(This is part of a series in which I try to describe our therapeutic work as best as I can in only 1,500 words, this is the second version, it grew out of my therapist’s proposition that I would send her 2 pages -maximum- with what I’m dealing with a couple days in advance of each session, this is supposed to train me to filter what really matters to me. I think it’s a good way to show people how therapy really works)
There’s this strong Freudian imprint on psychotherapy that at some point the therapist or the client will come up with one short statement that will unlock everything, that will magically and instantaneously alter that person’s life for the better and therapist and client will smoke a sigar in celebration… It works well in fictional accounts of psychotherapy, but it doesn’t exist. So when I sit down in the client’s chair in Laura’s therapy practice, every Thursday morning at about 6h30, 6h35 at the latest, I’m not diving for this mythical pearl of insight that will forever bless my life with good fortune, dilligence, happiness and all other juicy feelings on the emotional chart. We sit down. She usually makes herself tea or coffee. Her phone is on the table between us, the only thing that ever bothers me here, apart from the clock that’s been hidden behind me, which makes me feel like Time is a killer hiding in the dark, that will at some point pop up, perhaps right when I was getting into the mood to do some real work, and murder today’s session.
What was my orginal reason for being here, back in February 2017? When my frustration pot boils over I want to die. And my frustration pot is boiling over because I’m not where I feel I should be in life. My blueprint doesn’t match my reality. I don’t make enough money, I don’t exercise the way I should, I don’t have the number of readers I think I could have, I don’t have the vibrant social life that I used to have, I don’t dress the way I’d like to, I don’t allow myself to get real attention, I don’t have enough sexual partners, I don’t follow my true calling (psychotherapy combined with writing), when I write I don’t work hard enough to construct a consistent plot-driven story, I keep most people at a distance for fear they will unmask me as basically a nobody or an asshole and so on and on, and I postpone having children, because I’m afraid I will pass on my suicide genes. And yes, I do manage to get out of bed in the morning. Surprisingly well actually. We’ve discovered there’s a blazing hot core of otherwise dormant energy somewhere inside me. The wonders of somatic experiencing.
The first 15 or more sessions I had no problem looking at Laura. She has fascinating looks, I must say. A face I don’t see often around here, on Slavic territority. She strikes me as elegantly French, without any too obvious decadent or ‘laissez faire, laissez passer’ spirit. Oh, there’s a talent for decadence hiding in her, don’t worry. But she’s very balanced, has learned to surf her emotions, as you would expect from any therapist. I have the feeling she’s in a good mood outside of therapy as well. I mean these days. She can’t be the therapist she is today if she’s never been badly wounded. It’s the broken people that got transformed through their brokenness that excel at this job. Crash in the dirt first, then explore the heavens like Icarus, crash again perhaps, repeat the process, until you’re totally comfortable with maintaining a healthy height. Most people fly too low or too high or never even get off the ground. So, my aviation lessons continue. This is your captain speaking. The captain wants to know to what degree your being attracted to the captain disrupts your flying skills in the cockpit. Are we going to crashland?
‘We’re already past that’, I say.
‘Where are we now then?’, she asks.
‘I don’t know’, say people who don’t want to look for the answer that’s brewing inside them.
I explain I’m in ‘dead mode’. Like my father was. Who died spiritually around his 35th birthday, about the age I am now. And lived on, clinically, for 20 years more until he opted to terminate the biological thing that kept him here. By being in ‘dead mode’ I embrace his fate, his example. Or the negative part of his example, because of course, there was ambition in him as well, it just never defeated the fear. The great big fear. Of what I don’t know. The great big fear is in me as well. The great big fear of sending in an article to The Guardian and having it rejected or go unanswered. As if with that rejection comes a posse of KKK-like brutes that will tie me behind a horse, drag me past a couple of blocks and then lynch me and set me on fire. As an example of hubris, of arrogance of trying to dip my hand too deep in the cookie jar.
It’s her task, her calling, to get me past that big fear. Funny, my therapist in Belgium suggested that I should listen to that fear and not go against it. Old guy. Had seen enough of the petty ambitions of mankind. I didn’t like that, so a noisy, restless part of me wants me to fucking send in that article. Damn those torpedoes, full steam ahead. That sort of bravado. But then most days I never work up the courage to do anything truly constructive at all. I always play it safe. Safe and unsatisfying. They shouldn’t call your comfort zone your comfort zone. Your comfort zone is your death trap. Like raiding the buffet in a sinking cruiseship. How is she going to break through that fear?
Now that we’ve got my attraction to her out of the way, as the decoy it is in therapy, we can focus on that. What I don’t like is that one easily assumes that I only feel attracted because she is my therapist and that it’s because she listens and pays attention. What a bunch of bullshit. If I were to spot her leafing through a book in Artforum, Martinus or Panta Rhei, the local bookshop chains, entirely oblivious to the fact that she’s a therapist I would also go: what’s just hit me? That one gives off a different vibe. Your vibe attracts your tribe. On a very, very good day, when I morph into one of my energetic, outgoing versions, after some lecture in the back of one of those more intellectual bookshops -Artforum-, I would approach her. Nevermind, getting the hots for your therapist by itself never solves anything. It probably happens to all of her heterosexual male clients and gay female clients. It doesn’t bother me too much. Gets my energy up to intense heights that are a bit challenge to experience, but the benefit is that it makes me pour that energy out in a creative flow. And it builds awareness that this energy can erupt, that it’s there. Could make our work together more alive, more creative even. The only thing where it could block us, is that because of it I don’t allow her to take care of me. Weird isn’t it? When I’m attracted to someone I have to take care of them first. Build up credit, before I’ll ever let them take care of me. It also freezes up my body. Quite a challenge for a therapist who embraces somatic experiencing. Oh, and it makes me even more careful about not doing anything that could impress her (an odd effect, you would expect the exact opposite…).
My relationships never flow on equal terms. Something my Belgian therapist also pointed out, three years ago. Little has changed. More awareness about the same old sugar-spiked engine. She says something about not going to work with me in the same fashion as with other clients, and that she would like to strive to put the way we relate to each other on an equal footing. I’m not sure what that would look like. If we are on an equal footing I want to… I want to what? Listen more. She should talk more then. She enjoys working with me, for the same reason that I enjoy working with her. We both apply ourselves and focus and invest energy. If she could hand me a sledgehammer to smash my fear when it comes to applying for a grant, sending in a resume, handing in a manuscript, entering some writing contest, contacting the right people, she would do so immediately. That sledgehammer doesn’t exist and she’s not a blacksmith. How do you eradicate your fear of rejection and/or your fear to show what you can do? Perhaps through the simplicity of having a normal conversation with an intelligent person, who is genuinely interested. If I can formulate my thoughts in an engaging way, if I can react meaningfully to her thoughts, I suppose I can have constructive relatonships with other intelligent people as well. How a ‘horizontal’ therapeutic relationship is different from friendship, I’m not sure. Perhaps just in the ever growing insights concerning psychological that are actively brought to the table. Perhaps in the meta dimension of the contact that is explored. Not what is said, but why we are saying it, what is going on between us, or in one’s body. How often does a friend ask to describe where exactly in your body you feel your exasperating forms of procrastination? Perhaps in the more certain confidentiality. Or -hopefully- the certainty that what’s being said is true and intended to foster growth?