On the Couch II

Continuing on with the same line of thinking. Over the years I have seen many different therapists. Each bring their own style and orientation to the room. I think all too often, they do more harm than good. Especially when you have survived abuse. It is all too easy to feel pushed, and cornered. For me I know, early on in the treatment process, I had no idea what therapy was about. Or even what made a therapist good or bad. Even the best of therapists make mistakes. But unless there is a strong relationship, these mistakes can be catastrophic. Unfortunately some of the people I saw, back when I was in college, made me leery of the process. Whether it was from silence, and therefore I pulled back and felt unsafe, or if it was feeling very pushed and I then felt even more unsafe. But I think the major one was a woman I learned to trust. I did let her in. We talked and I told her some of the very worst of my history. I laid it out there, and I started to realize how very fucked up it all was. I think she, like too many therapists, view abuse as something to attack in treatment. So often, it is the focus, at the cost of everything else. We are so much more than our abuse. This particular therapist felt that working on some family therapy would benefit me. What I didn’t realize is that this would entail some epic sessions. Not a quick 45 min and set it aside. Nope, these were hours. Any sense of control I had quickly left the building. I was really rocked, right to my core. I didn’t know why I was so overwhelmed. I had no words to put to the emotions. In the course of that week, I went from barely functioning to not functioning. That therapist had a tremendous amount of power, and in that case it was destructive.

I think many of us are somewhat conditioned to believe that therapists are good, and that they are professionals so therefore we should comply. I can’t begin to tell how far from the truth that is. For every good therapist out there, there are hundreds more that are poor. Sadly, the consumer suffers. Most people don’t go into therapy with any idea what a good therapy relationship is, nor what it should feel like. I know I did not. I knew enough to trust my gut, and leave a number of them. It isn’t always about sitting and talking and dragging crap up from the past. I’m not saying that sessions can’t be tough, they can be very tough. But I am saying that in many cases, therapists set to digging without ever developing a bond with the client. It is difficult, because the time limitations. It is only recently, that I have really begun to understand how short that 50 min is. But, it is our 50 minutes. If you chose to talk about the weather because that is all you are capable of that week, it is what it is. Not ever session needs to be on such a deep and profound level. I guess what I am trying to get at is there are ways to be in treatment and be safe, and there are ways to be unsafe. Much of that stems from the work, and the skill of the therapist. If we are on someone’s couch, it usually means we have issues to work on. Most people don’t feel driven to go, unless something is bothering them. When I wrote about the relationships I have with Beatrice and Virgil I wanted to really highlight why it is that they work. It is the kindness and commitment and respect that they show me, each and every session. It is unwavering, to my eyes. Believe me, I’m sure they have had moments where I have pushed them to the edge, yet they never have once taken that out on me. Therapists are people, and they get stressed just like the rest of us. It is the skilled ones that don’t let that negatively affect the work.

I don’t quite know how to explain what makes it good, or bad. I think each person needs different things. Some need a very warm and motherly figure, while others do not. Initially in my treatment, after release from the hospital I needed very strong boundaries. I was all over the place, and very much looking to push things in all the wrong directions. I’m not sure how Virgil kept such solid boundaries, yet remained available in a way that I didn’t feel marginalized. I was angry, don’t get me wrong. For every rule and boundary my anger grew. But in time I learned that this was part of how our relationship was structured. One of the main things that has always helped me connect was some of the disclosure on her part. I know many therapists do not disclose much if anything about themselves. But, with Virgil, it would become part of the treatment in such a way that it made my existence not feel so distant and apart. It humanized everything just enough, so that I could wrap my head around something.

The sexual assault that happened about 6 months into our treatment shifted the course of things in a positive way. By reaching out and having her be there, I learned she was there 100%. Whether it be on the phone at 2 in the morning, or at the trial that followed. That meant so much to me, well beyond what I could really understand back then. But in my heart I knew, and it allowed me to trust her more. In all these years of treatment, she has stayed available. As available as I need her to be. If all is fine, that isn’t much. If it is really bad, it is more. I like that it can change like that. I’m not suggesting that such serious life events need to occur in order for good therapy to happen. I’m just saying, that for me, it helped shaped the course of my therapy.

I know that in my work, neither of them will leave me unstable or unable to cope. They make sure that the work we do varies depending on how strong I am. They will not do what that therapist from long ago did. Nobody will cut me off at the knees and expect me to run. I trust that. Yes, it has taken years to get here. As I wrote earlier, I am confident in moving forward and working on some of the very hard stuff now. It has taken a long time. I think I will be okay because I have such strong supports.


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