Thursday, May 4, 2017

Recent observations


-- Several weeks ago a client, 25 years old, asked me if I could be her “dad.” This wasn’t frivolous, regressive, Borderline or romantic. There was a real meaning to it. This week, after a few months of stasis in sessions, I asked a client – also mid-20’s – if she wanted me to be her “dad.” There was nothing erroneous or unsound about this, either. You won’t learn anything in a clinical counseling program about being a client’s father or mother. You will mostly learn antiseptic stuff that, like loaded dice, is weighted with professional propriety: a big bland umbrella, over the client’s head, that has many holes in it. This umbrella is both respectful and a cop-out. It’s respectful to the client’s adult persona, and to her true self’s requirement to breathe alone, to be a separate person. But it’s a cop-out because people need someone. If we’re the helper of last resort, and maybe the only one in a long, long time, then we can’t refuse, or not offer, to be that person.

-- I have reached a next level of distrust in the power of Primal Therapy, though this distrust will rest at the theory level. It comes from a certainty I have about a horrific and blind epiphany that occurred when I was around twelve or thirteen years old. For the first time, and the one and only time in my life, my mother had come into my room, sat on my bed, and asked me if there was anything wrong. Why this had occurred to her now, in a family where nothing was ever right and nothing was ever wrong and where nothing was ever said and all feelings were fake and everything was ruining slowly but inexorably – who could say? But that question, the only intimate words I had ever heard from her, exploded and suffocated me simultaneously. I cried, tears of the deepest unconsciousness, of everything lost in me from the beginning to then. She did not help, had no capacity to hear beyond the din of her life. I almost immediately returned to the prison of “life goes on.” What I know now is that had my mother understood what those tears meant and held me close with that knowledge, I would not have been helped. I would have fallen into a regressive black hole that reached insanity – the traumatized baby in a precarious teenager’s body.

If a boy, with his mother’s history-erasing compassion and love, could not survive regressing, how, Dr. Janov, could that person survive it later, as an adult?

-- Are you schizophrenic if you hear voices? Hardly. Very anxious people, drug-addicted people, childhood-traumatized people sometimes hear voices. They may hear several, and often. But they are fundamentally down-to-earth and are not insane. Psychiatrists, though, will typically diagnose them with schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder. Stupid. There has to be a certain character that is predominantly and helplessly off-reality. The same, possibly, with visual hallucinations: seeing people, fleeting dark images, shadows. And with delusions. There are a lot of fragile folks who believe absurd things – about conspiracies, demons, energies, self-reference (e.g., strangers’ attention is focused on them), but they are not psychotic. And yet there is a gray area on the continuum where we’d have to say the person is more unreal than real. But who can always say who is there? Not the medically minded psychiatrist! A client with sculpted-wild hair said: “Life sure drags me down. I’m having a problem with radios, tv’s. People’s conversations are altered toward me. The demons are screwing with my eyes. Three years ago I began to believe that people could read my thoughts.” I was mostly certain that he was as sane as you or me. But he had come to be invested in psychotic incompetence.

-- With twenty-three years of almost daily psychological work, I have found some of myself and answered some of my questions. Two questions, though, I have never been able to answer, as simple as they seem: When a person asks: How are you? or How are you doing? And: Am I a good person?

I despise bromidic truths. They are emblematic of the blindness that made my childhood invisible and that makes people’s – including my clients’ – lives largely irrelevant to their truth. We live with answers with little depth, often those that live only in our head or on the surface of our tongue. With access to a fairly open history and to Dr. Gendlin’s “felt sense” – the body’s molecular treasure chest of emotional history – I am still dumb to any sense if I am “wonderful,” “fine,” “ok,” tragically bad, or even unhappy. I am not deeper than you (I think we are all made of the same earth). But I can get no answer to this question.

It’s the same with: Am I good? A handful-and-a-half of hours in a day I enjoy helping people. But I’ve had only two friends in the last forty years, and distance more acquaintances than I preserve. I don’t give to charity. Right now I’m growing a contemptuous disgust for a coworker who is an entirely decent chap. I don’t have a moral code, and my spiritual core is limited to Einstein’s sense of mystery during a look upward. Only in moments of their need do I feel caring toward people, with the complicated exception of my wife. I would give no one the shirt off my back, but would give them money or my best and most loved books. I have no family – something that probably angers and may hurt them. I believe my articles can be helpful to an honest person’s mind, yet they are disquieting. I know I never received, from a parent, what a person needs to feel wholly benevolent, complete: I remain a paragraph that ends with an ellipsis.

Am I good? You tell me.

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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.