Yesterday, my therapist and I had our scheduled afternoon phone check-in.
We’d agreed beforehand that I would call her, so I did. She picked up and said, “Hello?” and I said, “Hi, it’s Andi. Whoa, this is weird.”
“I’ve just…I’ve never called a therapist and had them actually pick up the phone before. Usually I just leave a voicemail or speak with an answering service, so it’s a little strange that you just picked up and said hello.”
She validated my weird feelings and that prompted a discussion about talking on the phone outside of sessions. I told her it felt strange to just call to simply talk, not because there was some pressing crisis or emergency. I didn’t need her to intervene, I just needed to connect with her.
She told me that I’m allowed to just check in when things feel important or when I feel like I need to connect with her. She also reminded me that I’m allowed to be seen outside of crisis and I don’t need to require emergent care in order for her to want to help me.
I brought up the end of Friday’s session where she suggested that the only thing either of us could really do is hold onto the difficult emotions. I said that I appreciate the way she encourages me to do that. I said,
“I mean, maybe it’s obvious to you, but not to me. So I wish anyone at ANY point in my life previously had mentioned this to me.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s just that I feel like everyone always tried to eliminate or dull my emotions. I was expected to ‘regulate’ myself, whether that was through medication or distraction or whatever the latest behavioral skill was. The expectation was that I needed to change or get rid of my emotions. So the idea that I can just have them and learn to sit with how painful they can be while also moving forward with my life is a pretty big deal.”
She talked a bit about how important it is to acknowledge our emotions and just honor how difficult things can be, without constantly trying to push them away.
I said, “Yes! If nothing else, it’s more energy efficient!”
I also shared with her that I was very grateful for her statement at the end of session that there was nothing she could do to help me in that moment of distress, but she was available for me to check in if it was too hard to hold all of that by myself for the weekend. I explained that I’d actually made the decision to call her before I even walked out of the office because it was the only thing that would get me out of the office. I needed to know that I didn’t have to hold that pain by myself before I could leave and thus I was so thankful that she offered me the chance to share that burden with her.
I explained that what meant the most to me in that moment was the way she bridged a connection between us despite the struggle to connect within the session itself. I said that I really felt like she stepped up and made a point to pull us together in a moment where it was absolutely crucial that she do so. And it showed me that we can have difficult moments without ruining or damaging the strength of our relationship.
She said, “That’s terrific!”
Then I talked more about this idea that there’s something I need, but I’m still struggling to understand what, exactly, that need is. I said,
“There’s a sense of foreboding and something about a timeline. So I think I’m afraid that there’s a limit on our time and limits on our space and I won’t know when I’m approaching that limit; I won’t be able to regulate how close I get to that line. So then one day I’ll just learn that I’ve crossed it and you’ll leave me. So I think the reason I was asking about notes and plans and goals was to try and ascertain where that limit is, so I can be prepared and stay ahead of it.”
She shared that she doesn’t use a timeline in therapy and that there’s no real limit on how much help I need or will get. She said the insurance companies would LOVE to set a limit; to say “Okay, Complex PTSD can be healed in 15 one-hour sessions. That’s all you get. Go!” but that real life is not like that and healing is different for everyone.
“Right. But what if you grow resentful of me. You said you feel good about the amount of contact we’ve had this week, but what if that changes? What if you start to get tired of having to call me back and you start resenting that you’re helping me free of charge?”
She said that she doesn’t imagine growing resentful and then reflected that when I talk about former therapists in a similar manner (around this idea of running out of time or space, or growing resentful) I often speak of those moments in conjunction with times in those relationships when boundaries were relaxed/unclear and it caused me to feel unsafe. She asked me if anything about our relationship could be causing me to feel that way now, especially as it relates to our recent increase in out of session contact.
“No, I don’t think so. At least not for me. I think the boundaries are solid. And I also think that if you’re going to push me like that and ask me to go into these awful, dark emotional places, you’d sure as hell better be prepared to support me. But I’m not sure the entire system shares that sentiment. I think there’s a lot of fear and concern happening under the surface.”
After about 25 minutes, I told her I was going to go, but that I wanted to talk about money. I asked her how the finances would work around phone check-ins. I told her that I didn’t want to be responsible for knowing her expectations for payment around this extra contact.
We threw around some ideas, but the first thing she did was remind me that she is comfortable with the amount of time we’d spent on the phone this past week (which totaled 93 minutes).
I was surprised to hear her say that.
She said we could just go by time and, at the end of the week (during weeks when we have phone contact), we could figure out how much time was spent on the phone and decide on payment accordingly.
I said, “I think that’s a solid idea, but I worry about how much pressure that will put on me. I imagine I’ll call but then be thinking, ‘Okay, get this done in 5 minutes or you’ll end up having to pay even more money!'”
She immediately acknowledged that and said, “Okay, no…that is definitely not what we want to happen. Also, I’m really not comfortable retroactively charging you for time when you need to check in. Nor am I comfortable charging you piece-meal for phone contact.”
We talked about trying to set parameters around phone contact by having her ask me at the beginning of a call if I think I need a check-in or a full session. She said if she wasn’t available at that moment for a full hour, she would schedule a time to do that. I told her that seemed like a good idea and asked if I could change my mind,
“Like…if I call and ask you to call me back, but then we’re talking for ten minutes and it starts to feel like I need more time…can I change my mind and ask for a full session? Because I might not know I need a full session until I start talking. But if I didn’t plan one, then I’ll start to stress out about it and then it will create pressure to know beforehand if I want more or less time.”
“Yes. Absolutely. And if I can’t do the hour right then, we’ll find a time later.”
It was a really nice check in. Very low-key. Very low pressure. It was essentially just two people talking (in a therapeutic way, of course) for a half hour. It was really lovely to be able to chat with her and connect with her.
We were able to get to some important, but perhaps more subtle, issues that we’ve been struggling with. And having the chance to talk to her on the phone both Friday night and Sunday afternoon, wedged between a Thursday, Friday, and Monday session gave me a TON of support at a time when I needed it the most.