I’ve recently been feeling a lot of underlying anxiety about being back in therapy and (attempting to) build a trusting, safe, therapeutic alliance with a clinician (a feat I have yet to truly achieve in real time).
In an attempt to sort out some of the tangled up emotions and thoughts around this anxiety, I sat down and talked to Wife about it. One of the most important pieces I spoke of was regarding the sheer level of transparency and inherent vulnerability that I feel when I’m in that office. This therapist misses very little. There are no “throw-away comments”. And she stays with me in each and every moment, even when things get messy or clunky or painful or just downright frustrating as hell.
Towards the end of the conversation, I mentioned to my wife that I always have this feeling of being super fragile – as if this therapist can see a part of me that no one else had even been looking for before. She has this brilliant way of connecting and synthesizing all these random pieces that I throw out at her. She can take something I mentioned in week one and seamlessly thread it into our current conversations, months later. She isn’t particularly warm in her interactions with me (although she often exudes empathy in a way that makes me want to jump out the window) and I don’t feel the same connectedness I felt with Zooey (probably a good thing), but she is so utterly present with me. In a way that is quite terrifying.
I spoke with her about this last session. I wasn’t as frank as I am being here, but I did allude to feeling fragile and vulnerable. I said that being as intelligent and sophisticated as I am, it is quite rare for me to be in a room with someone who can keep up with me, let alone be one step ahead of me. And that’s how it feels sometimes – as though she is able to draw conclusions before I can. I’m not used to that. It’s strange and uncomfortable.
I told her this and I also talked about how bizarre it is when she knows exactly where I am going with a thought. She’s getting to know me better and thus getting better at understanding my thought processes and my motivations behind telling certain anecdotes or fragmented stories the way I do. She often knows how the story will end before I even figure it out for myself.
I mentioned that I felt this was a sign of a good therapist. Her experience and skill speaks for itself in moments such as these. I assume that having sat in that chair for many hours listening to other traumatized people as they unraveled the past has made her more aware of certain patterns and cues to look for. Also, I think she is just a good therapist in general. She has the “unteachable” skills.
She sorta brushed off the indirect compliment while also accepting it in the way she does. She acknowledged my point about being skillful and experienced, but then she said something that completely took my breath away:
“Andi, I think that what you’re ultimately talking about is the fact that I see you. And I think you are not used to being seen, so that must make you pretty uncomfortable.”
“Yes! And this is one of those moments!”
[Jokingly] “Oh no! I did it again…?!”
“No. Yes! It’s just…when I was trying to process this specific emotion with Wife, I talked about this exactly – about feeling as though you can see me in a way that no one has been able (or tried) to before. And then you go and use that exact phrase. It’s just…overwhelming. It’s a lot.”
And it is a lot. But I won’t lie…it feels damn good. (But still terrifying!).