My purpose is to present original, creative and helpful psychotherapeutic ideas. While "pessimistic" may seem a provocative or self-sabotaging quality, it is actually a facet of optimism. Just as a physician would harm a patient by ignoring injury, and helps the best by facing the worst, so must a therapist know that we grow from roots bent by psychic injuries in our past. Optimism must be based in this reality, not on a cloud of wishful thinking.
Thursday, March 31, 2016
Problem corner #1: The talker
It occurred to
me recently that I don’t know what to do about clients who talk constantly. I’m
sure that success with them has been superficial, at best. These are clients
whose words are their thoughts, all animated at the topmost level of their
living. Getting them to stop all and
really feel something – quietly, deeply – feels as undoing as discovering that the
planet Melancholia is going to crash into the Earth,* as wrecking as Data's informing his “mother”that she is an android.**These clients are
living in one world that requires motile eyes and words like skipping stones on
a raging river; that requires ideas instead of feeling facts. They
are a shark: To stop moving is to die, and to know it.
have briefly slowed them down, or thrown a little wrench in the works: a reveal
or a poignant question. The result is never pretty. They instantly get an
oblique glimpse or “feeling glimpse” – as if they’re now standing, exposed,
atop a narrowing cone showing the obscurest depth of their universe – of their
true self. This is not where they
wanted to be: an alien dreamlike world that they never knew they carried, yet may
have sensed in the dimmest ineffable way, or in a dream. That’s the paradox
that Janov described: Our cerebral, showy life feels real, and when we make contact
with our truer child self, it feels unreal, maybe psychotic.
One would think
they'd come to therapy to experience something, rather than just to
tell stories and maybe cry through their words: to work, to descend, to be given
disturbing information. But they just
talk. They can only hear what I say part way, never all the way. The fact is for
a long time they have unintentionally redefined everything in their world to be
swallowable; as Ayn Rand said, “like food shot through the rectum, requiring no
digestion.”*** Objects will be toxic and disturbing, life-changing, but the mind is enteric-coated. Sometimes they smile, frustrated by their own helpless flow of thoughts; some believe they feel good about theiropaque soliloquies.
What can be done about them?
(This would be
a new client whom I’ve allowed to speechify for two or three sessions. Longer-term
clients I would approach differently.)
“I can see you
have many ideas about yourself and the way your life is going. Your mind runs
fast. But I need to ask you to see that your thoughts and words are like the
waves on the surface of the ocean, and your troubling feelings and predicaments,
that bring you here, are like the still water beneath them. If anything, the
depth affects the waves – deep shifts can even bring a tsunami – more than the
waves affect the deep. We all carry an ocean; all of it has our name. It can
seem light, or we don’t notice it, because we’re strong, but also because we almost
never look beneath the surface.
“I can see that
you are used to being a mind-racing, thinking person, a person of waves and
whitecaps. It feels lively, masterful to see things, to think and to make
decisions. It may feel wrong to be quiet, to sense this heavy silent ocean
underneath. But actually there’s a great deal of life in there. And not only
that, it’s the life that is your strongest, your most interesting, and it has
the answers you want.”
the client would possibly pause (as you might pause a wave), part-way hear me.
But then, if I didn’t want to see another client who generated empty air
through a course of therapy, I would insist on quiet. She is not incapable of it.
It might feel like the planet Melancholia rushing toward her, or rather,
emerging from her sea.
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** Star Trek, The Next Generation, episode "Inheritance."