When You Don't Like
Natalia J. Garland
One of my favorite movies about alcoholism is The
Verdict, which was produced back in 1982. It starred
Paul Newman, James Mason, and Jack Warden. Newman was
nominated for Best Actor for his portrayal of the film's
leading character, an alcoholic lawyer named Jack Galvin.
The movie was nominated for Best Picture. The story was
based on the novel, Verdict, written by Barry Reed
who recently died this year. Reed was a lawyer who
specialized in medical malpractice cases.
When I read
about Reed's death, I decided to check out a copy of the novel
at the local library. Although I own the video and enjoy
watching it from time to time, I had never read the novel.
In the book and in the movie, the story follows the same
basic plot: an alcoholic lawyer with a failing career takes
on a seemingly impossible malpractice suit against a large
hospital. The story is filled with the gathering of evidence
to build a substantial case, courtroom drama, personal
struggle, and a look at the unpleasant sides of the legal and
however, one great difference between the movie and the book.
In the movie, Frank Galvin is a likable character. It is easy
to cheer him on as an everyman hero who fights for what is
right. In the book, Galvin is a womanizer, has an attitude
problem, is very maladjusted and capable of rage, and quite
unlikable. I would not have continued reading the book had
I not been determined to compare it to the movie. I cannot
imagine why an author would bother to write a novel in which
the main character is, well, a jerk. I like to like my
Galvin prompted me to think about people in general, and
patients in particular, who are unlikable. I have had maybe
three patients in my lifetime whom I simply did not like.
I still remember the first such patient that I encountered,
and how deeply it troubled me that I honestly did not like
Is it possible
to like everyone? Are there not some people who just have
very unlikable qualities? When I talk about not liking
someone, I am not talking about personal whim. I am talking
about people who are so negative and so disagreeable that they
really do not show any appreciable behaviors or tendencies.
But what happens when one of these unlikable individuals
becomes your patient? How do you cope? Is it ethical to
treat someone whom you do not like? How does that affect the
I believe it is
possible to provide fair and good treatment to the unlikable
patient. It is a matter of professionalism. The same social
work skills and knowledge can be applied to the likable as
well as to the unlikable. It may feel somewhat strange for
the therapist, and such a case may be less rewarding, but the
course of therapy can proceed to a successful termination
If you read
Reed's novel to the end, you will be glad you did. The hero,
Frank Galvin, skillfully communicates with the jury. In his
summation he says, "It boils down to this: What is the
value of human life? What is a good life worth? Again, this
is for you alone to decide. In many countries human life is
the cheapest commodity available. You know, in 1937 Amelia
Earhart was missing with Fred Noonan out over the Pacific.
Our government spent thirty million dollars trying to find
her: search planes, patrol ships, men, manpower, day in, day
out. It wasn't until Pearl Harbor Day, 1941, that we
officially called off the search."
Perhaps that is
also why mental health professionals can treat the unlikable.
The value of human life is recognized. The need for help is
just as legitimate. The right to receive quality services is
just as important. The unlikable patient can be just as proud
of his goal accomplishments as the likable. And we can be
proud of ourselves that we helped lead such a person to a
greater fulfillment of his humanity. (Written 10/07/02 -
Until we meet