Things have been a little strange in the therapy world lately. I think my therapist and I are probably in a good space overall, but the work has stalled a bit.

For now.

In my last post I mentioned that the second half of Monday’s session was challenging. I’ve been having a lot of doubts about therapy. I keep searching for any and every excuse to cut back or eliminate sessions altogether. I think that mainly comes from a place of intense fear.

But on Monday, I wasn’t able to articulate that. Before session, I journaled a bit to try to sort out my thoughts:

I just need to understand what I’m (we’re) doing and WHY. My head is overflowing and I can’t make sense out of what all of this is for. I need her to take me seriously and not treat me like an angry, rebellious kid who’s playing dumb. I need her to talk through this with me and help me understand what’s going on, independent of my desire to run away or my fears around attachment (which, to be fair, is its own conversation). I need her to simply TALK to me about all of this.

I also think I need more guidance in sessions. There’s always so much I can (and need to!) talk about, but it’s incredibly difficult to do so, especially when things start piling up or other vulnerabilities decrease my ability to cope.

Today, especially, I need her to take a little more authority and reach out to me. I need her to SEE me. I’ve dropped a lot of material into that space. ALL of it is very important. Where do I even begin?

I just need her to talk to me today. I cannot feel alone in this struggle. Not today.

Maybe I should have just brought that in and read it to her, but I’ve been trying to be less rehearsed and controlled in sessions. So once we finished the conversation about body dysmorphia, I transitioned the conversation onto our relationship.

I can’t remember much of what I said because my emotions were overwhelming me and I was intermittently dissociating. But I know we ended up in a very tense conversation and I was super agitated.

I was trying to ask her to help me understand where we’re going with this work; what is the goal? What is the trajectory? Where does she see this going?

I know from experience that she doesn’t generally talk about these things. She believes that talking too much about the work can pull you OUT of the work. She prefers to keep the focus on what we’re doing right now.

But I really needed to try and have this conversation with her.

After a few minutes, it was obvious that I wasn’t being clear enough with my line of questioning, so I got a little more aggressive in my approach:

“So, okay, you must write notes about our sessions or something, right? In your job as my therapist, you must think about the work we’re doing and come up with some kind of plan; an idea for how this will play out or at least a sense of how I could progress? I mean, I know you won’t tell me what they say, nor would I ask you, but I’m just speaking in a general sense. So I just need to understand the way you see this. You always sound so sure and optimistic about this work. You say we’re in a ‘good place’ and that I’m making progress. I believe you, but I don’t feel it. I wish I could, but I don’t.”

She had a bemused expression that made me uncomfortable, but I kept talking:

“So, I mean, I’m paying you to help me, so…”

She jumped in: “Are you? Because it sounds like you’re having a lot of doubts right now.”

I felt heat rise up my torso and into my face. I responded,

“Actually, no. That’s not what I was saying at all. I’m not having doubts, so this is your shit and I’m not gonna let you put that on me!”

“Is it?”

“Yes! So maybe you are having doubts about your ability to help me and now you’re projecting that onto me or into this space?”

“What’s going on right now? You seem angry.”

“No, I’m not angry.”

“Well I feel a lot of anger here in the room with us right now.”

“Then maybe YOU are angry, but I’m not!”

“I don’t feel angry.”

There was a moment where neither of us said much of anything. We just sat there, soaking in whatever emotions were flying around that room. Then I finally said,

“I just feel like you’re being an asshole today and that sucks. I can feel emotion coming from you. I also feel like you’re not hearing me and you’re being defensive about my line of questioning because I’m behaving in a way you’re not used to and it’s unsettling to you. But you won’t admit that you’re feeling something. And so yet again I’m this crazy person who’s freaking out about some imaginary rupture because I’m the sensitive one who’s out of touch and melodramatic. And that’s so fucking irritating.”

I turned my body away from her and pouted. I was trying so hard not to cry. After another pause, she said,

“I do feel defensive. I feel like you’re intentionally trying to provoke me today and I’m not sure why or what’s going on.”

“Oh, so NOW you’ll admit you’re being defensive!”

“Is now not good enough?”

I threw up my hands and turned all the way to the side of the chair, facing the wall. I leaned my head against the back of the chair and just started sobbing. I don’t even know why, I just couldn’t contain my emotions anymore.

She let me cry for a while.

Then she very quietly and gently started speaking. I don’t remember what precisely what she said, but I know she was reassuring me that everything I was expressing made a lot of sense. She said it was okay for me to be angry with her and that she was so glad that I was opening up about some of these important feelings.

She also responded to my comment about her not “seeing” me by saying:

“I really want to see you. I really want to hear you. Today, and every day that you’re here, I want you to feel safe and seen and heard. It won’t always be perfect. There are days, like this one, where we will miss each other; where we won’t understand each other and where I won’t be able to track with what you need. But I want you to feel like you can always keep trying and that you can always share these things with me.”

I turned ever so slightly back towards her as she continued speaking:

“And I think moments like this, where things get tense and we struggle to find each other, is actually an important part of the work. And I want you to know that I don’t take what you say personally or offensively and it’s okay for you to share what you’re honestly feeling about your experience of me and this relationship.”

I kept crying until the session ended. I just couldn’t shake off the fear, the frustration, the helplessness. I walked out feeling so overwhelmed and a little scared that she really WAS angry with me (or would be once she thought about the session a little more).

So it’s been hard to move forward with any material that isn’t the two of us struggling to make sense out of the work while not having a conversation about the work itself.

But maybe being stalled is also part of the work?


29 thoughts on “Stalled

  1. Sirena says:

    Woah. Well, let me join you in your “crazy” (even though you’re not crazy) and say that interaction was some therapy bullshit right there. Why was she being deliberately obtuse about what you were sensing from her? Okay, you sensed anger and she wasn’t angry BUT you very rightly sensed something from her and she denied it, therefore denied your experience, until you became really upset and only then did she say ” okay, well I am feeling defensive.” If she’d admitted that in the beginning instead of playing a game of semantics, that conversation could have went better.
    I do think what she said later was really nice and obviously she cares for you. I hope you can take in what you wrote in your journal because it was really good. P.S- I was cheering you on in calling her out on her countertransference, good for you. I love to see clients giving their therapist”s a run for their money! #anarchy #rebellion #allgood 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Andi says:

      Haha, thanks Sirena! To be honest, I was pretty impressed and proud of myself for calling her out. I don’t normally do that, so it felt good to just call her out and be like “actually, I think this is EXACTLY what’s happening and I’m not backing down.” I suspect that, in that moment, she was caught off-guard and wasn’t quite aware of what she was experiencing counter-transferentially. I’d guess that once she had a moment to reflect, she realized that she WAS actually feeling defensive and I appreciate that she then shared it with me. I also imagine that she’s thought a lot about her dodging my questions and denying her emotions and will be more aware of that in the future (she’s a fast learner). But, yes, it was classic therapy bullshit and I was NOT having it! Thanks for cheering me on 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sirena says:

        Yep, you’re probably right, she most likely wasn’t aware of her feeling defensive until you pointed it out. I’m really glad you were able to honour your own experience and trust what you were feeling from her.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Life in a Bind - BPD and me says:

    Um – this is hard. Your session – but also the fact I see it a little differently to the discussion above or above least have another possible way of seeing it. But a) I’m about to head to therapy then work then kids then out then I may not get a chance until Saturday evening – Argh! Is your next session today in which case I will try really hard to answer? And b) I’m actually quite scared of saying anything to upset or pissed you off 😉 but seriously I want to do neither of those things and so just tell me if I’m wrong and out of place because at the end of the day I wasn’t in the room and don’t know what was going on for either of you. But it read differently to me….and philosophically speaking, wielding the language of therapy, such as counter transference etc, -can- get in the way of allowing for other options. ……whatever the interpretation might be you had a tough tough session and I’m sending you hugs. I know that feeling of feeling attacked and mis understood and mot being able to run and so turning away in your chair……much love x
    Ps I’d definitely be interested in others views on your post as well – Eg Rachel, AG and your other wonderful readers and commenters 😉 x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Hey! Yeah, my next session is today. I generally don’t get offended by people’s comments because I have tremendous respect for others’ opinions, especially because you all have so much more objectivity. I also appreciate having differing viewpoints because it allows me to expand my own and see things from a different angle. So please always feel free to say whatever comes to mind 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Cat's Meow says:

    Hi Andi, I hope that you don’t mind if I put my two cents in…

    I’m sure that your therapist did indeed start to feel defensive somewhere in your conversation. It probably was an uncomfortable and challenging one for both of you.

    But you do say at the beginning of the post that you “have been having a lot of doubts about therapy.” And what you said probably would have sounded to some people like an expression of not feeling entirely comfortable with the process at this point.

    I know that I have gone through several episodes of testing my therapist. I didn’t even recognize many of them as such until later and got angry with my therapist when she would call me out on it in any way.

    Good for you for actually sticking it out and not just running. I have started to get my stuff together to leave part way through the session more than once and even made it as far as the door. I was just too overwhelmed and confused by the conflict that I felt between my therapist and me to tolerate being there. She stood with me at the door and talked me into sitting down again because I was not at all in an adult state. So I get the courage that you showed to stay there and speak on your behalf.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Cat's Meow says:

      I didn’t mean to hit reply quite yet…

      I have an odd thought… I know that there have been times when a part of me expects to be treated poorly and doesn’t find it reassuring when the poor treatment doesn’t come. Sometimes I just want for it to happen, so I can stop feeling so on edge waiting for it to happen, not knowing how bad it will be. It isn’t that I want to be treated badly, but the waiting gets to a point where it feels worse than being hurt, because I know how to numb the pain of being hurt.

      I don’t know if that strikes any chords for you…

      Liked by 2 people

    • Andi says:

      Yes, I definitely see what you’re saying. I think part of the problem is that the doubts I was speaking to were different that the doubts she thought I was expressing. Idk. There was some sort of disconnect. And I know that I’m always testing her. I think she’s okay with that and understands the reasoning behind it. I have thought about walking out more than once, but I’ve yet to do that…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Life in a Bind - BPD and me says:

    Hiya again! So, hope this is helpful…..x
    I wanted to echo a lot of Cat’s Meow has said. Firstly, I am impressed and proud of you too and it took a lot of courage – but I wouldn’t necessarily say it was courage to ‘call her out’ as such. Rather, I sort of see it as courage to be honest and speak your mind and tell her how you feel, even though it’s terrifying because any hint of you having negative feelings towards her could lead (or this is how it would go in MY mind) to abandonment or at the very least to her having a lesser view of you because she thinks you don’t value her as much. It was AWESOME to be able to tell her how you were feeling. About how YOU were feeling, but also about how you thought SHE was feeling. But this isn’t necessarily ‘calling her out’ – because there is another alternative here, which is that how you thought she was feeling and what she was doing may not have been everything that was going on with her. It may have felt blindingly obvious and incredibly persuasive and like it must be true, but it _is_ possible that, as she tried to suggest, there was quite a lot of projection going on.
    Undeniably, part of the picture was accurate – she said she was feeling defensive. But she admitted it as soon as you raised the possibility – she wasn’t trying to mislead you or lie to you, and I believe that she may well have been aware of it even before you mentioned it. At your first mention of defensiveness, she acknowledged it. The previous part of the conversation had been about anger rather than defensiveness, and she denied feeling angry. (I was struck by the fact she said ‘I am not FEELING angry’, rather than responding ‘I am not angry’. To me, this implies an absolute awareness and examination of what was going on with her, rather than a reactive statement).
    Then, when you mentioned a feeling that she _was_ having, she said that that was true. I suppose I find it hard to see that this is ‘calling her out’. The difficulty is that therapists have feelings and monitor those feelings all the time, but they don’t tend to mention them on the whole, because they want to leave the space free for us to bring _our_ feelings, and to explore those. So I don’t necessarily see her not mentioning feeling defensive right at the start, as any kind of ‘therapy bullshit’. Perhaps she believed there would have been little to be gained from saying she was feeling defensive – though once you mentioned it, there was clearly therapeutic benefit in terms of trust and validation and the relationship, in acknowledging the accuracy of your perception. But to mention it before-hand may either have put you on the defensive as well, or it might have caused needless pain or panic in you.
    I think Cat’s Meow is right to point out that at the start of your post you were saying you were having lots of doubts lately. Your therapist was echoing what you had said, but I know I feel very exposed whenever I worry my therapist won’t think I am committed to her or to the process, and so I am always very quick to let her know my thoughts/feelings haven’t changed, and I am ‘still here’. Hearing _her_ say you have doubts, is very different to you yourself admitting those doubts to her – it FEELS very different, and I would probably react with some kind of denial if that happened to me. If _I_ tell her I have doubts, I can make it ‘sound better’ and I can reassure her at the same time. If SHE tells me she thinks I’m having doubts….what else does she think? How does she feel about that? And all of a sudden I’m scared…..I think your therapist understands that, though, which may be why she was keen to let you know that she doesn’t take it personally and welcomes you talking to her about how you feel about her, even when it’s ‘negative’….
    As for anger…..I was particularly struck by your own sentence: “I felt heat rise up my torso and into my face….”. Heat due to what? I’m guessing it was a mixture of things, but are you sure there wasn’t anger? Or even anger at feeling shame and fear, if those were what you were feeling? I can’t help it, and I’m sorry it this is not how it was for you, I do NOT want to invalidate you, but maybe it can help you see why she said what she did – but _I_ felt anger coming from the page at that point. That’s what ‘heat rising’ implied and felt like to me. And I wasn’t even in the room…I’m so sorry, again, if I’m talking rubbish, but I felt I should tell you. But none of this negates your feelings – either of you. I believe you were both trying really hard to be seen and heard, and, as she said, it was one of those days when you missed each other. They are very very painful, but with two parties who are eminently human, they will always happen now and again.
    I _believe_ that she wasn’t feeling angry, but that she was feeling defensive. I think it’s good that she wasn’t feeling angry- I know that the last thing I need when I feel angry or upset is for someone to react to me in the same way. The other thing I want, however, is SOME kind of reaction, because that is what I’m used to, and that’s what signifies someone ‘getting it’ and caring. I find it hard to deal with the fact that my therapist can genuinely contain my emotions in a way that means that her reactions are calm and don’t inflame the situation. This means they feel out of kilter with how I’m feeling, and I don’t feel mirrored, but she is holding my fears and soothing me remotely, not sending it all back out again at me. It’s hard to get used to that…

    One question for you, because I think it’s important….you spoke of ‘calling her out’ – how do you feel about the possibility about her calling you out on things? Cat’s Meow mentioned how painful and how angry it can make you feel, when that happens. That is certainly my experience. My therapist has ‘called me out’ on testing her, on manipulating her, on not accepting her for who she is. All of which, were true, even if I hadn’t seen them at that the time. It was incredibly hard and upsetting to hear, and it would have certainly been possible to turn that around and say that her reaction was something to do with her – it was something SHE was bringing to the table, it was her own counter-transference. And perhaps, sometimes, it was. I certainly tried to tell her that the reason she wouldn’t just come out with it and tell me she cared about me – just a few short words, right? – must be something to do with her and things that had happened to her. That she was reacting to my clinginess and neediness. That is certainly one option. Another option is what she has always said – that she wants me to learn the value of actions as well as words, that constant reassurance is ultimately not helpful….now you could just argue I have been brainwashed by my therapist into believing the therapy bullshit! Or one can leave room for being challenged, and being called out oneself. It is, in many ways, a compliment and a sign of trust for her to know that the relationship is ready to be able to make room for that. One difficulty with focusing a great deal on the process and the terminology (and believe me, I HAVE done that a lot!) is that it means that in any situation there is _always_ an ‘easier’ explanation to accept (e.g. counter-transference) rather than facing full-on the unseen possibilities and the pain of what the work is trying to do, and the way in which it is trying to do it….

    All of this is REALLY HARD – and I only say it, because, although our situations are very different, I feel as though I have really been there- am STILL there, though in a different way. This is all hard – almost as hard as getting used to the fact that my therapist doesn’t have a grand plan, much as I would like her to. Lots of types of therapy work that way, particularly short to medium term work – but open ended psychotherapy seems not to. Having read quite a bit of Yalom and a few others, and having discussed things with my therapist, unsettling though it might be, I think I’m coming to appreciate that therapy just uses all the stuff that comes along, and one has to trust the process, and that it will work, even though we don’t really understand _HOW_ it works, or by what route we’re going to get there. But our therapists trust the process because they have seen it work, again and again…

    Our therapists don’t know exactly what it is that will make a difference – I’m sure my therapist had no idea, when she mentioned a poem by T S Eliot, how much significance those 6 lines would come to have for me. She _couldn’t_ have known, at least partly because I imbued it with my own meaning, and kept doing so, the more and more I learned and understood. It was a ‘lucky accident’ in some ways – and therapy is full of them. But the difference they make isn’t an accident, it’s all part of the work, and of the attention to each other, and the relationship, that enables the work to flow from those many different and spontaneous incidents, and to create change. All of the most significant parts of my therapy came from these ‘accidents’ – none of them were planned, how could they be? Therapy of this kind relies on creativity, spontaneity, free association – paying attention to the moment and what is brought in. She has training, knowledge, her own characteristics and experience as a person, and a method – of sorts. But even that method changes according to who she is working with and the stage any particular person is going through.

    I used to get incredibly distressed by thinking that she didn’t have a plan –that the person I was relying on to guide me didn’t have a map. But the problem with that analogy is the assumption that there is something external and fixed – a place we’re supposed to be, a route by which we’re meant to get there, and yet the landscape is constantly changing around us, just through all the things that happen every day. There can’t be a map because the landscape is an internal one, and ultimately it’s a _person_ I’m relying on to guide me, not a thing or a process. And that’s the other thing – this sort of therapy is fundamentally a process between two people – she can’t script that relationship, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want her to. It has to grow, bounded only by what is there to keep it a place where you can be completely yourself – but not restricted by a plan or a set way of responding to you. Ultimately, though incredibly difficult to accept, I think that can be hugely liberating. And it mirrors the sort of liberation therapy is also trying to bring into your life – I have heard so many say that therapy is about living ‘more freely’ – and I think the process has to mirror that, in order to bring it about….

    I’m sorry, I have waffled on at ridiculous length. But I hope that at least some of this is reassuring. And please know I’m not taking sides – enamoured of therapy and therapists though I am ! I may idealise them but I know they make mistakes as well, and there are always several interpretations in any situation. Perhaps the best place to leave this is with something my therapist sent to me in an email when I was devastated because of a situation in which I felt she wasn’t hearing me (in fact, it was the ‘why don’t you just tell me you care about me’ situation). I felt she wasn’t being direct, that there was ‘her stuff’ going on, and I just didn’t know if I could carry on therapy with someone who I felt couldn’t be straight with me. And she said this: “It probably makes it no easier to bear, but it is a route forwards, not backwards and it doesn’t negate what has gone before. _It is new territory and it will feel strange at first_.”
    I found that hugely helpful, and I hope it might be helpful for you too, take care xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      I just want to say that I really appreciate everything you’ve said here. I have read it twice and there’s a lot for me to process and think about more. You make many good points and your comment (which I first read right before session) inspired me to try bringing this up with her again during today’s session. Which I did. So…I wish I could articulate more of a response right now, but I do at least want to say that I am very appreciative for all the time and thought you put into your response. It means so much. xx

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Marda says:

    Andi, I remember when I was in therapy having times that I was angry at my therapist and I expressed it and with this particular therapist I felt like there were things he was doing that I had a right to be angry about. You have a right to be angry at your therapist sometimes and it’s good that she doesn’t take it personally. That is the ideal. But given your history I can see where you’d worry about the work and about her not being able to be in it for the long haul. I think it might be a good thing to talk about some goals. They don’t have to be set in stone and can change over time but I think it’s fair to ask for some direction in therapy or rather to work out the goals together. She is working for you and ideally therapy is a sort of partnership deal where you both have input into goals. Laura Lyn

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Yes, I definitely think having goals – even very loose goals – would be helpful. Or if not goals, then just some idea of what we both want this process to look like while we’re in it, you know? Thank you.


  6. Rachel says:

    That exchange must have been so difficult and uncomfortable. Since I wasn’t there, I can’t really speculate as to who was feeling what. What I gathered from your writing, is that you need for the structure of the sessions to be a little different than what it is now – you are wanting more direction and containment from her (which makes perfect sense to me), you want validation for the fact that you have a raging eating disorder that doesn’t seem to be improving (and wonder why she isn’t directly addressing that each week, if not more than once a week), you want to know more concretely how what you are doing in session is translating to improvements in your health and happiness outside of session. That all seems VERY reasonable, and I imagine part of you feels scared to challenge how she “does therapy,” because, what if she says she won’t initiate the conversation, or set concrete goals. Then you face the feelings of rejection or vulnerability in having asked for something and then been denied. That is scary. You don’t want to rock the boat, AND, you are legitimate needs that you are noticing that aren’t being met in sessions. You spend A LOT of time and MONEY on therapy, and are wholly invested, and want to see some returns on your investments, more than just “trusting the process.” I get it, I hear you, and it makes sense.
    I’m going to add some personal insight – my therapist does bring up topics I have mentioned were important to me, or that I said I wanted to discuss. Sometimes she forgets if we had a relationship thing crop up between sessions, but usually just does it. And I love that – it helps me feel seen and contained. Also, I believe that therapists as a whole more or less need to tailor what they are doing to their clients. So even if your therapist doesn’t “usually” act more transparently or concretely with clients, or explain “the process,” it would be prudent to do so with you if that is what you are asking for.
    I’m glad you brought your genuine feelings and emotions to session, and I am glad that she told you she wants to hear it. I am sorry that was so uncomfortable, I would have hated that conversation too. xx

    Liked by 2 people

    • Andi says:

      Yes! Exactly! –> “You spend A LOT of time and MONEY on therapy, and are wholly invested, and want to see some returns on your investments, more than just “trusting the process.”” really captures a lot of what I’m feeling right now. Simply trusting the process feels too abstract and too terrifying for me. Idk, we’re just in a weird space right now. I hope it ends soon. Thank you xx

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Rachel says:

    Also, Sorry if “raging eating disorder” was a bit extreme. But from what you write, it really is a problem for you and I know you would like relief.
    And, research (’cause I know you are scientifically-minded and appreciat this sort of thing) shows that people with our issues (call it Borderline, or whatever) don’t do well with less directive therapy. We can speculate why, but patients with BPD tend to show more improvements with directive therapists (at least in the begining years). For what it is worth, hopefully just validation. xx

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Anxious Mom says:

    I’m sorry you had such a rough therapy session and didn’t get any answers on top of it. ❤ It's interesting, though, that she said she felt you were trying to provoke her, because it seemed to me that is what she was doing with you.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. silentlistener2510 says:

    , I am glad that you are trusting yourself regardless of the truthfulness of either of your experiences I mean that it is important to address what you think is happening whether or not that turned out to be what is really happening or not I heard there was projection to on-board and I see the disconnect

    Liked by 1 person

  10. La Quemada says:

    I think it’s normal to go through periods of feeling that your therapist doesn’t get you. It SUCKS because you have an intensive attachment, then suddenly it disappears, and you feel so alone! I think many of the comments above are very insightful, and I also think you will reconnect, but in the meantime, I’m sending you hugs and encouragement.


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