I opened yesterday’s session by commenting on how much contact my therapist and I have had over the past week:
“Do you know that we talked for four and a half hours last week?”
“Oh, really? Is that…you mean, with the three sessions and the phone calls?”
“You did the math?”
“How do you feel about that? About last week and how much we talked?”
I told her that I was surprised I’d had that much to talk about; that I could fill that much time. I shared that I thought it was really helpful and she agreed. She said that I’d had a difficult week and thus I needed the added support.
I said, “Right. I mean, you know, I think it was appropriate…and necessary.”
“Yeah. I needed it. I was struggling so I needed more from you. And that’s what all relationships are, right? All interactions, really. We all just need something from each other.”
“Sure. But…’necessary’…? Words are important. So I’m just wondering about that word and about why you added it?”
“Well, it was deliberate, if that’s what you mean. I wanted to make sure I put it in there.”
“Is it a qualifier? Do you feel that you have to need something in order for us to be able to talk?”
“I don’t know. Probably.”
“Well I don’t think you do. Not in that way. I understand your overall point about relationships and interactions, but I think there’s an undertone here that you have to ‘earn’ or ‘deserve’ our interactions?”
“Yes. I do feel that way. But I’m not actually sure that’s what I meant when I added ‘necessary’. I think I was just trying to draw a boundary.”
“What kind of boundary?”
“Around us. I just want it to be clear. I want this to be clear.”
“What do you think needs to be clarified? And to who?”
“To me, to you, to each other. I just want to be clear about this whole relationship and what it really is; what it means when we talk to each other.”
“Does something feel unclear or ‘off’ to you?”
“No. But I want to keep everything really contained within the space of the work. So I guess I added ‘necessary’ as a way to clarify that there was a reason we were talking to each other so often. We weren’t friends just chatting on the phone – we were talking within a therapeutic space because I needed something and you provided it. But the tone of the conversation was more casual and relaxed than what I’m used to having with therapists…”
“And maybe that’s bringing up some feelings?”
“Yes. So I just think that when we discuss us and this relationship, we need to always circle around to remind each other that this exists for therapy. I think that’s the best way to keep this space safe and contained. We need to always stay focused on the nature of why we know each other and why we talk to each other and why we care about each other.”
“Okay, I see what you’re saying now. And, yeah, I think it would be very helpful to keep those boundaries really clear for you because I’m not sure that’s always been clear for you, historically. And I can see how it would feel unsafe or confusing for you to not know where that line is.”
This was a really simple and quick conversation, but it was so important. This dialogue was not punitive and I don’t think I brought this up to emotionally punish myself by reminding myself that she’s “just” my therapist.
I do know that she is “just” my therapist, but that’s what I love the most about our relationship. It feels safe and caring and protective. It feels special that I get to have this person who puts so much time and energy into figuring out how to help me heal from tremendous pain and trauma. She has a skill-set that can help me get through this mess and I hire her to use those skills to help me.
I don’t need a new friend or partner or another enmeshed, co-dependent, confusing relationship. I don’t need someone to talk me off the ledge or chat casually with me on the phone. I don’t need someone who’s unclear on their role in my life or vice versa. And I certainly don’t need someone who’s lacking in awareness about how our relationship impacts them.
What I need, and what I pay for, is a really good therapist.