Thursday, March 31, 2016

Problem corner #1: The talker

The problem:

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.

Sometimes I 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 their opaque soliloquies.

What can be done about them?

Next time:

(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.”

Hearing this, 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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* Melancholia, the movie.

** Star Trek, The Next Generation, episode "Inheritance."

*** Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, pdf facsimile at -- (Pages not numbered; search “rectum.”)

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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.