Saturday, June 27, 2015


I’m thinking of two teenage boys, 16 and 18, who stayed in counseling for two and four years respectively, and whom I may not have helped at all.  It is exquisitely unpleasant to know this and to say it.  It feels almost automatic to add, “No, I’m sure I helped them in some ways.”  Possibly one of them would have dropped out of high school; possibly the other would have killed his father.  Sheer speculation.  The reality is that I can look back these four years and see two personalities that should have changed with weekly counseling but remained firm like a tight rubber mallet, spongy enough to bounce off all sorts of interventions without effort, genial, unperturbed.

For me, it’s easier to explain how therapy with a boy who is past his formative years is almost bound to fail, than to explain how it could possibly work.  Sour grapes?  Sour, contemptuous feisty grapes.  You either work out the pain, the core twisted caved-in-edness of his heart, do parent reeducation and emotional reconciliation between them; or you try to turn his mind to positive things: therapist’s mentoring and modeling, humor, the future, inspirational truths, surface détente with a parent.  I interlard more significant process with the positive approaches, and they sometimes work.  A teen girl, for example, who always wrenched in rageful anguish over her personality disordered mother has softened by some of my logic – “You are burning the mother bridge and the father bridge” – enabling her later to be inspired by the sight of friends’ harmonious families and to join her mom in some nice moments.*

But many children – maybe mostly boys – cannot dare have a soft spot.  Hurt early by a brutal immature father, by an abandoning immature father, falling helpless on the limp safety net of a passive mother, they grow new personalities and shells inner and outer.  You should have seen one boy describe, in a completely unprovocative and innocent voice, a two-hour fight with his father, his experience of “the anger that’s beyond mere violent,” and his fortunate avoidance of murder.  When these boys come in to counseling, they are like the Time Traveler sitting in his chair and seeing from a distance but never interacting in the adult’s, the counselor’s moment.

In these cases, I find myself of two minds: During therapy I ply my efforts, try to join a beautiful if painful song of closeness.  End of therapy, I wonder if I should have let him go years earlier.  That’s a dichotomy I have no solution to.

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*  I won't say how, but the young lady's release and healing reminds me of the ending of J.D. Salinger's lovely story, "For Esmé – With Love and Squalor."

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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.