Tag Archives: relationships

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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Do not abandon me…

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Barely a minute after I make myself comfortable on the couch, DS assumes a businesslike position, refers to his iPad and says he would like to chat. Something is different. Normally, he’s reclined in his chair with one leg over the other, waiting to listen. Every inch of my body stiffens in anticipation of his announcement. It’s like the last few seconds before a car crash. Everything happens in slow motion, sound seems to distort and it’s impossible to escape the inevitability of it all. Why do I feel like a naughty schoolgirl being called into the principal’s office? I try to focus on his face.

DS tells me he will not be able to make our session the week after next and can we reschedule? The first part of the sentence makes my neck stiffen and the second part induces a relieved whoosh of air through my lips. Just last week he told me he would be off for two weeks over Christmas. Add to that my vacation plans and I was facing three weeks without him. At the time, I tried to be grown up about it but that had slowly given way to fear at how I was going to cope without him. I try to reason with myself while listening to DS, attempting a flicking of the “do not panic” nervous system switch. Attachment panic does not listen to reason. It lays urgent claim to every bodily process and tries to establish a sense of security. I nod and we work out an alternative session for the week after next. In the back of my head I am wondering whether he is going to bring up the ballet show invite I e-mailed him a week ago. My body remains on the edge of the seat and ready to respond to any threat. It seems like we are coming to the end of our administrative discussion but alas, it is just the beginning.

“I also needed to speak to you about our session time for next year,” DS says while looking down at his screen, presumably at a calendar or a set of notes. He seems really calm. Cold fear grips my heart. This can’t be good. He doesn’t want me around anymore.

Just a few days ago, I dreamt that I arrived at his office and found a strange man sitting in his spot. This stranger was rude, perfunctory and looking at a tick-list. I felt like I was in a bureaucratic department and not a therapy room. This strange therapist ignored my pleas to see DS and decided I was done with therapy. I was enraged. He ticked a huge box on the form and sent me away.

“I am taking on some new commitments next year and will not be able to meet with you at our regular time on a Monday,” he says. “I was hoping we could discuss another time that works for both of us”. His words filter slowly through the neurons in my brain and it seems like a confused, foggy soup in there.

“How does Monday during the day work for you?” Anger rises in my chest at his request. I tell him I have to work during the day to make a living and there is no way to carve time out. “And lunch time?” he asks. No, he doesn’t get it. He is coming up with impossible times because he knows I won’t be able to say yes and it will give him a reason to say he has no other option but to stop seeing me. Tears pop up at the corners of my eyes. I cannot do lunch because I have such an unpredictable job. There is no way to commit to that. I feel frustrated, I want to scream… I feel completely abandoned. Instead, I sit mute and re-iterate that I can only see him after work. He offers an after-hours session on Wednesdays next year and I quickly nod.

Everything feels too intense. DS’s voice seems distant. Concentration is near impossible. He is negotiating and I just want to close my eyes and rest my head. Escape can’t come quick enough.

But it doesn’t and we’re straight onto our third matter for the day, the invite. DS acknowledges the invite and wants to know how I feel after sending it. I feel content with my decision to invite him to the show but also uncertain of what his reaction will be. “Well, to…um… respond, I cannot go to your show because of our professional relationship,” DS says. I hate that I am putting him in this possibly uncomfortable position. Obviously, we had already chatted about how I knew it wasn’t possible for him to attend. It still didn’t lessen the disappointment that I felt in the moment.

We spent the rest of the session talking about my fear at slipping back into old patterns of feeling and relating while spending the holidays with my parents. DS wanted to know about all my fears. What he doesn’t know is that I am scared he is going to forget about me. I am also scared because it is difficult to call up his face in my mind, especially when I feeling strongly, and I doubt my own abilities to self-soothe. As much as I hate to admit my dependency, I am continuing with a move towards intimacy and plan to ask for something of his to hold onto until our first session in the new year. I think this would be a way to soothe all the childlike fears I have and represent a physical way of holding onto the therapeutic relationship.

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Showing up

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I told DS last night about my end-of-year ballet show. It’s a lifelong dream to be a ballerina on stage and I have been rehearsing A LOT. Two weeks ago, I sent an e-mail out to my family with the dates and advised them to get back to me as soon as possible so I could book tickets. My dad said he had a business trip and wouldn’t be able to make it. I was bummed because he had known about the trip for a while and never said anything despite giving him dates ages ago. I know he didn’t raise it earlier though because he hates conflict.

I worked through the anger and sadness around this with DS and then remarked that it was funny because I’d also been meaning to invite him to the show for the last 5 or so sessions. I had been putting it off because I expected he would say it was not his policy to attend client functions. Who wants to feel disappointment and rejection around that anyway?! And yet, I knew on some level that if I felt disappointment early enough, it would be easier WHEN my dad ended up disappointing me (I am clearly psychic). Nonetheless, I’ve made peace with the dad issue. I told DS what my husband had joked about when I told him I wanted to invite my therapist to come and see me.

Husband: “You should tell DS that there’ll be a special therapist box in the concert hall. It would be slightly separated from the rest of the audience and have one-way glass so he can see out but no one can see in. Complete anonymity guaranteed. And he can chat with all the other ballerinas’ therapists and swap notes!”

DS and I had a good chuckle about this.  He then asked me what it would feel like if he came to see me.

My legs were crossed on the couch like a child and I rested my elbows on my legs in thought. When he asked the question, my whole chest filled with energy and my eyes welled up. It was overwhelming. I was trying to pinpoint the emotions. For a short while, I sat there not knowing what to do with the sensory overload.

Eventually I stammered: “It feels like you have touched my heart. Not literally. But metaphorically. I would be touched. And I guess I would feel pride. Yes, I would feel so proud if you were there!”

I explained that being on stage and being “SEEN” was one of the most anxiety-producing situations I could think of. And yet I was finding ways to cope with the anxiety to achieve a dream. He said it took courage to be up there. We chatted about my roles in two of the dances and the costumes I was making with my friend. The one is a glamorous burlesque-style costume, which I described as very revealing. DS said “and powerful”. That made me laugh inside. Note to self to chat to him about why it’s so difficult to see my sexuality as being powerful.

He wrote down the dates of the show and wished me well with the rehearsals. The session felt like it ended on a high note. Thinking about our session afterwards, it dawned on me that I had not actually ended up inviting him. I felt buoyed by our chat and decided to sleep on it. This morning I sent him a very short mail:

Hey DS,

Following on from our chat last night, I have decided I would like to formally invite you to my show. Here are the details:

[I attached the poster]

See you next week,

Jay

——

This is the first non-admin email I have sent DS in the 1.5 years we have been working together. I went with what I was feeling this morning, which was absolute trust in the therapy process. This is my big leap in increasing the intimacy between us. I am letting him into my life. I don’t have expectations about him attending. It would be lovely if he did and that is why I invited him. But if he doesn’t… it feels like I tried. Yes, the childlike parts of me are very twitchy and scared at what is going to happen. But the adult part of me feels good to have initiated something.

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Ending each therapy session

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I had an interesting experience in therapy with DS (Deep Soul) on Monday. Our time was drawing to a close and I had discussed for the first time how anxious I feel around other people and how fearful I am of the anxiety’s effect on my relationships. As usual, he asked how I was feeling as we were wrapping up.

Most often, there’s just a deep sadness that time has gone by so quickly and that I will have to wait another week to feel his presence. I feel ashamed for feeling sad when he has been so kind. It’s like I am ungrateful and greedy. As a result, I find myself withdrawing the closer it comes to saying goodbye. It’s not entirely of my will. I just feel myself distancing, becoming really formal and speaking monotonously and without affect. This is most likely something I use to protect myself from feeling the pain at departing. DS raised his observations about my departures a while back and I have been trying to remain more present as a result.

So when he asked how I was feeling last time, I opened up about my sadness and tried to remain with him emotionally in the room. It was hard fighting against habit. I told him it was difficult. As I type this now, I think the difficulty is that I have to feel whatever is real for me in that moment instead of being numb. Feeling touched that he was being empathetic as we sat there, I said:

“It’s difficult but I am willing to do this [try be more present] for those I care about.”

Scared at the silence and that he might interpret the words as me coming on too strong, I added: “like you, my husband and perhaps a few of my closest friends”.

My intention with those words was to show him that I appreciate him sticking around and that I am ready to do the work I need to in order to strengthen my emotional regulation and intimacy skills.

Instead, he said it felt like I needed to reassure him or give up my own feelings and needs to maintain the relationship. I said he was reading too much into it. Oh boy, did I feel a need to distance myself from the rising rejection in my body then! “It feels like I am rejecting you?” he enquired gently. I said it sure did but that I understood what he was trying to say. He added that there was obviously a lot going on with me trying to stay present and he was curious to know what that experience was like for me. He didn’t want me to cut off certain feelings or leave things unsaid.

“I understand,” I said in a soft, somewhat monotous voice. “You’re trying to look out for my needs as a client.”

“As a person,” he replied.

——–

** “Friendship” by Pablo Picasso. 1908.

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So close and yet so far

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In the last month or so of therapy, I have come to identify one of my central struggles. I must have had a blind spot to not realise that this issue defines how I relate to others and see myself.

I fear intimacy.

Those three words seem alien on the screen. After all, I value my family and large circle of friends. I actively seek out friendships and human contact. How could I possibly fear intimacy if I am anxious to maintain closeness to others?

Well, it’s something I am trying to make sense of, with the help of DS (my therapist Deep Soul). There wasn’t a lightning bolt moment as such but, like a detective, I pieced together “here-and-now” therapy moments to come to this conclusion. DS hasn’t disagreed with my finding.

It would explain all the anxiety I have whenever we’re alone in the room. I reckon that if you had to look up intimate in the dictionary, this situation would feature in the top five! How often do we have an active other who is fully present for us? There is nowhere to run when I am on the couch and he is sitting in front of me. It’s like I can’t handle the closeness, even though consciously I love being able to vent and have him listen and interpret. What am I so scared of? Or why I am scared?

Happy Holloween…

I told DS that I think it’s because I’ve either had a limited experience of happy intimate relationships in my formative years or that I have never had a true intimate relationship at all, even if I’ve been under the illusion that it was intimate. Basically, I am working with a wonky model or map of how relationships are supposed to be. Relationships with my parents were based on compliance, authority and respect. I have a heart full of empathy for why they were that way and that this doesn’t make them bad people. But it does leave me with confusion and pain in relating to others on a deeper level at times. I don’t have strong, formative memories of being able to completely trust someone and be loved for who I am, not what I do or say.

In my heart, I know that intimacy is about being vulnerable and also feeling safe enough to assert views and personality to another. I believe intimacy is based on two people being authentic at any given moment. What makes this confusing in therapy is that DS gets to sit in his authoritative chair waiting for me to open up and speak. The imbalance terrifies me. The blank slate position triggers all sorts of feelings:

– Shame at not being “worthy enough” for someone to open up to me about who they really are and their own weaknesses
– Terror at having to give some or all of myself without reassurance or reciprocation
– Loneliness of the therapy relationship in terms of its one-sideness
– Sadness at feeling like I need to give up on my spontaneity in order to not break certain boundaries in therapy
– Confusion and anger at this catch-22 situation

In our session on Monday, it emerged that I seem to be afraid of enjoying the intimacy of a relationship without feeling loss at the same time. This was after I mentioned that it’s difficult to enjoy the caring moments between us because I know that I will have to eventually give up the relationship. He then asked about the feelings of loss I might have in relation to therapy ending at some point.

The question was innocent enough but I interpreted it as DS telling me I need to just accept there will be an end and more frightening, that it’s something he’s been thinking about a lot.

Don’t take a pill and don’t phone me in the morning…

After the session, I had the impulse to e-mail him and say I was taking a month’s break to escape from the confusion and hurt. It was also a passive form of “punishing” him. I decided to wait and see how I felt the next morning. I’ve been doing a dedicated mindfulness programme for two weeks and when I woke up the following day, I was mindful that the impulse was based on my fear of intimacy i.e. Let’s run away before things can get really hectic between us! I realised I would only be punishing myself and would feel very sad if I couldn’t go to therapy every week.

At this point, I accept that I will need to continue with the journey. At the same time, I have never felt more vulnerable. Wherever this leads, it feels like I have uncovered something important about myself.

Should I go against all my fears and send DS a message this week, letting him know that I became mindful of wanting to escape and that I am feeling vulnerable at the moment? This would prepare him for what to expect at our next session. I also feel alone and really need to feel like he’s there for me.

Or should I wait and raise it next Monday? Is part of therapy learning to bear this pain alone?

**Penny Siopis. 2010. Little Flame. Ink and glue on canvas.

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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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