I went into last night’s session with determination. I wasn’t exactly sure what I would say or how I would say it, but I knew that we needed to talk.
Except, you know, not right away.
I walked in and, per usual, asked the therapist, “How are you?” She replied with her standard “I’m okay.” Which made me realize that she always replies with either “good” or “okay” when I ask her how she’s doing. I pointed that out and asked if she always answers that way when her clients ask how she’s doing. Rather than answer my question, she asked me why I was asking it. Typical therapist.
I didn’t answer her directly, but I said it’s strange that I always ask her that question even though I know she’ll never respond with anything beyond a simple “good” or “okay.” She noted that it would be inappropriate of her to share beyond that because my sessions are about me, not her. She also said that based on previous statements I’ve made, she feels that perhaps my former therapists shared some stuff that wasn’t necessary for me to know and just added to my list of things to worry about. She’s totally right.
So I know she’ll never answer with some grand manifesta of how her life is playing out on any given day, and quite frankly I’d be horribly offended and disgusted if she did. Yet I still feel a compulsive need to ask “How are you?” whenever I walk into her office. Why?! I was starting to work myself into an unnecessary level of distress about this when she interrupted my internal meltdown by saying, “Maybe you just ask that because it’s part of how we so often begin conversations and it helps you establish the beginning of session.”
Oh, right. That actually totally makes sense. We also discussed how it might be a way for me/us to ‘check-in’ and just sorta establish that all is well and the space is safe. This seemed reasonable enough, so I calmed down and remembered the 47 other things I wanted to talk to her about. Mainly the end of last session. But I wasn’t ready to go there just yet, so I stalled some more…
My next statement was, “I think it’s time we had a conversation about something. I’m not sure what – but definitely something.” She said, “Well, I’m glad you brought it up then. Maybe by just talking we can figure out what it is.” And I was like “Well that’s all I had to say – that was the beginning, the middle, and the end.” She said, “That’s okay.”
But then I realized I most definitely knew what I wanted to converse about, so I said, “No that’s a lie. I know exactly what I want to talk about. I’m just scared.”
“Scared of what?”
“Scared of everything. Scared of this. Scared of you.”
I explained that since I’ve more or less worked through the most urgent part of losing Zooey, I am left with nothing but my actual life and the terrible reasons I sought therapy in the first place. Talking about those things makes shit super real and is quite reminiscent of my previous therapy process. So it’s like I’m back where I was, just with someone else.
I told her that it feels like we’re moving beyond that initial “crisis management” phase and into the “this is seriously happening” phase. She agreed and shared that she’d been thinking about the same thing recently. She said that we should talk about this more – talk about it being scary and figure out how to make it less scary. She said that what’s most important is that we’re talking about this stuff and staying with the feelings and in the moment together.
So then I said, “Well, speaking of…..at the end of last session I told you I couldn’t come on Tuesday. I thought you’d just tell me to come on Friday, but you didn’t. And you said “we need to see each other”….why did you say that?”
Her first response was that it’s generally part of her practice to reschedule when clients cannot make their usual time. She said she allows for four weeks of “skipping” or missing sessions because of various reasons, but other than that – she prefers to reschedule. She said it helps create continuity, which is beneficial to therapy. I agreed. Then she explained that since the session had been particularly intense, she most certainly did not feel that skipping a scheduled session after that would be a good idea. And that’s when I realized what else bothered me about her choice of words.
Ultimately,when she took the time to sit and reschedule my session rather than just send me out into the world for a week after disclosing a bunch of seriously intense trauma, she was taking care of me. She was demonstrating responsibility and accountability for my safety and my treatment. And that action…that display of care…was just too much for me. She asked me if perhaps it felt scary to think that she was invested in me. Um, YES.
She said it was good that I shared this with her. I laughed and asked why. She replied that it was important for her to know how her words impact me and that knowing the effect she has on me helps her to understand how better to protect me.
I didn’t even know what to say. I felt very emotional. I paused for a moment just to look out the window and think. And then I said, “It’s just……you….you could devastate me.”
In the most sincere and gentle tone ever, she replied with a simple, “I know…..I know that.”
So then I said that I didn’t understand how to move forward. How do I move forward in a relationship when the other person can just tap out whenever they want to? How do I build trust under those circumstances?!
She said that we didn’t have to move anywhere – that if I never go beyond where I am right now, that would be okay. I don’t have to trust her yet. I don’t have to feel like she’s trustworthy or safe or reliable. I don’t have to believe that she’s invested or committed. What I do need to do, however, is keep talking to her. We need to keep bringing this stuff into the relationship and into session and talking it through. And that maybe (just maybe) by putting all of these scary things out in the open and examining them, they might eventually become less scary. She also told me that I can (and should) keep testing her…that it’s okay if I need her to prove herself over and over again.
This woman legit pisses me off.
Not because she’s done anything wrong, but because she’s so utterly good at her job. I don’t even know what to do with all of this! She’s incredibly aware of me and where I am at all moments of those sessions. She’s even more self-aware. She cares about how she impacts me and she wants me to talk about it. She cares about my safety and is mindful of how to protect me when I’m in her care. She’s honest and forthcoming with how she’s experiencing the relationship. She is considerate and thoughtful. She’s funny. She actually keeps up with me during session, even when I’m going 90 miles an hour and jumping from topic to topic. (I told her that if I didn’t make a list before sessions, I would just sit and do nothing the entire time. She smiled and replied, “Somehow I doubt that.” Fair point.). She is very respectful of me and my experience. She’s a wonderful communicator and I can tell that she values my input just as much as her own when it comes to my treatment. She believes the shit I tell her.
I know she’s not perfect. No one is. I know she’ll frustrate me and hurt me and disappoint me. That’s a natural part of any relationship, but even more so in the therapeutic alliance. I think I’m mostly okay with that. What I’m not okay with, however, is how much comfort, safety, compassion and hope she gives me.
It’s just too much to lose.