When I went into session today, I knew I wanted to discuss the threatening feelings around the relationship I have with my therapist, but I also knew it would be challenging to feel that extraordinarily vulnerable.
As with most difficult topics, I thought using the Zooey situation as a medium to communicate about our relationship would suffice for now. So I chose to share an email I’d written to Zooey last July; an email that I’d describe as one of the most shameful things I’ve ever written.
As a preface, Zooey and I had been having a conversation in session about boundaries and the nature of our relationship. I told her I was concerned that the relationship had become “unhealthy” and that I was struggling with the inconsistencies in regards to out-of-session contact. I wasn’t sure what I felt or thought, but I wanted to talk with her about it.
She responded by saying. “I don’t normally text or email with clients. It’s not that you’re special, I just think that works well for you.”
Seems innocuous enough, right? But it devastated me.
Here is that email, written and sent within 40 minutes after session had ended. In fact, I was so upset that I called my wife right afterwards, then hung up and drafted this email from my iPhone while sitting on a stoop at a realty office on Broadway. That is how strong my reaction was.
I was terrified out of my mind to share this, but I did. And now I’ll share it here:
The first thing I did when I left your office today was pull out my journal and write this quote down:
“Well I don’t normally text and e-mail with people. It’s not that you’re special or I like you better, but…”
Thanks, Zooey. Thank you so very much for the reminder that I am in fact not special. The decades of various forms of neglect, abuse, and torture we’ve endured had not made that quite apparent enough.
And here’s the thing: I know that as a therapist, you’re not supposed to play favorites or become over-invested in us or our treatment. I know that it’s important to have boundaries in order to keep the relationship therapeutic. So if you did feel that perhaps I am a special client that you particularly enjoy working with, it would be inappropriate for you to share that with me. Fine.
But to go out of your way to preface a statement by emphasizing that you do NOT think I am special, nor do you like me better was just…..I mean, what the actual fuck? That was so hurtful.
The fascinating part of all of this is that you made that statement on the final day of a month where we had fourteen sessions. We’d been in contact nearly every day (or at least someone had). You sought out a new supervisor to help with my case. You’ve called us at night and texted back when we were upset. You’ve been coordinating with Wife to help us. You stayed late at the hospital and were late to your personal plans to make sure we were safe. You got this workbook to help move forward with therapy with various alters. You’ve gone out of your way to make sure we get attentive and effective treatment. That feels special to me.
As clients, I think we all want to feel and believe we’re special….that our therapist loves and cares about us and secretly prefers us to other more boring or difficult clients. That’s our fantasy to do what we will with. For me, I struggle so much with accepting even basic compassion and care from you (or anyone, really). It has been a challenge to not counter every good interaction we have with an internal follow-up to remind myself that I’m just another client and you’re just doing your job and that you don’t actually care. Sometimes I tell myself that you really do care and maybe even do feel a little more invested in my treatment because I’m intelligent and interesting and generally cooperative and articulate. Whether that’s true or not is irrelevant – it helps me feel more worthy of treatment and it makes it a little more okay that sometimes we need a lot of extra treatment.
But now you’ve taken that from me. And that really fucking sucks.
Especially because earlier today I tried, but couldn’t find any words, to express how much I love you. Perhaps I could have just said the words themselves, but that felt both too raw and potentially inappropriate.
But I do love you. I love you so much it overwhelms me. The time in between talking or seeing you can feel excruciating. It’s hard to remember if you’re even real when I’m not directly communicating with you. Weekends are especially challenging because the time between Thursday and Monday feels eternal and I’m always convinced that by Monday afternoon, you’ll have forgotten about us or stopped caring altogether. If we (well, some of us) could text you every single day just to reassure ourselves that you’re alive and that you remember us, we would.
And THAT is what I meant today by “unhealthy.” I feel as though I shouldn’t feel as attached and invested in you as I do. It feels like I’m doing something wrong…like there is something perverse or damaging about the bond we share. I haven’t exactly had a model for what it means to have a healthy relationship with someone in a position of authority and responsibility. Most of my relationships have ended up perverted and damaged.
I know this isn’t the case. You didn’t neglect or abuse me. But you did hurt me. Us. I can’t believe you would say such a thing. I just can’t figure it out or make sense out of it. I mean, honestly: why?? What was the point?! People don’t just randomly say shit like that!
I can’t read your mind, so obviously I’d eventually like to hear your reasoning behind whatever the hell that even was. But I don’t want to come in next week. I think I just need a break. This week has been so traumatic and now you’ve hurt me in a way that feels unbearable. I know that’s dramatic and you’re probably going to pin this all on my own transference, but whatever. You play a part in this relationship, too. No matter what you say, I know it’s not all just about me and my needs and what I get out of it. Relationships don’t work like that, even therapeutic ones.
So I think after I get back from vacation might be a good time to resume sessions. I don’t know. I need to think about this a lot more. Maybe it’s time for us to just move on altogether.
Either way, one of us will let you know.
Until then, we’ll be replaying your quote over and over on a loop in our head….Thanks so much for that.
Her response, 90 minutes later:
I am sorry for my poor choice of words, and I am sorry that I hurt you. I hope to see you on Monday so we can talk about this more.