The spoken pain of therapy

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I felt so disconnected from DS (my therapist Deep Soul) tonight and I’m in shock at what happened in our session.

This was the first time I had seen him in two weeks. Two weeks felt like two months with everything that’s happened. I told him how much I had missed him and how disappointed and abandoned I had felt by both my dad and him. Because he had been off twice on sick leave, I had also worried so much about his health and whether he was okay. As I sat there, there was a visceral feeling of panic and I shared that there was a part of me that was just waiting for him to announce that he was leaving me, whether by choice, sickness or something else. I was shaking and felt really alone in that room while he watched me trying to pull myself together. Eventually, I managed to stop shaking after I did a few breathing exercises and visualisation (which I initiated, not him). Nothing was spared in sharing my feelings with him as I know by now they can be vehicles for growth. I said my husband and the blogging community were a help during the time we had been apart. He acknowledged that it must have been difficult for me to feel both worry and abandonment and then he kept quiet.

The hills are alive with the sound of crickets…

For some reason, I just wasn’t feeling his attentiveness and care. He was reflecting back what I had said but there was an emptiness to it. It felt like this was his job. I was not a real person before him with real concerns. It was unsettling.

Thinking that we might get back on track again. I shared with him how I had recently discovered the concept of the inner child through blogging. I asked if it was okay to read the eye-opening conversation I had with this inner child by calling up my blog on my iPad. He said it was okay and I managed to read everything (after a lot of stopping, choking up and being asked what I was feeling).

Then he kept quiet. I asked what DS thought about the whole thing. He asked for clarity and I said I wanted to know what he made of the concept of the inner child. He seemed a bit confused and was frowning. My body language gear was in overdrive so his gestures felt really pronounced. My brain was telling me that he didn’t get it or he thought it was silly. He didn’t understand me. I battled through an explanation of my understanding of the inner child and what I felt it meant.

I told him I was struggling to feel connected to him like I had at our last session. The therapeutic connection had felt strong and trustworthy. Now it felt like I had imagined it. “I guess I am putting a lot of pressure on myself to feel that way about you now”. He didn’t say much at all. “When you don’t share your thoughts, I have to work out what’s going on in your mind. Your silence is provoking my anxiety, DS.” He nodded.

It just feels like you are not here for me when I need you now. This is how I have felt recently. It’s been so hard trying to deal with my feelings and emotions without you these last two weeks. I was doing my best to be my own therapist and it’s just so ironic that I finally have you in front of me and it feels like you are not here. It feels like I still have to battle it on my own.” Things were starting to feel like the time I had entered therapy last year… at that stage, I was wrapped up in a tightly-bound cocoon, a cage made up of strings I had cast to protect myself. This cocoon was built up because I had been cast out. Nobody had understood me. I felt like an alien, a weirdo, a reject.

When in doubt, pout, scream or shout…

“In my head, I have been thinking about what this time apart has meant for you. Have you thought about me at all? Did you think at any stage about what I was getting up to or how I was dealing with things coming my way? Or did it never even cross your mind?” Silence. “It scares me to think that I didn’t exist in your mental world even once. How can I sustain our therapeutic connection between sessions when I can so easily be replaced by other clients? It petrifies me to think you don’t care. Especially because you are going away next week and I will not have another session again for two weeks.”

When I was finished, DS said a few things slowly with an objective tone in his voice. I can’t remember it all but he was trying to connect the abandonment I had felt with my dad, with how I was feeling about him now. This was NOT the right time to bring that up. Doing so completely invalidated my feelings by reducing it to transference. I felt like he had minimised my concerns about the therapeutic relationship, and in so doing, had also minimised how he was contributing to what was happening.

He was not getting that this conversation was SPECIFICALLY about needing him to be a good therapeutic person I could trust and knew had some inkling of care for me. I needed him to show me what it was like to be comfortable with emotions in a way that still respected boundaries. This was the only way I would be able to heal through therapy.

“I’m disappointed that you are using your therapeutic voice on me. This is not the time for that. I feel like you are hiding behind it. I can’t detect any emotion or care in your voice. I need to feel that you actually give a crap” (Okay, I wish I had thought of the last line at the time but was a bit too overwhelmed by my emotions).

All he said was: “I understand this one-sided therapy relationship must be painful for you.”

Replace any witty heading here with: what the actual FUCK…

Well, what a way to make me feel safe and secure. Not. That line only served to fuel my paranoid thoughts that he really doesn’t seem to care. I had opened my heart to truly express just how much pain I was in and that this was THE time, if any, to be authentic and show up too.

“Okay, so I’m hearing that you don’t really care? I’m disappointed. To be honest, I’m actually really hurt.” At that point, I gave up the brave front I had been putting on to try get somewhere and broke down into a heaving pile of a mess on his couch. With every bawl it felt like a piece of my heart was clunking onto the floor.

To add to it all, I was completely ashamed to be so emotional in front of him without a safety net of trust and concern. I hid my face and probably would have felt more at home in a dung beetle’s hole.

After what seemed like an eternity, he again reflected stuff in his objective voice because our time was up. I honestly couldn’t stomach any of it given that this was precisely what I felt I didn’t need in that moment.

With that we said our goodbyes for the evening and I exited his office with more sniffs and tears. I don’t know what the hell happened tonight but I feel numb. It’s so hard for me to find self-compassion at a time when this man who has become an attachment figure is not attuned. My inner child has also gone into hiding.

I just feel so much pain now.

EDIT: In hindsight I can see that he is offering me a form of care but it doesn’t make the pain feel less and I still completely confused!

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13 thoughts on “The spoken pain of therapy

  1. Hope says:

    That’s so hard. We go to therapy because we NEED that connection, and it’s especially painful when we don’t get it in that relationship because it’s one in which we’re so vulnerable. I suspect therapists have trouble with boundaries a lot of the time too, not just the clients. They’re scared of what happens if the client gets attached, so they hold us at a clinical distance. Personally, that leaves me feeling like I’m a little less than a person, which is a feeling I really don’t need to have enforced.

    To be fair to therapists, though, sometimes the distance is of my making, or simply my perception. It doesn’t sound like that’s the case for you right now, though, but maybe it helps to know that the distance isn’t necessarily permanent? I don’t know; that helped me sometimes.

    Anyway, here’s hoping things get less painful in that relationship.

    • Jay says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words and validation Hope. I think it’s so true what you say about therapists being troubled by boundaries! I completely understand that he’s probably very scared to show too much care for fear I become overly attached and dependent. Should he have lessened the clinical distance just a bit I probably would have felt calmer and more importantly, like he trusts me. At the moment, reinforcing this distance makes me alienated and undeserving.

      I also get what you’re saying about distance sometimes being of our own making or perception.

      Definitely a lot to think about. x

  2. I can so totally relate to this post, on so many levels …

    I’ve got “sheep at the gate syndrome” which is what I call it when I have too many thoughts going through my head that not one of them makes it out of my mouth (or through my fingers, in this case).

    I hear your pain. My therapist is going away for four and a half weeks soon, and the fear and abandonment I feel over that is a major challenge. I wonder why he chose to put on his “therapist voice” for you during that session? Might be a question worth asking.

    Good luck as you gather yourself back together and move forward. *hugs*

    • Jay says:

      You seem to coin those expressions perfectly every time! “Sheep at the gate syndrome” it is indeed- the only thing I can get out my mouth is baa 🙂

      Jeepers four and a half weeks is a long time. I really feel for you! How are you preparing for his departure and what rituals and coping mechanisms do you have in place for his absence? Also, has he reassured you at all?

      I am still trying to work out why the “therapist voice” tone was in such strong use last night. I actually did ask him at the time about why he was using it when I was clearly in distress and when it was making me feel worse, not better. He said something like: “This is my voice as a therapist. What voice would you have me use?” or something similar to convey that he was a therapist and this is what therapists did. I couldn’t argue with the logic of that argument since he was technically correct. But as I said in the post, I felt like he was using this voice as a defense. It’s a load of crock that therapists can claim to be objective and neutral. I understand that he acts as a container for my feelings but he is still human. And seeing their humanity is sometimes the only thing we have to work with when the world feels dark. What your thoughts on the whole blank slate thing? 🙂

      • The blank slate thing was really hard for me at first, especially as I’d had an unfortunate therapeutic experience in the past which didn’t end well (I think I’ve spoken to you about that). My current therapist does blank slate very well, which was confronting to begin with, but now I love it because it does not foster dependence and any good feeling or insight I walk away with are a result of the work I’ve done with my therapist, not some “magic” he’s wrought. Sometimes I just want to be comforted – but I know that’s not going to happen in session, except the comfort of being there in that safe place and the fulfilment of knowing one is being truly “heard”. I’m working up rituals ad comforts for the four and a half weeks, but I must admit I’m worried about such a long break.

        Thanks for not being offended when I asked why he may have chosen to use it. I was worried afterwards that I may have typed the wrong thing, or something which would be upsetting. Although they are indeed human, they’re also professionals. As an almost complete outsider, I would objectively ask: “What therapeutic goal might he have been pursuing, to adopt such a cold tone at a time when you were so clearly seeking comfort?” That’s a question only you or he can answer, clearly, unless the bloke’s a sadist and a prick, which I assume he isn’t 🙂

        Hope you’ve found comfort since. xx

      • Jay says:

        I competely get what you’re saying about the blank slate thing actually. It can be very empowering to do all your own work with the aid of a therapist, rather than having them do everything for us.

        I so appreciate you being honest and challenging my views. It’s part of why I started blogging- to interact with people who had more objective or different viewpoints! In fact, your comment was so helpful that it sparked some more inner work and resulted in another blog post with my insights, which I am posting very soon.

        My heart goes out to you for the time you will be without your therapist. Would love to hear about the comforts and rituals you’re planning, if you’d like to share of course. x

      • Thanks! I might hold off on sharing for a little while – he doesn’t leave just yet. I’m sure there’ll be fodder for some posts in that experience, though. (I was going to type a smiley face after that full stop, but then decided that would be deceitful! It’s no smiling matter!)

  3. It is painful to be so vulnerable. You were brave.

  4. velvetmp says:

    I wonder what your expectations were of him upon his return? He sounds like a great therapist and trust me there are not many really talented ones out there. Sometimes when we have a reaction that feels out of proportion to a situation often it means the situation itself has triggered something much deeper . Thus the discussion about your father. I think it was courages you put yourself out there.

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