|"I met a therapy-sceptic the other day. They wanted to know what benefits therapy has given me, whether it has changed me, how it has translated into my everyday life" |
|"It has taken me three years to get angry in therapy and when it happened my ability to communicate went away. It was like a revolving door: the feeling arrived and the words left the building" |
|"Sometimes I can’t believe I’ve spent three years in the company of my therapist yet I know nothing about him. He is a man who sits opposite me in a chair, week in week out, and I have no idea who he is outside of this context" |
|"Once, during a particularly trying period in my 20s, I was accosted at an extended family gathering by an elderly, distant relative. She wanted to know if I liked my job, if I was happy in what I was doing, where I thought my career was heading and other such inquiries"|
Breaks are a funny thing in therapy. When my therapist takes time off for a holiday, initially it feels fine, a relief even. I wave him merrily on his way, barely giving him a thought until the date of our reunion session begins to loom large in my diary
In the client's chair – Unhappy returns
Breaks are a funny thing in therapy. When my therapist takes time off for a holiday, initially it feels fine, a relief even. I wave him merrily on his way, barely giving him a thought until the date of our reunion session begins to loom large in my diary.
Inexplicably, I find myself dragging my feet at the suddenly burdensome prospect of seeing him again. I begin to question therapy altogether, the fact I don’t miss it. I decide I am ‘ill’ and request that we reschedule. When I finally drag myself to therapy I think I probably have the mental age of a six year old. A very sullen six year old. What on earth is going on? What is the big deal about pressing the pause button? Why does it pack such a psychological punch?
There’s something a bit odd about feeling like a monosyllabic six year old when you are in fact a 35-year-old woman. I pull myself together and confess to my therapist about the rescheduling swindle. I tell him I wasn’t really ill, that I just didn’t want to come back and I don’t know why – that I don’t know why it is so easy for me to leave and yet so difficult to return.
He gently prods me in the direction of my formative relationships, and care-takers who were forever coming and going and changing. He suggests that leaving, and being left, is something I am very competent in. That it is part of my ‘formidable’ ability to take care of myself, in lieu of being cared for.
Hmm, I reply. I look around the room, as I tend to do. I notice a few changes. An iPad on his desk, is that new? Yes. The flowers in his vase. They look fake; are they? He shakes his head – real chrysanthemums from the flower stall down the road.
He comments on my scrutiny of the room, the flowers. He refers to my ‘hyper-vigilance’, the way I am sensitive to any incremental change in the environment. ‘Some clients come in here and are oblivious,’ he says. ‘Even I may as well be part of the furniture sometimes. But not you. If I so much as moved a pen, you’d notice.’
Sometimes he’s tempted to play, he tells me: to move something in the room and see if I notice. I smile. I’d like him to do this, I think. But I don’t say it. (The six year old prefers, I realise, to be mind-read rather than admit to needs or wants.)
I think about the break again. Perhaps it wasn’t that I didn’t give him a passing thought so much as I didn’t allow myself to. Allowing myself to be dependent on someone who isn’t there feels like a very young feeling indeed. About six years old, to be precise.
I think about his ‘play,’ suggestion, about the last time I ‘played’. It was on a recent visit up north to see my uncle and aunt, playing with my cousins’ kids. I remember careering round the garden with them while the grown-ups looked on, bemused at how I had opted to play ‘tig’ for hours with four small children rather than sit round the table drinking wine. ‘Are you in high school?’ one of the kids asked me after we had collapsed in a heap on the lawn. ‘They think you are an overgrown six year old,’ my mother observed wryly. At the time this was the best feeling. It felt like an accolade to be a verified six year old again, for some reason; one temporarily freed from the ‘hyper-vigilance’ to leaving and being left, perhaps.
Back in the session, I am trying to grow up. If leaving triggers my inner (sullen) six year old, then returning demands adult resources. My therapist isn’t an abandoning parent, even if I have somehow temporarily confused the two; he is my therapist who went on holiday and who is now back, sitting in the chair opposite me.
I ask him about his holiday. He tells me he had a good time and it was relaxing. I feel distinctly unrelaxed and realise I am perched on the edge of my chair as if I’m about to leap off it. I tell him anecdotes for the remainder of the session: anything to keep things unemotional and at arm’s length. He laughs along and I realise my inner six year old is exercising that ‘formidable’ self-care again. It would be nice to be mind-read but it’s not going to happen.
It takes me the entire session to finally relax and admit (to myself at least) that I have very mixed feelings about this returning-to-therapy business. Yet, I have returned, despite myself, to negotiate with my inner six year old, to negotiate with my self-care. Because this is the challenge of returning, I realise: daring to take the risk that someone will be there, waiting to care for me.
Details have been changed to protect identities.