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A Tribute to Stan Greben

 

            When I was much younger I read everything that I could about my academic discipline, which is psychology and law.  I talked to everybody who would talk to me and I had a wonderful relationship with several academics and practicing clinicians.

            When I was at my family physician’s office for a prescription refill, I found a copy of Humane Medicine.  I asked if I could have it.  I took it home.  I read it cover to cover.  There was a z-fold in the middle and I filled it out.  I wanted to help these Humane Medicine people.  It was my kind of medicine.  I mailed away the z-fold and became a member.  I would review books!  I had done it throughout university and graduate school – I could help these people and by reviewing a book or two.

            The book I was to review was Dr. Stanley E. Greben’s “Love’s Labor – The Experience and Practice of Psychotherapy”.  My review was published in Humane Medicine in November 1986.  I was delighted, because it gave me a chance to tell Dr. Greben how much his book meant to me.  He liked the review.

            My practice is not without its colourful characters and oddly wonderful people; I have never been able to handle my practice on my own and have had several trusted colleagues at the end of a telephone cord.

            My life changed when I met Stan Greben in the pages of his book.  He sent me a note about the review and he told me that if I was ever in Toronto – we would have lunch.  Hummm.  This means that I can call him.

            I have fond memories of a dozen university professors who were remarkable people and remarkable practitioners.  I have colleagues and professional associates who are heroes and mentors; but my relationship with Stan Greben was the most trusted.  He understood my patients and my clients and the people that I take care of.  He was able to teach me things that I never thought to ask about.  Stan Greben gave me permission to look at some patients and, if I cannot fix their problems, admit to them that I couldn’t fix them.  He gave me permission to be frustrated and sad and even to be angry.  He gave me permission to confront the behaviours of patients that I didn’t understand and couldn’t accept.  He was encouraging, patient and loving.  He told me that the trick to diagnosis was simple “The diagnosis is in the details” and he smiled, “You just have to listen carefully and with insight and love”.  It was true and in the 20 years of my practice since that conversation, there isn’t a day that, when taking a history I don’t remember that conversation.

            Dr. Greben understood the concept of familylessness, a problem of so many of my patients and clients.  They are alone in the world and they have no one and they have lost their will to have an identity.  They cling to “hope”; if you can’t give them “hope”…..they get lost in the world of alcohol and drug abuse.

            Stan Greben helped me to identify my patients for whom “hope” was lost.  He helped me to throw them a lifeline…it was a coffee out or a ride somewhere, or it was a walk in the park with one of my Labradors.  It was an invitation to the dogs’ birthday party in the summer.  It was inclusion.  It was hope.

            Stanely Greben died last October (Oct 2007) I didn’t hear about it until just recently.  There is a sense that he is still watching over my practice and my work.  There is a sense that he still alive because I will never forget him.  There is a sense that he is still only a phone call away; but, the real test of a mentor is the legacy.  I have learned great lesions from Stan Greben.  I have this book that I have read countless times; and I have the memory of his laugh.  I have the practice that I want because he took the time to teach me to be a better doctor, a better psychologist and a better person.  That is his legacy.  When I think of Stan Greben, I put him on the short list with my father, who is my greatest hero.

            I am probably the most fortunate person who ever lived.  I have been taught to recognize great teachers.  It is a gift.

            I have two pictures of Dr. Greben in my office.  I have four copies of his book.  I have the lessons he taught me in place, in my work – and I thank him.

 

Mychael Gleeson, PhD