Tag Archives: life

My year without therapy

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This weekend marked a year since my therapist DS (Deep Soul) and I parted ways. These 365 days offered a chance for reflection, regression and growth. Many a client before me, and many still to come, will be confronted with this situation. Each will react differently. I cannot claim my path was special. It is also not over. I chronicle the journey because of an instinctual need to record and preserve. My wish is that you not be triggered, but rather find comfort and hope. Alternatively, I hope you can learn something. It’s pretty long so grab a cuppa before settling in…

The beginning:

It took a while to grieve his departure for another country, and the loss of our weekly sessions. Old abandonment fears sparked up in a twisted knot of rage, loneliness and despair. “Why was he leaving when he had previously acted as though there was no basis for my fears of being abandoned?” “How could my greatest support system at the time also be the cause of my greatest emotional pain?” “What did this say about my worth and closest relationships?” My husband offered much-needed support. But the despair felt strongest when we were fighting and I didn’t have another safety net. On the days I was more emotionally centered, I felt happy for DS and all the opportunities that awaited him. Hope nestled like a tiny, scruffy Phoenix in a pile of ashes in my chest. I was wary…waiting…wondering how the days, weeks and months ahead would look. As always, vivid dreams offered a colorful, if somewhat cryptic, reflection of my internal landscape. DS featured every now and then. It became a source of amusement as to what form he would take. I found that though he was physically gone, our relationship and tete-a-tete continued and actually developed in my dreams. Obviously, I refer specifically to the part of DS I had incorporated into my own personality. Most would argue that the symbols and people in our dreams reflect different aspects of ourselves. In a dream a few months after he left, I had a Karate Kid moment that left me feeling more supported:

I went to visit the doctor. I entered the office and the doctor looked more like a monk. He had glasses, a beard and kind eyes. I noticed the sign on his door said ‘THERAPIST’. I was confused. We started chatting and he asked how I was. The conversation was stiff at first and I said I was doing well. He stared at me and I felt my defenses breaking down. I laughed and said: “Well, that is what I am supposed to say”. He smiled, nodded slowly, but kept quiet. His presence was zen-like. I started opening up to him. There were suddenly other people in the office and it felt like a playroom for adults. The session became group therapy.

The middle:

Having initially entered therapy because of marital strife a few years ago, I found that my husband and I were progressively making leaps and bounds in our relationship. There was a renewed sense of playfulness, enjoyment in each other and increased ability to share our perceptions and feelings. I was overjoyed. Feeling more secure than I had ever felt in any relationship, I found myself blossoming. I took what I had learnt about intimacy and trust from DS into my marriage and friendships. Never before had I felt more loved and appreciated for who I was. If ever there was a time for an upbeat soundtrack and rolling credits, this was it. But occasionally, I felt fear rising to the surface as I lay in bed at night. “How could this joy last?” I would cling to my husband and pray that he not be taken from me suddenly, through a car accident, illness or some other drama. I had rediscovered what was important to me. And with that brought a feeling of how fragile life was and quickly it could be taken away. This nightly toiling was somewhat of a premonition. A few months down the line, my husband and I were caught up in a drama concocted by a very sick and sad person, that thrust open past fault lines in our relationship.

While it is still very difficult to talk about, and actually makes me feel out of breath and sick to the stomach, I will give an overview of what took place. A woman I had never met before phoned my husband at his office one day. She claimed she was phoning on behalf of her friend, who apparently felt very uncomfortable with an alleged chat her husband and I had on Whatsapp. The husband was a colleague of mine who I had worked with a few times before but did not really know that well. I sometimes liked his work-related photos and once or twice swapped information for assignments. He worked in a different building. The anonymous caller refused to identify herself and asked that my husband not tell me about the phone call. This raised my suspicions. Understandably, he was very distressed when he phoned and relayed to me what she had said. I tried to comfort him and assured that no such thing happened. I wanted him to know he had my absolute loyalty. Confused and shocked, I felt like the world was swirling around me. It felt as though our secure base and growth were being snatched away. There is truly nothing more devastating than being accused of something terrible when you are innocent. I sunk into a familiar pit of emotional despair. I didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. Those moments made me long for DS and his reassuring presence. He knew me. He would believe me.

Through this, I wondered why someone would blatantly lie. Why would they want to tear us apart? What person would willingly cause such chaos? My first step was to email the colleague in question, CC my husband, and tell him about the distressing phone call. I wanted him to clearly state to my husband that we were just colleagues. To be honest, I didn’t even know anything about his personal circumstances to try hatch up theories about who might be behind this. He assured that he and his wife were very much together and in love still, and that someone had been harassing him for a while. He apologised that this person had dragged us into the mess . He asked for the number this woman had phoned from.

Using all my investigative skills, I eventually uncovered what I believed to be the truth. I linked the mobile number to a woman through a Google search and cross-referencing. This woman, who turned out to be a freelancer for our mother company, had friended me on Facebook a few weeks earlier. Seeing her work details, I figured we had had obviously met before or had seen each other in a professional setting. I accepted and thought no more of it. She then was able to see my husband, where he worked and his department. It would not take much to phone his company and ask to be out through to his landline. While I don’t know for sure, I guess she must have had feelings for my colleague. She may have seen that I asked about his work trip to Dubai. I found that she used to like every post of his. This stopped just before the phone call and I guess he may have spurned her attempts to be closer or have a relationship. They unfriended each other and I later found she unfriended me before all this unfolded. Why she chose us as a target of her fury I will never know. After speaking to colleagues who knew her, I established she was not mentally well and prone to strange behaviour. Her actions angered me but I had better insight and understanding. I blocked her on all social media channels and increased my privacy settings. I then shared these findings with my husband, hoping he would feel more at ease. The attack had brought up old issues. Every day was an ongoing struggle over trust. A budding self-confidence regressed to insecurity. Fear, and not faith, was my foundation. Pretty shaky. Around this time, I had a jarring dream:

I drove to a house and it belonged to an distant school friend. Photos lined her walls. A baby was in some of them and I found out it had died. The house was quite dark and gloomy. I went outside and her husband drove in. He was absolutely devastated, hunching over and crying as he got out the car. Their house was suddenly replaced by a warehouse. I walked over to him because I realised I was there as a therapist. Putting my arm around his shoulder, I held him up and slowly led him to the warehouse. DS stopped in the parking lot and got out. He saw me supporting this guy. I was pleased because I hoped he would see me more as an equal and fellow professional. It felt like he was there to give me a therapy session. We all walked inside and my office was two sets of chairs and a table with a book labelled ‘counsellling psychologist’. The set-up was in the middle of the big warehouse and DS felt close but out of sight. Her husband confided in me that he wanted to commit suicide. It felt very urgent and I tried to comfort, placate and reason with him but he got increasingly violent. He jumped up from his chair and stormed toward me. DS appeared, whipped out a gun and shot him to protect me. The man collapsed to the floor. I was shocked and woke up highly unsettled.

The end and beginning:

As the dust settled, it was possible to reflect on where I stood and what therapy had cracked open. I had been here before. There was only so much I could say and do. Others were responsible for their actions and reactions. Trying to convince someone and, in a sense control the outcome, was futile. Relationships, life and people were messy, unpredictable and not always fair. As an idealist, I saw the potential of “what could be” instead of what was staring at me. Relentlessly pursuing the unattainable had caused me a lot of unnecessary grief. While there was some merit in believing in others, nobody could live up to these expectations, least of all me. I could not hope to heal old wounds by transforming a so-called bad object into a good object. Martha Stark described this phenomenon clearly and sensitively in her book, Psychotherapeutic Moments: Putting the Words to Music (available from freepsychotherapybooks.org). She explained how relentless hope was a defence to which people clung to in order to avoid grieving and feeling the pain of disappointment in the ‘object’. For me, this was the pain of parents who were not always responsive or available to the infant me. Fairbairn said: “A bad object is infinitely better than no object at all.” Cue a repetitive compulsion and a cycle of disappointing and infuriating intense attachments. If I think about it, I had transferred early and unresolved attachment onto DS. I so desperately clung to the hope that he would return to the country or somehow complete the incomplete. All of this sounds rather intellectual. But it sunk in on an emotional level as I read Stark’s book on a bus. Tears freely rolled down my cheeks with every bump in the road and every paragraph I read. I allowed myself to start feeling the “unbearable” pain buried deep inside. A therapist’s role here was to alternatively challenge and support. Without DS, but with some of his internalised good, I try to do the same. This is a long journey, maybe a lifelong one to make peace with reality. Or, as Stark says, “transformation of the need to hold on into the capacity to let go”. I dreamt this on the anniversary of his departure:

I drove to DS for therapy. It was in a different house and there were quite s few cars parked in the front yard. It took some maneuvering to find a spot. Once parked, I sat still for a bit. Excitement rose at seeing him again. In my rear view mirror, I saw a family leaving his office and wondered what their situation was. It struck me that I hadn’t been in therapy for a year. Maybe it was not necessary for me to go back.

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The emotional receipt of the world

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I look at the world and see things that need to be fixed. This to-do list of global wrongs is so long it would wipe out more than the Earth’s entire rain forests if printed out. But it doesn’t need to be printed out. I get an emotional receipt every time I stride through town. People’s lives swirl towards me in an assault of rattling tin cans, discarded newspapers and petrified sweat mingled with drips and drabs of despair.

Images sweep me up and away to a place where I’m left asking why some people are born with a head start and others are placed three miles behind the start line.

To the lone woman trying to sell magazines on the side of the road late last night, wearing a flimsy garbage bag over a dress to protect against the rain… I am sorry. I didn’t have coins on me to help you out. I saw the longing in your eyes for a dry, warm spot in my car. Where would you have liked to go if I let you in?

To the man who battled to make a bed in the space between two outside pillars a few days ago. I watched as you unfolded your plastic sheet and tried to lay it down on the wet grass, with nothing else to protect you from the elements. You looked so vulnerable out in the open, and yet so resigned to the fact that you did not have four walls of your own to protect you in fading light. I am sorry that not everyone gets their own piece of land to call home. What would you have built if that opportunity was given to you?

To the teenaged street kid with the body of an eight-year-old and the weariness of an 80-year-old. I am sorry your first experience of life was a womb swirling with wine, methylated spirits and methamphetamine. I have no answer as to why so many other children first opened their eyes in an amniotic sac of pregnancy vitamins and happy hormones. What would you have aspired to be if you were in a classroom and a caring kindergarden teacher asked you that question?

There are too many questions and not enough answers. I feel their pain but I also feel remnants of hope. And perhaps that is the human condition. That despite everything, we are wired to survive and to persist. To beat the system. And our own demons.

If we exist in something like The Matrix and we’re a coded DNA heap of 1’s and 0’s, I cling to the hope that we’re all noughts striving to be ones. One with ourself and one with others. To think of a lesser reality would mean it was all for naught.

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Underground dreams are deep

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Have you also dreamed about tunnels or exploring caves or crevices beneath the earth? What makes these dreams so fascinating is that, unless a miner, hermit or hobbit (!), humans spend all their time in the light and on the surface. Underground represents something quite mystical or foreign. A place of darkness, cold and fear. A home for hard minerals, dust and things that hide.

“I don’t dig that”…

This is a good analogy for how most people seemingly experience life. They take whatever comes at surface-value and desperately seek to stay in the light, where it is warm, safe and familiar. Many seem unwilling or uninterested in digging deeper. To dig deeper would mean having to confront pieces of themselves that they fear they, or others, would not be able to handle.

Typically, dreams of tunnels and being underground represent the exploration of the unconscious… the soup bubbling just beneath the surface. We are being told that something is afoot. All is not as it seems.

With that, I’ve chosen to share my second dream involving a tunnel. What follows after that is the subsequent insight gleaned by chatting to my therapist DS (Deep Soul).

I find myself in a garden. I realise I am at my last family home I stayed in before becoming independent. I am struck with a feeling that I have to leave the house as soon as I can. There are two holes at the bottom of my garden that lead underground. I enter the first hole and crawl through to my neighbour’s garden. I can’t get any further because there is a big locked gate in front of me, so I turn back to the other hole.

My name is Alice…

Here, I climb in head-first and crawl through on my belly. I find a subterranean tunnel which looks much like a mole’s home. Ahead of me, an open hole in the earth wall filters gentle, late afternoon sun through. The tunnel is dry and not too cold. As I crawl along the ground, I see little niches on the floor and in the walls. At the first shadowy niche on my left, a tortoise pops its head out. I say hello and crawl past. With my feet near its head, I take one last glance back and am surprised to see the “tortoise neck” is actually a big snake rearing its head. It is like a cobra waiting to strike but it doesn’t bite me. I am not scared to death but I am a bit freaked out. I quicken my pace.

Another hole beneath my belly has a yellow stringy, spongy insect or starfish hiding there. I am scared and fill up the hole with my teddy bear before crawling over it.

I come to the place in the tunnel where the sun is gently filtering in and casting a circle of light on the floor. Bathed in light are an assortment of blue china plates, bowls and tea cups. They are arranged in a haphazard fashion, almost like they have been left as an offering to some higher power. Some are filled with dry food, like flour. “It’s amazing that insects haven’t touched this stuff,” I think to myself. I wake up without knowing whether I get out of the tunnel or not.

(If you didn’t get a chance to read my about my first tunnel dream, here it is, along with some dream symbolism to help with your own dream interpretation: http://bit.ly/1n8OsE9).

Therapy is like archeology…

I shared both tunnel dreams with DS a few weeks ago. I told him that I was almost positive they were indicative of transformation.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t see a light at the end of either tunnel,” I remarked to him. Seeing the light in a dream would be a reassuring sign to anyone undergoing therapy or a shaky process of change and self-discovery.

In his typically insightful and gobsmackingly sensitive fashion, he replied: “Maybe you didn’t need to because the light is already inside the tunnel”. BAM. Why hadn’t I thought of that? Clearly, this is one of the many good reasons I am paying him the big bucks. It was so obvious once he had said it. Here I was thinking that hope and “enlightenment” lay at the end of the journey. But my dream was trying to shine a light on the nourishment and precious, delicate gifts I already have inside, just waiting to be used.

And what about the tortoise and snake? Both are ancient creatures with symbolic connotations. The tortoise is slow, cautious and protected by thick skin and a shell. It sounds a lot like how I’ve operated on an emotional level in the past. There is also a tinge of feeling slow and stupid because of people’s criticisms as a child. This tortoise magically transforms into a snake in the blink of an eye. In fact, it doesn’t transform. I just hadn’t looked at properly. I am not frightfully scared of snakes but have a fearful respect for them. My dream snake was poised to strike but didn’t. Instead, it was suspended in a position so graceful but worthy of respect. I truly believe this snake represents untapped strength. And that I can use this strength without having to strike out at others. Snakes shed their skin without fear because they know there will be renewal. I wish it was as easy for us to shed things which aren’t working anymore!

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Curiosity killed the therapy cat

Random therapy things and thoughts:

(Please do share if you have similar or unique insights of your own)

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A long, brown strand of hair. I spot it lying neatly on the couch as I sit down. I feel indignant. Why is this other “woman” intruding on my therapy hour? What right does she have to assert her position in a space where I am the focus, at least for a little while? I brush it onto the floor. She probably brushed her fingers through her hair in despair just 15 minutes earlier, wondering why she felt so alone, so unnoticed. My heart softens and for the few seconds before my therapist sits down, I send a mental note to this absolute stranger…

Dear fellow client. You are not invisible. You made an impact on me and I don’t even know you. You’re probably more beautiful and powerful than you think. Own that. Regards. Me.

My therapist looks at me from his seat with quiet curiosity. I open my mouth and tales of loneliness and powerlessness flow out of me.

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A small wooden pedestal stands next to my therapist’s chair. It holds his glass of water or cup of coffee, tissues and a small pile of books which have no doubt been extracted from the bookshelf behind us. I cannot help but look at what books he’s been reading to prepare for our session. I am such a bookworm and I love psychology books…especially if it’s linked to my life in some way. Of course, the danger of this little game is that I may think a book is for me when it was for another client and hasn’t yet been returned to its niche. After taking an interest in the books and sometimes saying their titles out loud, he’s started facing the spines of the books the other way. Are the tools in the toolkit supposed to be kept hidden? It infuriates my curiosity. But nothing is impossible and I sometimes still manage to get a peek of the top book.

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My therapist is technologically advanced (thank goodness) and uses an iPad and stylus to write notes in our session. I often wonder what his handwriting looks like. Is it messy and indecipherable like a doctor’s? Or are his letters small and neat, thoughtful, like him? Does he write things verbatim or does he use abbreviations he concocted and perfected? Does he draw?

I also wonder what electronic confidentiality system he uses to describe his clients’ files. Are we simply known by our initials? Or does he have nicknames inspired by our looks (Goldilocks?!), after characters in books (Scarlett O’Hara) or well-known public figures (Einstein or Lincoln anyone)?

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It comforts me to see my therapist take care of himself by eating healthily. I know this because I am his last session in the evening and I often see what’s been left in his dustbin when I throw my tissues away. The wicker basket bin is right next to the couch and I can normally lean over from where I am sitting to put stuff in. I didn’t really click at first that the items in the bin were left by him. But I’ve noticed a common trend. I think he likes to buy healthy filled sandwiches from a fancy chain store because the brown wrapping and labels are always the same. Sometimes he also has a pack of nuts (maybe to prepare for those of us who are nuts?).

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In one of our sessions, I noticed a big pot plant with a shiny red ribbon on a table in one corner of the room. If you’ve been seeing your therapist for a while, you’ll know that decor and items in the room rarely change- it’s supposed to be their way of creating a predictable, safe and comfortable place for you to return to. I was perplexed but immediately thought it had to have been a gift from a client. Then I wondered why he might have been given the gift… was it his birthday? Had someone been touched by his kindness and care? Or was it perhaps a parting gift for someone terminating a special and long-term therapeutic relationship? I didn’t want to ask because I felt like it might place him in a position where he would have to disclose more than he wanted to. So I sat with my curiosity instead. After two sessions, it was moved to the communal sink in the waiting room.

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The washing up liquid that the therapists in the practice use at the communal sink is hilarious. It’s called “sensitive washing liquid”. Obviously I know it’s for sensitive skin. But I told my therapist that it was quite fitting that sensitive therapists use sensitive liquid.

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This too “shell” pass

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I believe the unconscious blooms like a butterfly out a cocoon when we give in to sleep. Our dreams become a rich source of information to process, interpret and apply to move forward in life. One of the things I started doing this year was keeping a dream journal as I remember between one and three dreams almost every night. While I had always been fascinated (and sometimes freaked out) by the after-hours theatre in my head, I never really delved too deep into what things might mean or tried to connect recurrent themes. That changed when I went into therapy. It was rewarding to find that a) my dreams could be taken seriously and b) every person has inner wisdom if they just open their eyes (keep them closed when you sleep though). Symbols are the lifeblood of dreams and said to signify aspects of the self or others, such as thoughts, emotions, states of mind, fears or desires.

Two nights ago, I saw a new symbol in my dreams for the first time. I’d thought I’d share the journey of this symbol, a pure white fossilized shell that spiraled inwards, with you…

In my dream, I was searching for my therapist. In order to get to the therapy room, I had to go through a garden nursery and maze, competing against other people to find him. Only the first person at the end would get to see him. With my mom and sister beside me, I raced ahead. I tried taking shortcuts to get to the front. One of these shortcuts was a path enclosed with mesh. We had to get down on our bellies and crawl through the mesh tube like on an obstacle course. Once inside the tube, I suddenly had a different mission. I needed to find these small white shells that were buried in the sand. My sister was there to help me. My mom was on the outside of the tube watching on. At first, all I could see was dirt on the ground. But when I raked my fingers through the brown sand, I found lots of the shells just beneath the surface. I felt like I had achieved this mini-mission and could look for my therapist again. To do that, I had to crawl over hundreds of the shells to get to the exit. I freaked out because my belly felt exposed and I was afraid the shells were going to come alive and crawl over me. My dream changed before I could find out whether I got out the tunnel or not.

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The spirals of the shell were mesmerizing. They somehow felt familiar. I was compelled to search for their meaning. Symbols around water usually represent emotions. The hard shell is a metaphor for the way we secure and protect ourself from the world. In doing, we hide who we really are or how we really feel. Protection thus becomes a double-edged sword because it means we become reclusive or emotionally closed off.

I imagine the inside of a shell is also quite cosy to the creatures who occupy it. In the same way, our shells (personas or defenses) help shelter, nourish and protect us from problems thrown at us in life. There is a purpose for everything which has been created.

Therapy is helping me find my shell/s that have previously been hidden just beneath the surface. I was living life without being aware of the shell around me. Therapy is a journey that has felt like a search and rescue mission at times, but something which has also evolved into a quest involving physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual planes. That I was crawling while searching for the shells shows my nature in real life… I do things cautiously and methodically after careful preparation. Babies also crawl. It is indicative of a necessary developmental phase that eventually gives you the strength to stand on both feet and walk tall. The tube I crawled through was like a womb. While I feel like I am progressing to the end of the tunnel, a rebirth, I still feel held back somehow. It would have been interesting to see what the end of my dream was. But perhaps the point is for me to find out for myself.

Ever curious, I tried to locate the name and species of the shells that were so clearly etched in my mind. They turned out to be ammonites which lived in the sea between 65 and 240 million years ago.

AMMONITE originates from Ammon, the god that many Greeks associated with Zeus. Ammon had ram-horns that were also spiraled. Ammon was the Greek derivation of the Egyptian god Amun, who was widely praised as the Protector of the Road. After chewing on this info for a while, it resonated that many people think wearing their shell is the only way to protect themselves on the road of life. I find it interesting that my shells were pure white- it could convey a sense of innocence and purity. The fact that they were fossilized may also be a sign that I’m seeing them as relics of my past.

The term Ammon has another fascinating link that I uncovered. The hippocampus in the brain consists of two parts- Ammon’s horn and the dentate gyrus. Together, they resemble a shape of a curved tube, which has been compared to a ram’s horn or seahorse. Most psychologists and neuroscientists agree that the hippocampus plays an important role in the formation of new memories about experienced events (either episodic or autobiographical memory). Part of the process of therapy is about re-framing memories. The hippocampus is also believed to assist spacial navigation- where we are in position to the world. Without a fully-functional hippocampus, we may not remember where we have been and how to get to where we are going.

I too am finding my place in the world. It feels uncomfortable to get rid of things which have been a part of me for so long. But as layers are stripped, I find my borders becoming more defined, not less. Perhaps the lesson is that by stripping myself of outdated protective measures, I do not lose myself or forget where I’ve been or who I was. Taking a cup of water out of the ocean does not mean there is no ocean left. The gap is replenished with something fresh and flowing.

 

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“Need Jerk” reaction (It takes two to therapy: volume three)

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Today’s therapy session made me feel needy. It was the second session after a long break in which my therapist forgot to contact me. Being away from therapy and being forgotten by my therapist in this time re-activated some serious inner fear of abandonment.

It’s hard to describe to someone who is secure but you basically feel like you’re going crazy. On an adult cognitive level, you understand that your therapist was probably very busy and that you can easily survive two weeks without him. On a child-like level, you feel paranoid, scared, alone, sad and angry. I have had these moments before and felt reluctant to share them with my husband because I don’t expect him to understand and I don’t want to burden him.

Anyway, I opened up in the session and told my therapist that I was scared to need him in case he wasn’t there when I reached out. It was also difficult for me to accept help from other people because being needy was seen as weak while growing up.

He didn’t rush to fill the gaps or re-assure me. Instead, he just sat quietly in his chair with his leg resting on one knee and gazed gently at me on the couch. Cars whooshed past outside, a tree branch cracked and the wooden floors creaked slightly. And yet, I felt the silence in the room screaming out like a canyon between us. I wanted to shake him and ask if he had not just heard what I had said. The silence passed between us and hot tears rolled down my cheeks. I broke down and told him I really needed to know he would stick by me in the therapeutic relationship, even if I expressed uncomfortable or unacceptable thoughts or feelings. Included in this was a plea for reassurance. That I was safe with him in the therapy room and we would work as a team, especially in those moments where I was lost.

YOU ARE SUCH A “NEED JERK”, I REACTED…IN MY HEAD AT LEAST…

I looked to him and after a while, he asked if I was waiting for him to say something. I managed to force out a feeble “yes”. Cold panic crawled through my stomach and I could not believe he was being unresponsive. He said that he understood it must be difficult to be feeling this way. His tone of voice made me blurt out… “it sounds like there’s a ‘but’ in there”. He smiled and said something like: “but there is nothing else to be done except for us to continue talking and try to get somewhere”.

We moved onto other things for the remainder of the session and I was really taken aback by how I had bravely expressed powerful needs and had them ignored. To me, these needs were not unrealistic or unfair. All I wanted was him to say that he’ll stand by me, even if I fall apart. How can you fall apart mentally if there is no one there to catch you?!

At the end of the session, he asked how I was feeling and I replied that I was relatively calm because I had raised positive memories in the last seven days which made me feel good. I also said that I understood he wasn’t trying to be be cruel with his approach  but that I needed to go home and digest what had happened.

I’m starting to understand that by not reacting, he was giving me the space I needed to feel all these yucky things which had been buried inside.

Talk about a painful process.

 

 

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I was glued to my therapist (It takes two to therapy: volume two)

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No one warns you that you may become extremely attached to your therapist; that the relationship becomes central in your life and that they have the ability to evoke a maelstrom of powerful feelings within you, whether it be love, hate, anger, longing, envy or mistrust.

I never expected that I would see mine as anything more than a professional service provider. And yet, when you consider that a therapist provides unconditional positive regard, acceptance, empathy and a bottomless well of listening, it seems inevitable that this person holds the promise of a parental (or other) relationship you never had and so desperately wanted.

In the beginning, I was extremely focused on unloading my immediate predicament and unbearable emotions onto him. This bespectacled, tame soul was nothing more than a container for my secrets and feelings. A few sessions passed and he was still listening without judgment. The therapy relationship deepened and although I had some serious attachment issues playing out, I felt we could relate and that he wouldn’t intentionally hurt me. Most psychodynamic therapists feel the therapeutic relationship is key to healing and use the dynamics that play out as clues to what you might need. It was the small things that mattered to me. When he greeted, he kept the door open for me and offered me a glass of water or coffee. One evening (we have our sessions at 6.20pm because I have a hectic job), he came out to the waiting room and put the light on for me so I wouldn’t wait in darkness. He was always very in tune with whether the room was too hot or cold and offered to switch the air-con off or hand over a blanket. The best for me was the short chats we sometimes had at the end of the session in which he would recommend cool psychology or neuroscience articles, books or TED talks. We both had a keen interest in this type of stuff and I felt important when he thought I’d like something.

I came up with the idea to create a cartoon strip on the process of therapy (similar to Therapy Tales) and made him the central character. I spent hours perfecting the drawings, colour and message and handed it over to him during a session. He seemed surprised but chuckled and put it down on the table next to him. Another time, I overcame my fears and pored my soul into a non-fiction creative piece for my Masters degree. I printed it out and handed it to him, both wanting and not wanting to hear his opinion. It became vital that I obtain his approval and find ways to please him and impress him. At this stage, it should be obvious that I was treating him like the loving, affectionate father I had always wanted. It wasn’t really about him but about the relationship framework I was carrying over from childhood.

Many hours were spent thinking about what he was like outside the therapy room, what his wishes and fears were, what he did to de-stress, whether he had people who cared about him and other personal aspects I had absolutely no idea about. It was infuriating because he revealed very little about himself and always steered the conversation back to me, which was the whole point of therapy I suppose. I experienced a feeling very similar to the pure love one has for a teacher or adoring uncle. I felt ashamed that I was thinking about him so much and that I had fantasies of bumping into him at the shops or speaking about him over coffee.

It was at this point that I did some reading to see whether this was a common occurence. I found that many people had been through the same experience as me and immediately felt a bit better. Professionals and clients alike recommended speaking to your therapist about these powerful feelings as a vehicle to understanding yourself better.

It took a lot of courage and vulnerability but I opened up to him. After listening carefully for most of the hour, he normalized the situation while gently reminding me that boundaries remained in place and that we could never be friends. I felt both relieved that he hadn’t outright rejected me but also devastated that this relationship would always be one-sided. A few months later, I was still working through some severe disappointment and had a reality check which I shared in a session.

“You are this kind to everyone,” I said softly while averting my eyes. “I thought I was special and that you had seen something in me. That you thought about me as much as I did you. I wanted to be special but this is your job. You deal in empathy and your job is to care. It’s the job, not me.”

He didn’t confirm or deny. Instead, he just waited for me to continue and asked questions to clarify certain feelings. While I knew he could feel my disappointment, there were no satisfying conclusions. It became a little easier to speak to him after that because I felt like I was seeing him at least a bit clearer. The goal of being the perfect therapy client and caring how I came across didn’t matter as much anymore.

I still care about him deeply and regard him in the same way I would a father or the older brother I always wanted but never had.

All I hope for is that he really does care about me as a person. That he won’t forget about me when our professional relationship comes to an end one day. And, maybe, that he took something valuable away too.

 

 

 

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I chose my therapist because he looked like a classic psychoanalyst (It takes two to therapy: volume one)

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The therapy process is complex. Anyone who has ever been in the therapy room can attest to that.

Even before you sit on that couch (or beanbag or whatever bum-cushioning method your therapist is experimenting with), a number of decisions have been made and psychological processes enacted. I know this not only as an active participant but as an intensely curious soul who has researched and read journal articles and opinion pieces till my eyes have fallen out in frustration and amazement. Ultimately, I have concluded that therapy is a truly magical process in which two individuals create a shared reality to observe, engage with, comment on or alter. There is no other relationship quite like it and no way to fully convey the experience unless you’ve been there.

However, I would like to try. In this first post of ‘It takes two to therapy’, we’ll look at one of the first steps involved… finding a suitable therapist to take that journey with you.

“I CHOSE MY THERAPIST BECAUSE HE LOOKED LIKE A CLASSIC PSYCHOANALYST” (TRUE STORY)

Anyone slightly au fait with technology might comment that finding a therapist is as easy as clicking on a relevant, good-looking Google result. I agree that this is a very good place to start and obviously assumes you’ve made a conscious decision that you need help with a certain aspect of your life. On this level, important factors to consider would be the therapist’s location, their fee, whether they accept your medical plan and whether they have experience in treating people who have similar issues to you.

However, I’d also like to propose that you’ve probably zoned in on a certain therapist because of how they look. It sounds superficial but it’s because you most likely didn’t even realise you were doing it.

Retrospectively, I chose my therapist because he looked like he knew his stuff. His mustache was dense above the lip and tapered down to a trimmed bush on the chin. He had an open forehead and a receding hairline that ended with a bush of curly hair  Warm and curious almond eyes peeked out from behind black-rimmed spectacles. His profile photo was black and white, which conveyed that he was a blank slate just waiting for me to infuse his room with personality, quirks and words. It screamed classical psychoanalyst. I took a few good looks and decided he was safe.

What do I mean by safe? We all have narratives- personal stories that dictate what we fear, love, hate, believe and trust. You might find you choose a female therapist because you’d feel more comfortable speaking about sex or body issues with her. Or you may feel that females are more nurturing and understanding. Perhaps you have a relationship with your mother that is fraught with tension and, without realising it, you’re seeking that loving motherly relationship you never had. I think I chose my male therapist at the time because he was not “my type”, so to speak. I thought his look, although not at all unattractive, would make it much easier to be emotionally intimate without risking being attracted to him. That in itself is telling. Conversely, I was also longing for acceptance, approval and affection from a powerful man. Go figure.

The point is that a decision which seems very logical and rational rarely is. But sometimes I think these are the best types of decisions. At the end of the day, we subconsciously seek what we need to resolve our past and move towards healing.

HOW DO WE MAKE EACH OTHER FEEL?

As with online dating, looks are one thing but how you click is another ballgame altogether. Organise a trial session so you can see how you feel around your therapist, whether they are easy to relate to and if they seem interested and able to help you. When my therapist first agreed to see me, I assumed this meant he had taken me on as a client. What I didn’t realise was that therapists use the first session to see how they feel about you too! It doesn’t make sense to work with someone if you have an absolute aversion to them or do not feel like you can help them. They also take in your facial expressions, how vocal you are, what you’re wearing, your level of personal hygiene and the way you speak or describe something or someone. If I had known this beforehand, I think I would have been a lot more nervous about how I was coming across, like one would in an interview setting.

That said, therapists are trained to tune into your world and feel empathy for what you are going through. I think it would take something extremely obvious, or powerful, for them to not like you or see something in you that they could work with in follow-up sessions. Ultimately, you should come out of the therapy room feeling like you have someone who is excited to know more about you and help you uncover your potential. Sometimes you may be unsure and need a second session for confirmation. It may take a few hits and misses, but you’ll eventually find that therapist you just “click” with.

This month marks a year that I have been with my therapist.  I’d love to hear what made you chose your therapist and what your first session was like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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