Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fantasy impromptu

When business is poor, clients’ scheduling is anemic, I will become very angry, bleak, nihilistic, and immature.  Such an instant descent from my natural serenity, some idiots would call “bipolar.”  (See?)  I burn inside at the manager who directs the flow of Intakes, assuming a conspiracy to ditch me, before which I am completely impotent because she is so subtle about it.  I seethe at clients with the cowardice and mendacious laziness to cancel their appointments.  And most of all, I roil with fury at the other counselors whose doors are shut one hour after the other: Their clients keep trouping in like a carnival parade of middle-aged meds-benumbed sheep, of teenage girly gossip and angst.  These counselors, in my mind, are shallow Dear Abby blinky-eyed fluffs who, in graduate school, misread the definition of “psychotherapy” and thought it meant having casual lite conversations about mundane or brand-name problems, and suggesting different, homey ways of looking at things.  In other words, giving their clients sweets ‘n’ empathy.  Of course they keep coming back!

The other side of this bathetic coin is my flimsy, histrionic hurt-pussycat righteousness: My work is so deep, recondite and powerful, it sends most “real men” under the covers to hide, most women back to their girlfriends and Regency romance novels.  They can’t handle the Journey to the Center of the Soul.  And the fine ones who stay for therapy – the process, like lightning, so brilliantly and comprehensively scours their psychic insides that they are finished, elevated, in a matter of weeks.  Gone, leaving unfairly deceptive gaps in my schedule.

The third side is the better world, where I am doing well, respect my competence and nod to my flaws, and grant the unique value of other clinicians’ work which I cannot match.

Some of my clients stay for years, even three or four years, a fair number for one-plus years, many exceed a few months or half a year, some last two weeks.  I scare the occasional one away at intake, because I talk about “feeling is healing” and pain.  What do people want? could be the question that undergirds, calms this tumult of unpredictability.
What do they want?  Some want to change.  Others – as nonsensical or paradoxical as this sounds – want to be exactly who they are but different.  They want to feel different, magically and forever.  And I know that the more palatable conversation of some of my fellow therapists, who do not seriously challenge a person’s childhood, or parents, or personality, can keep these magic-hoping clients coming back, month after month.  I know this because I also see these people who have settled comfortably into highlights of the day talk, month after month.  I don’t like it – I am not giving my best – but I sometimes tell myself they are deriving value from it.

With people wanting these different things – what do I want?  If my original calling was to help deep, can I enjoy the client who runs home at the sight of himself in the mirror?  The motivations of therapists is a subject in itself.  In Claudia Black’s book, It Will Never Happen To Me! (adult children of alcoholics), she quotes “a very special friend”: “Those of us in the helping professions did not gravitate here accidentally.  There must have been something wrong with us to be so preoccupied day-in and day-out with the pain of others” (p. 57, earlier 1981 edition).  And Alice Miller, in The Drama of the Gifted Child, says –

“I think that our childhood fate can indeed enable us to practice psychotherapy, but only if we have been given the chance, through our own therapy, to live with the reality of our past and to give up the most flagrant of our illusions.  This means tolerating the knowledge that, to avoid losing the ‘love’ of our parents, we were compelled to gratify their unconscious needs at the cost of our own emotional development” (p. 20). 
What do we all want, what do we all need?  The world spins in a circle and rides a circle, the universe expands into itself, but people feel the command of a straight line of progress, an arc of a story, a search or journey of meaning.  It’s all true but false, and psychotherapists are there to help people dance the best dance, for them.

Remember the “existential givens” described by Yalom:

“I have found that four givens are particularly relevant to psychotherapy: the inevitability of death for each of us and for those we love; the freedom to make our lives as we will; our ultimate aloneness; and, finally, the absence of any obvious meaning or sense to life” (p. xiii).*
Yalom believes these “grim” givens “contain the seeds of wisdom and redemption.”  He is Matthew Arnold:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.**

Better, I think, to be less ignorant, and to dance by night.

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* Irvin Yalom, Love’s Executioner
** Matthew Arnold, last verse of Dover Beach

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.