I went into session yesterday with the idea that I would simply have a conversation with my therapist. I didn’t prepare anything ahead of time, but I was okay with that. I felt calm. I essentially took the pressure off of myself to be or do anything specific and allowed the dialogue to unfold as naturally as possible.
We ended up talking about a lot of really important things, including our relationship. I relayed a story about a friend who is facing a very difficult situation involving her therapist that primarily stems from poorly managed boundaries. I told my therapist that listening to my friend talk about this incident gave me a lot of perspective on our therapeutic boundaries and the way my thoughts have shifted a lot on this topic in the last year.
The long and short of it is that I can really see the value of having solid boundaries. This friend of mine is in a place where she now knows something about her therapist that neither of them wanted her to know. She found out about it because her therapist said she had a “personal emergency” and would be out of work for a while. The only reason my friend was able to find out what that personal emergency was is because of the way that relationship was managed; she knew enough about her therapist’s life to do a simple google search that led her to both a news story and video clip that she otherwise would have never discovered.
And she really wishes she hadn’t.
Now her therapist is upset with her and my friend is in shame spiral, berating herself for her (natural) curiosity. But I don’t blame her. I would have done the same thing at almost any point in time prior to this last ten months or so. She specifically asked me if I would have googled my therapist the way she did and I said yes. Then I said no. I clarified:
“Well I would have definitely done that with my last therapist, and probably a couple before her. But I would not do that with my current therapist. Not because I wouldn’t be curious, but because she wouldn’t put me in that position. I think in this type of situation, my therapist wouldn’t share enough information for me to know there was something worth searching for. And if she did share that she was facing a personal emergency and would thus be out of the office, I don’t know enough about her to know where to even begin trying to find that information. I wouldn’t be able to access her in that way.”
I relayed my response to my therapist and told her that I appreciate how well she maintains that boundary. I always thought that getting little nuggets of personal information from therapists meant I was special or more worthy. I thought it would make us closer and the relationship stronger. I thought I would feel better if I had more access to these people.
I didn’t. And it always made our relationships weaker. It made the work less effective.
That’s not to say my therapist isn’t open; she is. But she is transparent about her emotions and her experience of me and our relationship. She is forthcoming where it matters most, which is in relation to me. And that is so important because it prevents me from getting distracted by the personal details.
In almost every relationship I have, I’m constantly integrating what I know about people to better meet their needs. I’m considering all the various knowledge I have in order to respond to them in a way I think they would most enjoy. I want to make them happy and I want them to like me.
Not knowing anything about my therapist beyond how she relates to me (and where she went to college) has the very powerful effect of keeping our relationship, and our work, focused on me. Of course I still try to meet her needs and get her to like me, but the context of those efforts is always within the space exclusively occupied by our therapeutic relationship.
We had a really lovely conversation about all of this stuff and I could tell she was proud of the way I’ve been able to gradually pull away from the idea that boundaries are just some punitive thing that I’m forced to endure for arbitrary reasons. She uses boundaries as a tool to protect and propel the work and I know she wants so much for me to be able to experience them as such, rather than as punishment.
It was nice to feel that; to see that the lines she draws around us are actually to keep us closer, not further apart.