Naturally I feel nervous as I walk into my session on Wednesday. I take off my jacket and sit down, on the floor in front of the chair.
“Going straight for the floor today?” E. asks, smiling.
I nod and smile back. And to postpone just a bit longer bringing up my topic of the day, I ask her how she is, especially given that she is getting ready to go on vacation next week. I know she’s going to Mexico and ask her where (something I wouldn’t normally do). Nothing like idle conversation with your therapist at over $1/minute, even after the insurance pays its part.
“So how are you feeling?” she asks me.
“Better,” I say. “Less depressed for sure. But still agitated and anxious a lot of the time.”
We talk just a little about the anxiety, nothing new. She watches me. “What is it you want to talk about today?”
Pause. I look at her. I look away. The pause grows longer. I look at her again. Do I even want to do this? What if I make things worse?
“Let me take a guess. You have something specific you want to talk about, but it’s hard for you to get started,” she says.
“Well, that’s obvious,” I tell her. “You don’t get any extra insight points for that.”
She laughs. “Am I supposed to guess the content?”
“Of course,” I say, but she knows I don’t mean it. So she waits a while longer.
Deep breath. “I want to talk about how we work together, you and me, in therapy. The last couple of sessions I have left feeling as though we were talking past each other, like you weren’t really hearing what I was saying, or else you didn’t like what I was saying.”
I’m watching her face closely but don’t have a signal that anything is wrong, so I keep going. “Last week I talked about smashing those stupid little wooden men, as an outlet for some of the anger I want to express. And you didn’t like that idea. I couldn’t really understand why, because we’d been talking about wanting to express anger and finding ways to do that. I know we talked about beating on the bed and various things, but it felt so generic or abstract. You wanted me to move from my idea to something to strengthen intuition, and I felt as though I wasn’t supposed to express the anger at all. Which is the message I always got in the past. So I felt confused. And most of all, I felt really disconnected from you.”
Somewhere about this time, or maybe it was in the middle of saying these things, E. slides forward in her chair and breaks in, enthusiastically. “This is great! I mean, it’s not great that you felt disconnected, because I know that is painful and it’s not what I want for you. But it is really great for us to talk about this. I am so glad you brought it; it’s such an important way of advocating for yourself.
“Thanks,” I tell her, genuinely grateful–and relieved. “Because it is not easy to talk about. I was really upset about it for the couple days right after our session. I thought about calling you, but then decided against it. What would be the point? We wouldn’t be able to process anything on the phone, I knew that, so any phone contact would just be frustrating.”
I go on, “But I also want to say, the week before that, I started to talk to you about Stephen. And as I started talking, your body language and your words conveyed to me that I shouldn’t be doing this. You crossed your arms, and you said something like, what are you trying to achieve? What is the goal of this? I felt you thought I was beating a dead horse. I worried you were thinking, oh my god, not this story again, why is she hanging on to it? How many times do we have to do this? And I don’t know, maybe I’m overthinking this based on a few words, but it felt like I wasn’t supposed to go there. And if I’m not supposed to go where I feel like I need to go, then I need more guidance from you about where I am supposed to go. But I can’t just guess what you think I’m supposed to be doing. Besides, I know I told you about Stephen a long time ago, but I don’t feel done with that story yet. Maybe I should be. I don’t know really what else I need out of it, but I still need something. And it’s very upsetting to leave believing that you think I’m focusing on the wrong things. And that feeling of disapproval–it makes me want to pull away.”
She listens intently and nods her head as I talk. After a while, she starts to talk. (I may not have this all in the right order, because I didn’t take notes like I generally do during a session).
“Can I respond now?” she asks me. “I want to start with the smashing things. I should have asked you more about that. I can see how it might feel empowering maybe?”
I tell her, “Yes! I don’t know what you thought, but for me it isn’t about revenge or anything; it’s not that I really want to hurt these people in real life. But I liked the idea of having some physical thing that I could talk to, that I could imagine how I would talk to them now, or how the Wise Woman would have talked to them back then, if she had been there. Then I would like to break them to say that is the end of the power they are allowed to have over the wounded girl.”
“I don’t think I envisioned how that might go,” E says, along with some other things I already can’t remember. “I should not have suggested that your idea was a bad one. I’m sorry.”
“No sorry,” I said. “It isn’t about sorry. It’s about staying connected and feeling like you are with me…”
She wants to reassure me, “I am with you in this. I am not at all thinking that you should be done with this story. You might need a lot more time on it. Whatever you need, go at your pace, that is the right pace. I don’t mean to communicate otherwise. You are not doing it wrong, not at all. I can see though, with your past experiences, how you might scrutinize my body language and facial expressions and be alert to any words that might suggest disapproval. That would make sense. I am glad you can bring it up and talk about it, instead of just letting it bother you.”
She also tells me, “You know I have a model in my head of how the healing process works; we have talked about this before. And I learn a lot from you as you work through it in your own way. It may be that sometimes I get too theoretical in here, listening to you and thinking how that connects to the model. So asking, what are you going to get out of that, that is really a question I am probably asking myself. And it is fine, but I should be asking it out of session and in the session stay focused on the concrete meaning for you in that moment.”
I can feel I am breathing more slowly and deeper know. I do feel she is on my side. “I wonder,” I tell her. “I wonder if in a way I am just exaggerating the feeling of disconnection, or I’m being picky about this in anticipation of not seeing you very much for a while. Sort of like my really easy son all of a sudden becoming a pain in the neck just a few months before leaving for college, so that by the time he leaves, it’s easier for both of us to separate. Maybe that’s what I am doing.”
She smiles, but doesn’t laugh. “Are we really going to see each other so seldom?”
“You are on vacation next week,” I say. “Then we have two session, one Monday and the next one, and then I am going on my trip with my husband, and with your schedule, it will be another month. I’m thinking maybe when you get back from vacation we should just talk about my job and leave this harder stuff alone for a while.”
“We could,” she agrees, “but I hate to see you lose momentum on everything you’ve been working on. I had a few cancellations in early November, so maybe we can grab a couple other sessions. What do you need so we can stay connected, despite the separation? Maybe an email or something?”
I love that she is offering this, but I am also afraid. I don’t want to be dependent on her (though I am). I don’t want to ask for too much (even though she offered). I am afraid she will withdraw the offer (because in the past, support was so often temporary or conditional). In the end, we agree that she will send me a card I can keep that says she’s with me all through this process. And while she won’t process things over email, she is happy to send me an email saying that even though we are not seeing each other, our connection is still there.
She also tells me not to let up on the deep work we are doing. So we agree I will write more about Stephen and bring it to the next session. We can talk about it then, or I can leave it with her to discuss more whenever I want to. She reminds me of the strategies to keep the memories in check, so they don’t overwhelm me.
So I have homework, and so does she, and I am reminded again of how grateful I am to have found her. My heart is lighter by the time the session is over.