I ended up taking the double session today. We didn’t finalize that decision until about five minutes into session. She asked if I wanted to stay the two hours and I told her that yes, I wanted to, but I also didn’t. She said, “So on the one hand, you want to stay for a double session, but on the other hand…? What’s going on there?”
“On the other hand, I don’t want to push my luck.”
“Ah. I see. Well I don’t want you to be uncomfortable with staying longer. And I can see why you’re feeling torn, which we can talk about some more.”
“Why don’t we just say two hours. I can just get up and walk out if I don’t want to stay.”
She said I was right. I apologized for saying that the way I did and she said that it was okay. She then suggested that perhaps another way of phrasing it would be to say that if I decide I don’t want to stay for the full two hours, I have the option to change my mind about it and have the shorter session instead. Fair point.
We struggled to get started. I told her I’d printed three of my recent blog posts because I felt it might give her a better sense of the emotional space I’ve been in for the past couple of days. She thought that was a good idea, so I read the post I wrote Thursday night after calling her and not hearing back.
We started talking about what may have come up on Thursday night for me to call her in the first place. She wondered if that was related to the part (Rachel) that came to session on Friday. I said probably because she gets very triggered when I talk about one very specific incident (that I brought up during Thursday’s session).
My therapist asked me why that triggers Rachel and I started to tell her. As I was speaking, I told her I was going to dance around it because I didn’t want to re-create the trigger. But she was asking good questions and I was trying to answer them thoughtfully. At some point, however, she obviously worried about what might happen if we kept down that road because she interrupted me.
She said that she wanted to hear what I was going to say, but that she also wanted us to talk about the issues around her availability. I felt a little confused by how abruptly she changed gears in the middle of a conversation and I am guessing she sensed that because she said,
“I’m torn. I very much want to hear what you’re going to say about this. But you yourself said that you wanted to dance around this topic. So I am wondering if we shouldn’t talk about the stuff in the blog post for a while and then see if it makes sense to keep talking about this.”
Whatever. I was so predictable in this moment. As I’ve mentioned before, I hate being interrupted, especially when I’m talking about traumatic stuff. I understand that she was attempting to keep me safe, but I still felt completely rejected. I had a hard time re-starting the conversation because I was just on fire with shame.
I read her the second post from Friday, the one I wrote right before I was supposed to go to session. This led to a conversation around out-of-session contact and boundaries which sent me on a nasty downward spiral. She told me that she thought we should talk more about exactly how we’re using phone contact and that perhaps we need to tighten it up a bit.
I nearly lost my shit. I felt like I was flashing back to last year and I was in Zooey’s office all over again. But I wasn’t and I kept reminding myself I wasn’t. But then I finally felt so preoccupied by that feeling that I just told my therapist that I felt like I was in Zooey’s office.
“Right. And that makes sense because I think this very much relates to Zooey. I don’t want our relationship to become too casual. I wonder if I haven’t been too open with the space outside of session and that is causing you to worry; to feel unsure about what is okay.”
I was admittedly confused and beginning to panic. I was so worried that she was going to pull phone contact away from me and I didn’t want to make it any worse so I was struggling to speak at all. I didn’t think I’d conveyed that I was upset about her not calling me back, but I was started to question that. I said,
“I thought it was clear from my blog post that yes, it was upsetting and unnerving to not hear from you because I’m used to you calling me back right away, but I thought I handled those emotions pretty well actually.”
She said that she was under the impression I hadn’t responded so well to her not being able to call me back or open up more time for session on Friday. She thought it generated some tension in our relationship that we never got to address because I was not present during Friday’s session. I said,
“I agree with you. I think there’s a lot happening in this space right now because we didn’t get to see each other on Friday to talk about what had happened, but I actually think it’s pretty clear that I’m not upset that you didn’t call me back. When I look at the situation, I see that I was upset after session on Thursday so I called you later that evening. You couldn’t call me back. And then the next day I reached out and asked for more of what I needed by checking if we could possibly have a longer session. So I made myself even more vulnerable and displayed even more trust. I didn’t pull away, I actually leaned in.”
She thought about it for a second and then said, “You’re right. I totally agree. So I think I might be talking less about you and more about myself right now.”
We both laughed.
Then she pivoted back to the conversation about phone contact. She said that she thinks out-of-session contact can be a very useful part of therapy. She further said that she thinks we have had very powerful and important conversations during such phone calls. As great as that is, however, she doesn’t want to reinforce a dynamic that keeps the work outside of session. She said,
“Phone contact is a nice way to supplement the work we do in session, but I don’t want it to dilute our work. If we’re doing more outside of session than we are in session, it can be damaging. So I want to protect the work by making sure that most of what we’re doing is in here, together.”
She suggested that one way to protect the space is to put some barriers around phone contact, such as having different levels of phone conversations. So we could do a short check-in (around 10 minutes), half-sessions (30 minutes) or the full hour.
I did not respond as well to this as either of us probably thought I would. I knew that she was doing all of this to keep me safe and keep our work as therapeutic as possible, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d done something wrong.
She brought up how I’d literally calculated the exact amount of time we’d spent in communication last week. She said that signaled to her that I was perhaps not feeling safe or comfortable with the amount of contact we’d had. I told her I always worry that I’m taking up too much of her time.
“I hear what you’re saying, but I think you actually took up very little of my time. I’m fine with the amount of contact we had this weekend. It wasn’t too much.”
“But how am I supposed to know when it IS too much?”
At this point she got a little sharp with me. She said that she was confused about why I was getting upset during this conversation because I was the one who’d originally brought it up last weekend during our conversation on Sunday (which is true).
I completely recoiled and the tension in the room was palpable.
We both took a breather and she asked me what I was feeling. I told her I was drowning in shame. She asked if her tone had triggered even more shame (yes). She responded by being very transparent and said that the whole point of what she was saying is that I don’t have to know when it is too much. It’s not my job, it’s hers. And that it can be hard for her when she’s trying to reassure me that it’s okay to need her and reach out to her and I consistently respond from a place of shame. She said,
“In those moments, I’m trying so hard to pull you out of that shame. And I think I get upset when you respond to that effort with even more shame.”
I appreciated her sharing that with me because these exact moments are the ones that we generally get stuck in; where I feel like she’s suggesting that I need to understand how to have appropriate boundaries without having any idea what that means and she’s really trying to tell me that SHE will hold the boundaries.
Such a damn mess.
Then I said, “I can see why you’re a little thrown off, but just to be completely clear: when I brought up the idea of setting boundaries around phone contact, that absolutely came from a place of shame as well.”
Then I shared how I felt something was “off” during our phone call yesterday. She asked me to talk more about that.
“I don’t know. I just…the whole time we were talking, I kept thinking, ‘something is off, something is off, something is off’ which, of course, I imagine is about me and about how I’m too much. I figured that you were probably trying to assess what was going on and how you could respond to it, but I also imagined that you hated me and were wishing I would stop being so needy.”
“Well I do NOT think any of those things. I don’t think you’re needy. It sounds like you felt distant from me?”
“Yes. But you also seemed distant from me. Hesitant, maybe.”
“Hmm. I’m not conscious of being hesitant. I was in a (physical) place where it was hard to make a call, so you may have sensed something around that.”
“Probably. I don’t know. But something felt different and that scared me.”
“Well I do think things are shifting right now, and that might be scary and uncomfortable for a while. But it’s all part of how therapy works. We’re going to be shifting all the time and we’ll work through that as it happens.”
It was kind of a messy, difficult session. I know that we really needed to talk about this stuff and I’m glad we did. But it was super painful to navigate around this and I can feel myself pulling away. I feel a sense that I’m treading in dangerous waters and I need to watch myself or I will lose her, too. I keep thinking about what she said regarding phone contact. I absolutely understand her motivations to protect the work, but I still feel like I’m being punished; like I crossed a line and brought us into a space that we can’t come back from.
Strangely, I also feel like she wants me to reach out to her between sessions. I kind of got the sense that she doesn’t actually want to scale back on contact as much as just be more clear about what we’re doing. So the idea of naming a 30 minute conversation a formal “session” seems to be for the sake of keeping that conversation within the bounds of actual therapy session time, rather than to limit contact.
I get it, but it still kinda hurts.