There’s a classic dispute among psychologists that’s best shown by the hair dryer story. It goes like this:
A woman believes her hair dryer is going to burn down her house. It gets to be a real problem; she’s driving back home twenty times a day. Her work life and love life and social life all take a hit.
Finally a therapist asks her, “Have you thought about just bringing the hair dryer with you?”
It works. When the fear creeps in, the woman opens her office drawer and sees the hair dryer and she’s fine.
Some psychologists see a major problem here: “Nothing was solved! She still has issues! She needs to get to the root of it!” But others say she found a solution that worked for her.
I lean toward the second camp. The problem was real to her and so was the solution. Maybe later she would get to the bottom of things. But until then, she had found a way to make it okay.
The big idea is her story was taken seriously. That was the start of her wholeness. Only when a story is fully heard is there the possibility of connection or challenge or growth.
The thing is: Too many of our injuries are real. It is not merely “in their head” or “their side of the story.” And it is not enough just to believe it happened.
Abuse, racialized trauma, mass violence, systemic failures, misogyny, manipulated power dynamics, and all the mental health issues not seemingly visible—all of these need empathy, but it doesn’t stop there. They also need presence, action, compassion, and a complete reframing of all the ways that things are done. Justice would make things so right that we would never need accountability or to convince others to “believe me.”
It is already hard enough proving my injury is real.
I have the scars to prove it.
But what I need is more than belief,
more than moved hearts, more than speech.
Theology is only complete with our hands and feet.
Psychology can diagnose and make valuable notes, but only heels in the field, in the dirt, bring us hope.
Even with all our treatment and remedies, I still need you to sit with me.
In grief, your advice is probably good, but not as good as being on the floor with me.
May your pain be mine,
and your hopes mine too.
Part of this post is an excerpt from my book The Voices We Carry