What About Bob? & Healing Community

Dysfunctional and imperfect community can be a greater source of healing than the professional and sterile relationship between the therapist (or pastor) and client…. Confronted with the reality that Dr. Marvin will not see patients on vacation, Bob decides to “take a vacation from his problems” and stay at the lake, not as Dr. Marvin’s client, but as a friend.

Last night, Debbie, Michael and I were watching one of my favorite movies of all time — “What About Bob?” I’ve seen this movie several times and never get tired of it.

Yet as I was watching it again, I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before. Dysfunctional and imperfect community can be a greater source of healing than the professional and sterile relationship between the therapist (or pastor) and client.

When Bob Wiley first meets Dr. Leo Marvin, it’s in the sterile setting of his therapist’s office on the 44th floor. Dr. Marvin sits behind his monolithic desk with his symbols of success and identity surrounding him. But Bob is taken by Dr. Marvin as a person. He wants to talk, to hang out, to just be with Dr. Marvin. While Bob’s neuroses naturally drive people away, inwardly he hungers are for fellowship.

Now fast-forward to Lake Winnepesaukah, where Dr. Marvin has taken his family on vacation. Unable to bear the thought of being without his therapist for a month, Bob tracks down Dr. Marvin. Confronted with the reality that Dr. Marvin will not see patients on vacation, Bob decides to “take a vacation from his problems” and stay at the lake, not as Dr. Marvin’s client, but as a friend. To the chagrin of Dr. Marvin, Bob is quickly embraced by Dr. Marvin’s family, who have their own personal issues.

I observed two interesting dynamics as I watched the movie unfold. First, it’s through genuine fellowship with broken people that Bob takes major steps in his healing. As trained and successful as Dr. Marvin may be, Bob’s ultimately healing comes in the rub of daily life with real people.

Second, as a professional, Dr. Marvin cannot switch paradigms. He is safe within his professional environment. He is the master and commander of his therapeutic world. And as such, he has attained a significant level of personal success. Yet, Bob needs something that Dr. Marvin is incapable of giving — authentic friendship. It’s Dr. Marvin’s family that fulfills this need, welcoming Bob into normal family life. And Dr. Marvin’s inability to step out of his professional role ultimately drives him insane. Ironic.

Okay, I know it’s a far-fetched comedy. But it was a reminder of how pastoral professionalism can become a barrier to people’s health — the very people I would desire to help. It’s also a reminder of the importance of community, a group of imperfect and hurting people who embrace each other and make outsiders feel like insiders.

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