by Dr. Friedrich Tenuous, PhD
The following manual is intended as a pocket-sized resource for preparing fledgling psychiatrists and refreshing established ones.
If the patient sees…
1. A butterfly – The patient is lying. They think that answering with a butterfly makes them appear whimsical, lighter than air, like they have no real problems and can quit therapy sessions whenever they want to spend the money on expensive meals. A suggested response would be a horrified gasp or slowly scooting your chair away from the patient.
2. An angel – The patient is lying. They want to come off as religious so they can undermine your diagnoses and professional advice with cherry-picked Bible verses and Well-the-Lord-works-in-mysterious-wayses. Don’t let them gain the upper hand. Point out that the Bible doesn’t say anything about night terrors or causing traffic jams because they can’t stop crying when Michael Jackson comes on the radio.
3. The Angel of Death – The patient is lying. They think they have to give a dark, troubling answer or you’ll run out of things to talk about. Don’t let them steal your thunder. Lead them into a comfortable state of denial by suggesting that the last five people who saw the Angel of Death in a Rorschach test went on to host early-morning programming on NPR. Alternate responses: Yawn openly or say, “Good try! It’s a baby panda.”
4. A ruffled potato chip – The patient is lying. They want you to believe that they’re too hungry to focus, and really it’s your fault for settling on an appointment time between lunch and dinner, and their blood sugar’s pretty low, so maybe this whole “therapy” thing isn’t going to work out. Tell them that the potato chip is a Jungian archetype for sexual depravity and they’re likely to backpedal.
5. A mushroom cloud – The patient is lying. They aren’t even trying. Charge extra.
6. A dress – The patient is lying. They want you to think that they’re superficial, uninvolved, distracted, thinking about shopping or about buying that new issue of US Weekly that disparages all the ugly wardrobe choices from the most recent awards show. They want you to snap them out of it with an insightful, brilliant bit of tough love that will shatter and rebuild them all at once so they can brag about how well they know themselves at their next cocktail party. Even if you’re capable of that, don’t give them the satisfaction. Especially if they say “evening gown” instead of dress, in which case they can probably afford several years of therapy to get to that point.
7. A small child being relentlessly beaten by a family member they once trusted – The patient is obviously lying. Come on. It clearly looks nothing like that. Where are they getting that from?
8. An orchid – The patient is lying. They want you to make a spirited yet easy-to-follow analogy about how they themselves are like an orchid, needing constant care and specific conditions to thrive. If they want any of that spirit guide one-with-nature crap, they can get a Tarot reading downtown or go buy lunch for the Wiccan lady who works at the candle shop in the mall.
9. A Rorschach test – The patient is lying. They consider themselves to be above psychological evaluation because they took a 101 course their freshman year and they saw The Silence of the Lambs twice. A quick way to snap them out of it: Respond by taking five to ten minutes’ worth of silent notes without explanation. If they ask what you’re writing, just say, “Notes,” say nothing at all, or laugh and shake your head. Some suggestions for what to write: Your top ten books you’d be trapped on a desert island with, top five patients you’d sleep with, a poem about what you had for breakfast, all the lyrics you can remember to Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”
10. A mandarin orange peel soaked in ink – The patient is cheating.
These are the ten established responses to the attached Rorschach test, known in most respectable academic circles as the “Tenuous Ten” or “Dr. Tenuous’ Law.” After noting the response given, feel free to stop listening to the patient at any time.
If the patient gives a response not listed here, they are invariably sociopathic with homicidal tendencies. Gain the patient’s trust as quickly as possible so you can lead them into a room with a reliable lock and call the authorities.
If a student or professional attempts to disprove or discredit this guide, they are acting out on dangerous, sexually deviant impulses and should be considered extremely unstable and ignorant. Respond by telling them that to their face, particularly if the response comes from “Dr.” Roger Counterman, whose oedipal complex and compulsive bed-wetting render any argument invalid.
Eric Stolze writes ad copy, articles, and screenplays in Los Angeles.