Do Emotions Belong in a Classroom?

Do Emotions Belong in a Classroom?

Have you ever been in that moment?  You’re not sure why but you completely burst into tears?  Well this happened to me…yesterday…in front of my health psychology teaching assistant and several of my fellow classmates.  I volunteered to be the doctor as we role played with a standardized patient (not a real patient…an actor!).  This was huge for me.  I am usually pretty nervous to go first in front of classmates.  You know the whole thing where you get cold & clammy palms…maybe you stutter…can’t think about anything to say so you think about what you should be doing so you’re not judged.

Oh…is that just me?  Maybe…but I’ve heard a few people have had this experience, too!  So maybe you know what I’m talking about!

In health psych, we’ve been practicing how to integrate cognitive behaviour therapy into our treatment sessions.  I did the readings, went to class…felt unprepared yet ready to try it out.  So I volunteered.  I put aside my fears…took a deep breath, and welcomed the patient to my “office”

<enter patient> <enter pit sweats and nervous wreck>


The beginning of the intake was not so bad!  I start gaining confidence, I start to black out the classmates looking at me and I focus on the patient in front of me.  This is actually happening.  I felt so great.  I can’t even tell you what I was thinking because I felt like I was actively in the moment – not wandering to my own thoughts except the ones that said “Do I proceed with what they’ve just said or do I change route?”.

This was a huge accomplishment for me!  WOW!  I felt pain when the patient expressed sadness and I was able to continue interviewing.

Skills.  Guys, I’ve got some skills!


Our TA calls a time out and I completely separate myself from the patient encounter to address her time out.  Eager to tell her how well things are going and then she says: “How are ya feelin’ right now?”.  Oh boy I can’t wait to tell her!

“I…I feel like an idiot”


Uhmm.  What?!  Yeah.  This is what came out of my mouth.  Guys, honestly, I’m not sure what happened!  It was like every ounce of confidence left my body when I returned to the setting of classmates looking at me and evaluating what I’ve just done.  I chalked this up to not wanting to say I think I’m doing great and then having  student take that away from me by saying “actually you could do better”.  I was absolutely afraid of judgement, of constructive criticism that could be taken the wrong way.  I let fear speak in that moment.  What came next was even crazier.

I realized my face was soaking wet.  Nope.  It wasn’t sweat.  I was crying.

This was my moment.  This was my time to grow.  To learn what I needed from this patient encounter and learn what was happening in my body, physically and emotionally.  The case I was taking hit close to home.  I grew up in a great family but with a lot of sadness.  In my family, there was depression, there was anger, there was a false sense of loneliness, there was suicide…in short: there was a lot of S#%T!  So it was no surprise that I was “given” this highly emotional case in health psych.  This was my gift from CCNM.

It’s odd – this was completely hidden during the intake.  I was completely separate from my own previous emotions and only stayed in the present.  And some of my classmates expressed their feelings of “wanting to give me a big hug” or admitting “crap, that could be me!”.  What a fantastic, supportive group.  I appreciated the fact that these classmates realized that this was my turn.  My turn to experience what I’ve just gone through.  They appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to turn away my own emotions after a visit but rather – reflecting on what is going on may just be what you need to do to grow.  To become a better practitioner.

My ability to separate what I was feeling deep down from the story being told in front of me by the patient is one that I didn’t know I had.  There is still room for growth.  I can really improve on my interviewing skills – but this…this is something I thought would be very difficult to separate.  I was not a blank slate to this patient – I was a mirror, I felt their pain, I felt their needs and I provided the care that was necessary.  What a feeling.

Experiencing this was truly life changing.  I had to face the fact that, yes, I have emotions that will resurface and patients will bring this out.  After appointments it will be important for me to practice self-care.  I have some memories I want to reface and understand their role in my life more deeply.

So do emotions belong in the classroom?

Absolutely.  This is our time to learn about ourselves; as people, as partners, as practitioners, as humans…I do not think we need to deny ourselves of these feelings.  I say let them out.  If what you feel and experience is not impacting the quality of care you provide then be with them.  Do not pretend they don’t exist.  Face your realities and grow.  I will never stop learning about the human body and I promise to never stop learning things about myself.  The better I know myself, the easier it will be to separate what’s going on with me from my patients’ appointments.

Expressing emotion did not make me weak.  It was this ability that made me stronger.  Thanks for listening about my own personal growth this week.  I hope this can inspire you, too, to think about what you feel and think and consider what’s really going on…what’s at the root of your tears or your fears?