It can be so hard for me to stay open and connected to my therapist.
I think about my Monday evening therapy session ahead of time. I want to strengthen our connection, the one that was so shaken this summer, because it’s my security in the therapeutic relationship allows me to take emotional risks. And it’s the risks, of course, that are essential, if I’m to change old patterns.
I decide I will ask E to sit on the couch with me. Usually she sits in her chair and I sit in a big armchair across from her. I will process my recent letter to a shameful memory, share my reaction to the Trump tapes over the weekend. And I will broach the topic I have been thinking about, namely that it’s not possible for me to be fully not-depressed, and therefore I want to work with her to help me plan a life that is sustainable in light of that reality. I expect her to argue with me some about my chances of recovering from depression, but I know she’ll still work with me on the task.
I walk into her office and start to take my boots off. Right away she says, “You know those circles, with all the affirmations? I need those back from you. I told you that, right?”
My breath catches in my chest for a moment, but I keep my voice even (not looking at her) while I say, “Actually, I’m pretty sure you said I could keep them.” Actually, I am positive she said that. I sit down on the couch, on the furthest corner from her chair. I don’t ask her to join me on the couch.
“I can give you some others, but really I want the ones back that were in that little black velvet bag,” she says. “Those came from [I don’t remember, the creator maybe?]. I have some others, new ones wrapped in plastic; you can have those.”
This feels weird to me, but I write at the top of the page where I take notes during our session, “bring back bag with affirmation circles.”
Before I can say anything she says, “Oh, and I have to ask you something. I hope it won’t cause a conflict. But I’d like to get you into one consistent time slot on Mondays and then give this 6pm time slot to another client who doesn’t have a lot of flexibility in her availability.”
Immediately, I have so many problems for me with this request:
- I have a weekly session with her on Mondays, one week at noon, one week at 6pm. I much prefer the evening session. Meeting at noon disrupts my day both before and after. In the evening, the building is quieter and it feels more private. I am always wishing I had all my sessions in the evening.
- Our rupture this summer was about her wanting to move the time of my session and my feeling of abandonment. I feel like she is testing me by asking me this.
- I hear the “I hope it won’t cause a conflict” as a criticism of my prior reaction.
- I feel like the other client is more important.
- I feel an implied statement that it would be selfish of me not to agree because I am, after all, unemployed and could go at a different time.
- I myself think it would be selfish not to agree.
- I used to have a Wednesday evening session, and when we changed it, she told me that her first loyalty was to me, and that I had that time first, and if I needed it back, she’d do that. Yes, I was employed then, but she made me feel that what I needed was very important to her.
I say, with difficulty, that I prefer evening sessions. She says I don’t have to decide right away (which means that “I prefer evening sessions” is not taken as a decision).
This leaves me unable to talk. There is a long silence. Part of me is so disappointed and wants to pout, wants to make it hard for E. I take a breath. What is the point of making things hard for her? That only hurts me; it is sure to make me sad later over a wasted session. So I decide to try. I talk to her about my letter to my own shameful memory and end up reading part of my blog post about it.
E likes the letter, a lot, and she likes me reading it aloud to her. She mentions the work of Buddhist teacher Cheri Huber (The Depression Book and No Matter What You’ve Been Taught to Believe, There’s Really Nothing Wrong with You). E tells me that Ms. Huber has a new model that encourages us to record affirmations or encouragement and play them back for ourselves multiple times a day, so that we hear our own voices providing compassion to ourselves.
I think, okay I could do that.
E says, “I have been telling a lot of my clients to do this…”
Panic inside. When was it that I stopped being a person she loved to work with, someone she genuinely seemed attached to and concerned about? When did I become a widget? Now I’m just one of a list of people who get the recording recommendation this week. She has grown so detached from me. She must be tired of me. I am asking too much of her. I bet she regrets allowing me to text her. I regret reaching for her. It’s too annoying, too tiring, too repetitive to respond to me over and over again, to see me so many times. Last week she said something about not usually seeing clients for such a long time. It’s overflowing for her, the sense that I am there forever. She’s so ready to move on.
I carry these sad, frightened thoughts home with me. I start to write this post, think of calling it “The Impossibility of Connection” or “Worn Out Therapist” or “The Futility of Therapy,” perhaps or “My Therapist Doesn’t Love Me Anymore.”
I don’t want to repeat all this internal drama. It’s too painful, and more than that, it doesn’t lead me anywhere. I spend the evening trying to right myself. Really, I’m trying, though I don’t know that E understands that. Here are the ways I try:
- I intentionally reconnect to my goal of feeling closer to her, feeling that she’s by my side as I take on feelings I have avoided. I text her and ask her if she would be willing to draw or collage or something with me in a session, instead of me doing it alone between sessions. She agrees, warmly. See, I am trying to identify what I need and advocate for myself.
- I write myself a letter reminding myself that it is not E’s approval, but my own, which will make me feel better. I am using the voice of my wisest self to re-orient myself to what matters.
- I resist impulses to burn myself and instead renew my commitment to being gentle with myself and accept everything, even my hyper-sensitivity to E.
- Monday night, still fretting at bedtime, I tell myself I will let myself call her on Tuesday, if I feel that will help.
- Tuesday morning, I meditate for half on hour, focusing on just being present. I notice my thoughts and how they catch on the idea of mattering to others.
- I practice my TRE skills, letting my body’s tremor release some of the tension I am holding in me.
- I notice my thinking and pause when the words “pathetic,” “needy,” “bothersome,” or “disgusting” come up. My daily meditation practice carries into increased awareness when I’m not meditating. I have some control over whether or not I follow a line of thought or let it go.
That’s real effort, isn’t it? Is there something else I should be doing? I think about quitting therapy (after all, it’s been long enough, and I should be done by now!) but that’s reactive, isn’t it? I want to be thoughtful. I want to be positive. But sometimes I’m just confused.
Oh, dear dear Q, I feel so much for you right now. I’m on my phone at my training, seeing this post, and wanted to reach out and say hi and I hear the pain and sadness and confusion and am holding it with and for you.
Q, this sounds so difficult and confusing. I wish I could sit with you and assist in whatever way I can – your reactions are valid and all make a lot of sense to me. Xx
That sounds really hard. It’s difficult enough being reminded that your therapist has other clients at all, let alone being put in a position where you’re being asked to put *their* needs ahead of yours. Therapy should be the one place above all others where you get to be put first and feel special and have your needs met, for as long as it takes. It sounds like your needs are being nibbled away at. If therapy is supposed to act as a model for other relationships, then it is important for your therapist to hear it when you say no, even a ‘soft’ no like you gave her. She should be reinforcing your ability to ask for and get what you want and need rather than making it harder.
I know it’s not necessarily helpful to hear others say negative things about your therapist (it can end up just making you feel protective of them), but your feelings are important. I hope you can find a way to tell E how you are feeling about the things she has said.
This sounds so confusing and painful. Sending love and support. xo
I need it… I am flipping out. I see it happening and feel so powerless to get it under control. Which is another reason to despise myself, of course.
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My heart goes out to you so much, Q. This is so, so painful. I want to validate that YES, you are making INCREDIBLE effort, especially given how unsupported you are feeling in therapy (and you have extremely valid reasons to feel that way). Sending you lots and lots of love. ❤
Q, this sounds so hard. Yes, you are doing enough. I wish there was a good answer for you to be able to feel that deep connection again. I think all of the things you are doing to help yourself are incredible.
Trauma treatment, especially when there is more than one trauma, is lengthy and ongoing. Insurance companies have skewed our thoughts as to how long it should take. It takes as long as it takes. I’m pretty sure I’ll be going to therapy for the rest of my life. My therapist thinks I might be right, but not necessarily with her. I’m just putting that out there again. Sometimes, we outgrow our therapists or see the real person instead of the therapist persona and then the relationship can stop working.
Also, not having an outside yourself job does not make you any less valuable or any more available. I need my appointment times to be as consistent as possible even though I don’t have a job. I’ve got lots of other stuff to fit in my week. My appointments sometimes change an hour at my request or another clients request, but I see her as I’m leaving or coming and we often have a conversation and let MT know what we want to do. Sometimes, especially this time of the year, my appointments change days because this is the time of the year that MT does her continuing Education, but MT would never tell me that somebody else had less availability and I might need to change.
I’m thinking of you and sending you hugs.
Ugh. I feel for you Q. The way your T is talking would be off-putting for me also.
I know in my own therapy, which is a bit different from yours, the work would be verbalizing all those feelings in the session as they are occurring. This is the chance to do that without the repercussions you might get in real life. It has been amazing to me how my feelings do change once I express them to the person triggering them. Rather than trying in any way not to have them. Your feelings are valid and deserve to be expressed and heard. However, maybe this is not the type of therapy you do – I don’t know much about the techniques and such your T likes.
My two cents. Hope you feel better.
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Dear Q: Not thinking too well today – but reading My Bloggy Friends is so important to me. I just want to say that I echo what everyone else has said. And send my love – TS
Thanks for your message, and your love, which feels good. Are you okay? I’m sending love back.
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A Ginormous flashback, dear Q. Freeing up parts A, B and C, seems to open up parts D, E and F. Getting great help from Betsy…. and from My Bloggy Friends! It’s all good! Hugs – TS
hugs back to you, many of them!
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Wise Q, you are amazing.
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