A failure of curiosity

I recently commented on an entry of Ivory’s, and included information from an article titled A failure of curiosity by Janet Migdow.  Unfortunately this article isn’t available freely, but I’ll describe the content here for those who are interested.  It’s an article that has stayed with me for many months, it offers an interesting insight into the therapeutic relationship between an intelligent woman diagnosed with DID and a therapist who is willing to examine their own processes and thoughts.

The first part of the article gives the therapists background – her drive to help people, her natural curiosity that was evident from childhood and her desire not to lose that curiosity.  She writes:

“I have always seen curiosity as the quintessential characteristic of a good clinician. I have never thought curiosity alone would make the consummate clinician. I simply think that, without a burning curiosity, becoming a therapist is a useless endeavor.”

(Migdow, 2008, p. 46).

Midgow describes the client as “Dr. B., a Caucasian, fifty-six-year-old, uppermiddle-class, professional woman of mild manners and distinguished bearing” (Migdow, 2008, p. 48), diagnosed with DID.  She had been a client for 6 years and over that time had stabilised to the point of becoming more aware of the parts and increasing her functioning.  Part way through their journey together, Dr. B. starting turning up late for sessions.  This lateness coincided with the topic of the sessions becoming more banal, with Dr. B. deflecting any attempts to probe deeper into the issues at hand.  Migdow describes this sort of deflecting as hypnotic – as a person who has done this sort of deflecting, I understand what she is talking about, it becomes hypnotic for the person doing the deflecting as well.

It was at this point, that Migdow recognised that she was bored.  She had gone from a place of deep respect for her client, to a place of boredom.  Migdow looked for issues within her own life to have brought her to this place, but identifies that the dissociative fragments encourage detachment from the issues.  This detachment allows Dr. B.’s skill with social chit-chat to maneuver the topic away from anything too deep (or scary).

After forcing Dr. B. to be aware of an incident where she is showing obvious signs of distress, it is revealed that it is the dissociative system is protecting both the client and the therapist from the events of the past.  The secrets were still being so carefully protected from everyone, with this chit-chat seen as the best method to continue all diversion from the truth.  Dr. B. had never realised that this was another of the systems defenses and had always associated it with there being “something wrong with my brain” (Migdow, 2008, p. 51).

Migdow (2008, p. 52) explains the sensation as:

“… you feel like a door cracks open in your mind, you experience yourself as noticing something familiar and then you forget not only what you noticed but the fact that you noticed anything at all. You feel frightened of what you glimpsed and frightened that your own mind seems elusive.”

The explanation for lulling both the therapist and client is found… she isn’t bored, or boring… she has an incredibly protective system that thought the secrets and safety of the host must be maintained in any way possible.  This became a turning point in the therapeutic relationship… one where the right road was found, but the telling was hard (butchered Dante quote).

This article has at times given me hope – it helps me to understand that some of the waffle that I do is possibly aimed at self-protection.  I often find myself losing getting lost in the twists and turns of a conversation within therapy, but I’ve always associated this with me being stupid and not being able to keep up.  The article also helps me when I’m in the denial, this could be another diversionary technique to stop me from delving too deep into the past.  I know that my self-injury could be seen as either a diversion or a scream for help…

So much of what we do is aimed at trying to uncover our truth, but that is a hard road that has been protected for many years.  This article shows how one therapist realised that the road was constantly being passed by and only with strength and knowledge can we go down it.

As a note, while this article particularly dealt with the relationship with a person with DID, I think that it could be translated to almost any therapeutic relationship.


Migdow, J. (2008). Failure of curiosity. Psychoanalytic Social Work, 15(1), 43-52. doi:10.1080/15228870802111781.


10 thoughts on “A failure of curiosity

    • I thought it might be familiar Amy 🙂 I think we all do it to some degree. This is where the skill of the therapist comes in – to ease us out of that place of deflection.

        • I know, that’s sort of why I’ve been hassling you about with finding someone new 🙂 You deserve someone who can really help you, not soothe or agree with you because it’s an easier option. Some of that is good, but not all the time.

          Take care of you…

  1. CG, thanks for posting about this. I’m packing to move and haven’t had time to do the research. Very interesting, tho, as I just commented on another blog that we shouldn’t try to protect the therapist and then I wondered why I do it anyway! This is a pretty complicated issue, isn’t it. And I have therapy this afternoon…

    • I wonder if protecting the therapist is secondary to protecting ourselves? It appeared to be for this client, and is the case for me… it’s about self-preservation first.

      Good luck with the packing and moving 🙂

    • Anytime Kerro. I found the article helped me to understand different things that I do and how the therapist deals with those actions.

      Take care,
      CG 🙂

  2. Hey CG,

    This post is very intresting. I have a therapist specalizing in DID I have been with her for almost two years. I do feel/act like I’m bored in therapy because I am not ready to talk about abuse stuff in detail yet. But my therapist sees right through that everytime. I like working with her but I’d much rather just stick with expressive therapy because there’s less talking involved.

    Take Care, Be Well.


    • Hi Hope,

      Expressive forms of therapy are so powerful for some people. I know it doesn’t suit everyone, but I often find that I can express in other ways things that I could never verbalise.

      Even if you’re not ready to talk about things in detail, having a therapist who is skilled enough to understand where you are coming from is a huge advantage.

      Take care,
      CG 🙂

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