Therapy funk


You only know you’re in a state of “therapy funk” when you begin to emerge from it. And to claw out of it, either you or your therapist has to see that something is not quite right. It’s hard to point to individual molecules but almost impossible to miss a thick cloud. To me, the funk builds up as an emerging pattern of acting out of “character”, focusing too much on something or completely omitting certain topics, for example, as a form of resistance.

This therapy fog has built up, molecule by molecule, since sitting with DS this year. I spend most of the session on Monday continuing a discussion on the therapy relationship and the complexity of what I feel for DS. He nestles in his white and wood recliner, as always, in a state of absolute buddha calm, taking notes and chipping in where necessary.

With a thoughtful look towards the end, he says: “I have noticed that we have spoken a lot about the therapeutic alliance or relationship here recently. I am left wondering how you are doing and what is happening in your life.”

It strikes me that he trusts the alliance enough to say this without fearing I might become defensive or hurt that he has changed the topic and put the spotlight on something I am doing or not doing. I tell him as much and he says this pattern has more to do with what WE are doing, not just me. I think of a dance, where each partner makes a move in response to the other. Why have we been dancing in this direction and what are we avoiding? My head clicks into high gear, trying to formulate reasons for why I might have consciously or unconsciously chosen not to speak much about what has happened for me, focusing instead on him and my dreams.

– Maybe, with life shaken up so much by the retrenchment, I have tested the solidity of the therapy relationship because it is one of the constant things in my life and I need it more in the present moment?

– Perhaps it’s because I’ve recently been debating whether to share two painful memories in the past which I believe are my fault and say something bad about me?

I bounce these possibilities off DS and I can see his head kicking into gear too. He proposes a theory which floors me. He says that perhaps I have watched In Treatment and read about therapy as a way to learn as much as possible, and therefore avoid bumping up against his boundaries. In other words, if I know enough I will be able to avoid the pain associated with these boundaries.

His observation seems to clear the air a little and my eyes well up.

Who enjoys feeling ashamed or being rejected by another? I don’t think anyone. But perhaps bumping up against others helps define the relationship more clearly, and who we are too? It just seems very difficult to say and do stuff which might make DS uncomfortable when I know better. I know what is “right and wrong”.

I do think there may be a lot at play here. I half-joked that maybe I haven’t spoken about my day to day stuff because things seem to be going well. He said that would make sense if that were the case.

But actually, things have not been plain-sailing and I have had to deal with some difficult situations and feelings lately. Maybe I have kept silent because I managed my way through some of them and don’t want to be dramatic in front of DS, be accused of inflating something out of proportion. Or maybe it’s the familiar feeling of thinking I need to deal with everything myself. After all, you have been in therapy for almost two years and shouldn’t you know how to run your life by now without needing help?!, the critical voice yells.

It may take a while to completely figure the funk out but the therapy space has lightened somewhat.

As Dr Steven Brownlow, a clinical psychologist in Texas, said on Twitter today: “Life is the best therapy. Leverage what happens in your clients’ lives to advance their growth.”

P.S. Less than a month after finding out about the retrenchment, and after rounds of interviews, I was offered a job a few days ago. I am dumbstruck by the blessing.

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8 thoughts on “Therapy funk

  1. S.G says:

    “therapy fog” is a great way of describing it. Your therapist seems rather perceptive.

    • Jay says:

      I figured that using fog was a good metaphor since it’s so easy to spot when at a distance but almost impossible to see more than your hand when in the thick of it! And yes, DS has super sensitive antenna most sessions 😉

  2. Tina says:

    Well written. Gives me much to think about & I’m so glad you shared it with such honesty. Also glad you got an offer:)

    • Jay says:

      Lovely to see you here Tina, especially because I know you’re also struggling with yucky transference issues. Thank you x

      • Tina says:

        My thanks to you also. It’s so helpful to know that others can relate to the awkwardness that is transference.

  3. Ellen says:

    I think my version of not wanting to bump up against my Ts boundaries is all about the end of the session. If he says, in his soft, kind therapist voice….we have to end for today….I absolutely hate it. I feel rejected, and I feel whatever I’m talking about is too much, and he can’t wait until I leave. I always try to be aware of the time, and stop on my own a couple of minutes early, when I can just sit and calm down. Sometimes, I lose track of the time, and it’s a painful experience.

    We all do this. I would think. It may be more of an issue for you though than me (I have other huge ones), as I see you silently acquiescing to things, where I would express myself more, like the gifts issue for instance. I’m more of a brat, let’s say, plus I’m aware that I’m paying here, and it’s not real life, and to me that makes a difference in how I behave.

    If intellectualization is a major defense you use a lot, it’s great information to become aware of.

    I loved In Treatment also, and also read about therapy. In that show though, there was no trauma therapy, so I didn’t feel any of the clients were much like me. My favorite was the young gymnast from the first season! I think it’s pretty natural, when you’re so deeply affected by something, to be interested in that subject.

    Congrats on the job offer!

    • Jay says:

      Thanks for your thoughts! Sorry that I took a while to reply. It’s been a bit crazy on my side. I can take a lot from your stance of expressing myself more because it is not real life and I am a customer. Gives me a lot to think about actually xx

  4. Wow, there is so much I relate to here. I tend to focus the discussion on the therapy relationship as much as I can – I can’t get enough of thinking and talking about it. And I have often wondered whether, despite its obvious importance and significant, it’s still a sort of smoke-screen for something else. What am I trying to avoid by focusing on this aspect so much of the time? As for reading and learning about therapy….I try and do this an awful lot. My therapist suggested it was because I was trying to figure out ‘how to do therapy right’ – as I don’t like to ‘do things wrong’. But your explanation makes perfect sense too – I hate the thought of doing anything wrong, of asking the wrong questions, not just because I don’t want to let her down and I want to please, but because if I ask a question that’s ‘out of bounds’ I am terrified of a response that will make me feel rejected. I absolutely hate the boundaries of therapy, and although I push those boundaries, I don’t do so very hard because I’m terrified of feeling ‘kept at bay’ and excluded….
    Many many congratulations on the job offer!

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