when he could do nothing for a sufferer, he always conversed with him, not on higher matters, as one might have hoped, but on entirely anodyne affairs lacking in interest, such as the married life of the sick man, his work, his children, his cows, his chicken. A strange thing — people went away happy, saying that he knew how to listen, that by following your little tale he uncovered the grieving thread of your soul.”

“One day, to a poor old lady who was thanking him: ‘My dear old friend, don’t thank me. My soul goes out to you, for I have nothing else to give you.’ ”

There in a few sentences is the essence of psychotherapy. Whatever I offer to my ADHD patients, I hope that listening is central. The kind of listening that “uncovers the grieving thread of your soul.”