Yesterday’s session ended in a difficult place. Most of it was okay. We were able to talk through the nightmare I had and although it was very uncomfortable for me, I stuck with it as she offered her interpretations. I thought she had a lot of very insightful (and very accurate) observations. Then she asked me what I felt about the dream.
I told her that what stood out was the helplessness. I’d obviously had this idea in my head that I would go to see her, tell her about my parents abusing me, and somehow she would be able to save me. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t save me from them in the dream anymore than the people in real life could (or chose to) save me. I’m not in danger from my family at this point, but I think the fear that she will somehow be rendered helpless still frightens me. I told her that I’ve been in that place before; looking back at a therapist who is standing there, helpless. It never ends well for me. I always end up being more than they can take on and they always end up abandoning me in some capacity.
Then I started asking her about “the process”. I explained that I normally do a full interview with therapists before I hire them. I have a list of questions that I ask to clarify their education, training, and overall vision of how therapy works. Every therapist is different in the techniques and approach they use to facilitate healing and growth; I like to know what that is and, specifically, how they see their role in that process.
Because I sought this therapist out in the aftermath of termination from Zooey, I didn’t conduct my usual interview. I skipped that and just let each therapist hit the ground running. I wanted to see them in action and assess how they responded to me and my needs right there in the moment. Rather than telling me how they would do therapy, I wanted them to show me.
And this therapist did very well. She was able to hold and contain a lot of the tremendous grief and anguish I was feeling at that time. She exuded strength, self-awareness and confidence that was reassuring. She tracked impressively well with my thought process. I especially appreciated that she challenged me right away while also being gentle and empathic. I ultimately chose to hire her because she seemed the most capable of keeping up with me and she didn’t seem afraid of the work.
I still believe all of those things and I remain confident in my choice of therapist. But as we transition to a higher frequency of sessions and I become increasingly vulnerable in this relationship, the “process” is not entirely clear to me. And whenever I bring up my diagnoses, specifically the dissociative disorder, she deflects it back to me. Which, I get it, that’s what therapists do. But it is important to me that I understand how she sees this playing out. One of the comments Zooey made when she
abandoned me terminated treatment was that I “needed someone who could see the big picture; someone who could see the end” because she couldn’t.
As I expressed this to the therapist, she said, “But I can’t see the end, either. No one can.”
“I know that. I don’t expect you to be able to see the future, I just wonder how you view this; how you see it playing out.”
She kept dodging my inquiry and offering vague answers that were confusing to me. I was getting frustrated. She finally asked me, “Why are you bringing this up now? I wonder what is going on to make you question all of this?”
“I’m bringing this up because it’s related to the dream we’re talking about! I don’t want to end up left alone because you feel helpless. And I don’t want you to suddenly realize that you can’t see the end, either. I don’t really understand the work we’re doing and that scares me. But this is your job, so arguably you spend time thinking about what will work for me and how you can help me reach my goals, which is also something we never talk about…”
“My process is very open-ended, though. So we don’t talk about goals because what is most important is what’s happening to you right now. Your diagnosis is important if it’s important to you. And you’re always welcome to talk about it, but what I’m most interested in is how YOU feel about your diagnosis, in the moment.”
“Fine. But if you won’t talk to me about how you understand or use the diagnosis to inform this work, it’s hard to know if we’re on the same page. And if you aren’t sharing with me how you see this unfolding, how am I supposed to trust you or have any faith in you?”
“But this process isn’t about me, it’s about you. What I feel about it is not as important as what you feel about it. And I don’t think you necessarily need to have faith in me. I think you need to have faith in the process.”
“What does that even mean?! Also: yes, I absolutely DO need to have faith in you. Not only because I don’t really know what ‘the process’ is, but also because I can’t do this alone. If I could, I would. But I can’t, so that is why I hired you – to facilitate ‘the process’. And that is where the questions come from. I need to be sure that you’re capable of doing that and that you think it is possible.”
I can’t remember what she said next because I started to space out. I know she said much of the same stuff, trying to help me understand what she was saying. But it was just triggering me and I started to cry out of anger. I finally just stopped and stared out the window.
“Did I lose you?”
“No. I just don’t understand why you’re being so weird about this.”
“I’m not sure I know what you need from me right now.”
“What I need is for you to tell me that you believe in this; that you can see this playing out in the long-term and that you think this will work. I need to know that you believe in me. And I need you to stop pretending like this is all about me and you play no role in how this ends up because that is not true at all.”
“Andi, I absolutely believe in this. I believe in the potential for this process to be very healing. And I believe in that potential for you, specifically. I feel very responsible for my role in this and I take it very, very seriously.”
“WHY couldn’t you just say that to begin with? Why couldn’t you just tell me that when I originally asked?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I answered the way I did for a reason…”
“What does that even mean?”
“That perhaps the way I answered is also part of the process.”
“Or maybe the way you answered has to do with what’s going on with you.”
“Maybe it has to do with me and with the process.”
“I cannot even deal with this anymore and it’s time to go. But I’m so mad at you and that really sucks.”
“I know. But can you try to hold on that emotion? Maybe write about it or even just hold it until Monday, when we can talk about it some more?”
I just laughed and walked out. I wish I could say more about why I did or said any of these things, but I am still not entirely sure what the hell was going on with me.
…totally open to feedback on that.