|"‘So about this column I write,’ I say to my therapist. ‘This column I write about you, about us. Have you read it?’" |
|"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" |
|"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"|
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
In the client's chair – What am I getting out of this?
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. I wanted to produce a definitive response that would prove beyond doubt that therapy is the most wonderful invention ever.
However, with quiet panic, I realised that I didn’t have such a response. Eventually I shrugged and told them that I really didn’t know. They were amazed. Why on earth, they asked, do I spend 50 quid a week on something whose benefit is ‘unknown’, at best?
They had a point. Surely I ought to have a list of benefits as long as my arm that I could simply reel off to therapy-sceptics? Surely I ought to know exactly what I’m getting out of it? But then I realised that, perhaps, the biggest benefit therapy has given me is a new tolerance for ‘not knowing’.
I was talking to my therapist recently about the early days, when I first began therapy and wouldn’t bring to sessions any unresolved issues or problems or conflicts. Instead I’d come armed with explanations and certainty. ‘Knowing’ was how I took care of myself. It still is. Given the choice, I’d still rather work things out in the safety of my own head first than share them with other people. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. It feels dangerous and exposing to do anything else. Unsurvivable even, although I know it’s deeply irrational. Like going into battle without armour.
When I was a kid I don’t think I knew where I was from one day to the next. Faced with the constant unreliability of others, I retreated to the safe haven of my head, where everything was known and predictable; where I always knew exactly where I was. Somewhere along the line I must have lost trust in others – they became too risky and uncertain. I became less and less willing to venture outside my own place of safety.
But armour is heavy and constricting. The longer I’ve been in therapy, the more ill-fitting and tiring my armour has become; the more chinks it has developed. Once or twice I’ve even taken it off and sat there feeling intolerably raw, as if peeled of my skin. But I survived.
It’s hard to have relationships when you’re wearing armour, but I find it pretty much impossible with the armour off. Or at least I did. Trying this out with my therapist has allowed me to begin to try it out in some of my other relationships too. It’s turned down the volume of all that raw, unprocessed vulnerability so it’s become uncomfortable rather than intolerable.
Just recently I was telling my therapist about my confused feelings about a friend; how I wasn’t sure whether our relationship was changing into something more intimate. In this confusion, I adopted my default position: I stayed resolutely in my head, mind-reading signals, deciphering mixed messages – not particularly well, I should add. But this was infinitely safer than confronting things head on. That’s the problem with the armour of ‘knowing’; it deflects from real communication, from shared reality.
As my situation with my friend became increasingly cryptic, I became increasingly frustrated until, suddenly, one night I decided I was going into battle. Actually it wasn’t a decision – not a conscious one, anyway. I was out there before I knew it, armour-less in the great unknown, declaring my confused feelings without really knowing what I wanted. I just wanted to know where I was. It was a difficult conversation, uncomfortable even. But as I relayed this story to my therapist I began to feel increasingly excited because I realised how it felt to have done that without any armour. It felt alive. ‘It felt like “ouch”, being out there, out in my discomfort zone,’ I tell him. ‘But nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be. I know this is strange to say, but it felt like growing up.’
My therapist looks more overwhelmed than I’m feeling. As usual, I cannot bear to see him upset. ‘Why are you sad?’ I ask him. ‘I’m not sad,’ he says. ‘In fact I’m happy.’ I don’t know what to say, which is a good thing because sometimes (I have learnt) feelings don’t need an explanation.
I pay 50 quid a week to learn how to exchange safety for risk, the known for the unknown. This is how therapy is changing me; this is how it is translating into my everyday life. It is teaching me how to feel alive, rather than just survive.
Details have been changed to protect identities.