Therapy Redux

Some of you may remember a while back that I was having difficulties with my therapist who was very against my decision that I am sane and healthy enough to stop going. After much wrangling, I finally got him to agree, provided we went through a ‘leaving process’. Well, I daresay you will not be surprised to learn that the leaving process is going precisely nowhere. He is still trying to encourage me to engage in a different kind of therapeutic experience: why won’t I, he asks, just sit there and allow thoughts to arise in my mind so that we may both see what they are, without there being some specific goal or problem to solve? To which I replied that I thought that was just life; you had a look at what you were thinking and then went and did something about it, or not, as the case may be. Therapy is what happens when you have a problem or are unhappy with the conditions of your life and you need help and support while you change them. In the last session we had I asked him point blank (and not for the first time) exactly what it was that he felt I needed to do. Could he explain to me why it was so important that I continue with therapy? Upon which, he fell silent for a while and then said, no, we only had a few minutes of the session left, he couldn’t formulate his thoughts in that time. And I thought, for crying out loud, we’ve been discussing this since September. You mean to say you haven’t managed to put it into words yet?

Only I confess that politeness is so ingrained in me that I did not say what was on my mind. But I felt cross and frustrated. I put it all behind me for the time being as this has been a very busy week indeed. Then suddenly, yesterday I seemed to be having conversations about it with everyone I saw, and I realised I would have to do what I have tried so hard to avoid: make a unilateral decision and leave. I’ve written today, paid up what I owe, thanked him for all the good work we have done, and said I won’t be coming any more. I have a horrible suspicion this will not be the end of it, and he will try and ring to persuade me to continue. I hate the thought of that. I really, truly did not want to end things this way. I see that I’ve been hanging on in the hope of an experience I was longing for, of having him support and encourage me in this decision. To wave me off cheerfully, if you like, with his blessing.

All my life I have tried my utmost to please other people. In fact, I’ve done it way too much, and often at the expense of my own interests and wishes. In an odd kind of way, I can see this is a trial of my courage and the strength of my convictions. What might look like a very simple decision is not so to me, as it feels disloyal and more than a little scary. But then my therapist knows this, and so his refusal to either empower me, or to explain upfront what it is I still need to do, seems ever more churlish and unfair. Without him saying, okay, you’re fine, off you go, there is a small part of me that is afraid I will wake up tomorrow morning with chronic fatigue again for having been so badly behaved as to recklessly displease. There, I had to make myself write that down because I don’t really want to own it, it’s so illogical. Of course the illogical thoughts exert the greatest hold over us, precisely because they will not bend to reason. Whenever I have this conversation with myself, I end up thinking that I really should go ahead and do what I want, if only to prove to myself that the sky won’t fall in.

I’ve been reading The Pastor’s Wife by Elizabeth von Arnim, and the main protagonist, Ingeborg, is on a long, slow journey to self-realisation, hindered because she has no will of her own, so great is her desire to please others, so enormous is the imperative not to rebel. I’ve had sympathy for her up until the past fifty pages or so. It seems to me you can make several serious mistakes in life by bending to the stronger will of others, but that you have to wake up at some point and take your own life in hand. I’ve often felt that the feelings aroused by reading are in some sense our most genuine ones. There is no force of circumstance or obligation to make us feel anything other than what we most secretly feel in our innermost hearts in response to the behaviour of the characters. If I’m fed up with Ingeborg at the moment, then I must to some extent be fed up with my own willingness to let others dictate terms to me, and longing to take full control over my own life. Well I am, I know that’s true. Mister Litlove’s take on the matter is that we all have to recognise at some point that no one will look after us better than we can ourselves.

Anyway, I’ve done it now. We’ll just have to see what happens next. (One thing that will happen next is that I will eventually catch up with my comments and my emails – I’m so sorry! I’ve fallen behind with them all, it’s been such a busy period.)


27 thoughts on “Therapy Redux

  1. I think that what enrages me about situations like this is that the therapist’s goal ought to be precisely empowering you to take your own life in hand, and yet he’s actively *not* doing what would be the best for you. it’s not like you can’t seek him out again if you need to do so.

    I’ve been very lucky with therapists and very unlucky. The one I went to when I lived in Chile was such a gem that I kept working with her over skype for a while, and will undoubtedly go back for a consultation when I’m next over. The one I briefly visited before that told me off for taking antacids against the stress-induced dyspepsia which was tormenting me (but it’s chemical! you mustn’t!) and then tried to sell me Herbalife. (Horribly, she also specialised in counselling cancer patients.) And one I went to in my current city for a little while — longer than I ought — wanted to address the strains of trailing spouse syndrome by persuading me to take out a bank loan.

    Sometimes I think certain people go into the profession out of a desire to control others. I’m well aware of my mental health situation, so I tend to have a therapist on hand. The best ones have helped me to need therapy less by helping me develop my own coping mechanisms, and equally allowed me to return whenever I need advice about dealing with new challenges. And they have done a lot to free me of the need to please and the tendency to be ultra hard on myself, both of which will always be part of me, but which were complicating my life to a much bigger degree. As a result, I don’t need therapy so often but when I do go, I go for the right reasons!

    Rambling aside and needless to say, I completely recognise the dynamics you describe!

  2. I think you have done the right thing and I congratulate you for taking that step. Is it possible your therapist is purposely dragging things out in order to backhandedly encourage you to risk his displeasure? Or is that giving him too much credit? Maybe it’s more likely that he just bought a vacation home and needs you to keep going to sessions so he can pay the mortgage 😉

  3. I’m still greatly puzzled by his reaction. I would understand if he had concerns and was able to formulate them but like this. This cannot have been a test to see whether you are capable of doing what you want without taking into account what he says?
    It’s painful at first to displease others but once we stand up for ourselves we realize how much more painful it was to do things against our true wishes. Painful and draining…

  4. I think that leaving therapy can feel very much like rebelling against a narcissistic parent, even when that’s not what the therapy relationship has been like. Personally, I don’t think you’ll have internal backlash, but if you do, it will be a much safer microcosm to examine the whys and wherefores. The book sounds good — and I really resonated with the observation that what we feel about what we read is a very good barometer of what’s most pressing in our inner lives. Incidentally, I’m reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ new novel “The Marriage Plot” and I keep thinking of you…though I’m actually not sure why. Perhaps it’s the heroine’s passionate love affair with a book that’s making me think of you.

  5. Pleasing others all the time (and I do the same myself!) is a sure way to make sure you never please yourself. It seems really ironic that you have had to cut him off in the end and he is supposed to be helping you. I think that you are going to be fine and rather than waking up and feeling another bout of chronic fatigue coming on you are going to feel a wonderful sense of release and independence!

  6. Hurray hurray hurray!!!! Way to go!!!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Do I sound a bit enthusiastic? Anyway as you say, going ahead is the best way to find out that it’s okay.

  7. But then my therapist knows this, and so his refusal to either empower me, or to explain upfront what it is I still need to do, seems ever more churlish and unfair.

    Yes! This! It’s EXTREMELY frustrating to hear about someone in a position of authority like your therapist who seems to be working to exacerbate the struggles he knows you’re going through, rather than empowering you to make your own decisions! It sets off all kinds of warning bells that he couldn’t clearly articulate why he is pushing against your decision so hard. Ugh. And how unfortunate that it has to end on a bad note, when it seems like overall the therapy experience has been helpful to you.

    I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this, and hopefully you can now make a clean break and move on with your life. Good for you for standing up to him!

  8. Well done to you for doing it, even against his will and strong wishes. Do you think there was some weird, extra-therapeutic undercurrent going on that made him want you to stay – if not, good, but if so, even better that you departed. And well done for NOT being the pleaser.

  9. It sounds like you have made the right decision for you and you have the strength of your convictions. I’m sure you won’t regret leaving therapy. It served it’s purpose but you are okay on your own now!

  10. Good for you to know what’s best for you and do it! I understand though — I think a lot of my day to day functioning depends on other people behaving as I expect them to. When people do something odd and unexpected and unwanted, I’m always caught off guard and hampered by wanting to be polite and not hurt anyone’s feelings. I have to gear myself up for conflict; when it arises unexpectedly I’m rotten at it.

  11. Way to go, litlove…. I thought therapists’ role is to help clients get back on their feet so they don’t need therapists anymore. It’s a paradox in a sense since the better they do their job, the more likely their clients will leave them. Thinking along this line, since your therapist is a bit unwilling to let go of you, looks like the table has turned, and somebody has to deal with some kind of ‘separation anxiety’, a situation that makes me wonder… umm, just who exactly needs therapy now.

  12. Good for you!! It sounds as though you have gotten everything you need from this particular therapist, and that going further would be counter-productive. I’m betting you won’t feel any greater discomfort than that strange lightness of being that comes with the realization that the 500-pound gorilla is no longer on your back…
    To repeat: GOOD. FOR. YOU. 😀

  13. I know I don’t understand the relationship between therapist and patient, but if the therapist can’t articulate why you shouldn’t leave then it seems the only thing you can do is to trust to your instincts. So, hurrah for that and I hope your body and mind are in agreement!

  14. My first thought upon reading this post was exactly what commenter #1 said. Therapists should allow their clients to fly free–this is a good thing! I, too, have been lucky with my therapists in the past, I guess.

    The desire to please others is so insidious. I’m trying very hard to stick up for myself when it comes to getting paid for what I’m worth. I’m a contractor. Just yesterday I sent an email asking why the pay cut on a new project when the work’s the same as the previous project. I’ve been a little nervous about it ever since — will my project manager think I’m a pain in the ass? Unappreciative? Will she not want to hire me again? Will she be peeved with me? And so ENDLESSLY on…tiresome!

    On the writing front, the desire to please others is downright catastrophic. Talk about causing writer’s block!

  15. Very glad you have left this person who sounds absolutely ghastly to me. I too am a pleaser and it’s a hard habit to break (at least I imagine so as I have never really even tried). I loathe conflict so I’d rather be pleasing people than ending up in unpleasant situations, but of course it’s a good idea to stick up for oneself.

  16. He sounds like an absolute nightmare now, although obviously he’s been very useful to you over the years. I also think therapy is something you go to when you’re having troubles you can’t deal with by yourself and life is the rest of it where you self-analyse, but (and maybe this is just my UK view influenced by tv) isn’t there a bit of an American therapy for life culture?

  17. I agree with your blog friends above. I think it’s great that you’ve finally left this therapist. And it’s not like it’s an impulsive decision and you’re running away from facing up to feelings. And as a (fairly newish) therapist I totally agree with the comment that therapists should encourage their clients to leave them when the time is right.

    I also know from my own therapies that a planned termination can be very useful / productive in that both you and the therapist know that you’re leaving and you get to talk about how you feel about leaving and the associated thoughts and feelings that get stirred up. For me it’s always felt like a break-up and it’s pretty awful on one level and quite liberating on another. I was also wondering if you got a chance to tell your therapist how frustrated you felt that he was dragging his heels about this. I know that in the past you’ve said that you don’t get angry easily so I imagine that it would be very difficult to tell your therapist how frustrated (and possibly angry) you felt with him. I know from my own experience that when the therapist is able to tolerate that and not make me feel bad about it and actually encourage the expression of those feelings, then that’s really constructive.

    Anyway, way to go!

  18. Bravo! Your decision (and not only thinking about it, but acting on it) is yet another sign that you have solved your problem. Next time he’s trying to contact you, think of what nice book you could buy with the money he wants you to spend on him again 😉

  19. kirstyjane – I am so shocked by the one who wanted you to take out a bank loan! There’s a fine line between excess zeal and acting outside the client’s interests, isn’t there, and it’s surprising how often it gets trodden upon. I get the feeling that having therapists is a bit like having children – you need more than one to realise that what you get landed with is quite often not your fault. I am so glad that you have found some roses in amongst the thorns, and it brings me a great sense of solidarity to know others have had to struggle through this sort of morass, too. The urge to please and to be hard on oneself are both such Cambridge-y things; you knuckle under them here even if you didn’t suffer from them beforehand. I really think we ought to offer free therapy to every first year who sets foot in the place! Thank you for the lovely comment – I did so appreciate it.

    Susan E – lol! Yes, I like that way of looking at it!

    Stefanie – I’m tempted to go with the vacation home at the moment! although I am probably being unfair as he has always struck me as a very morally upright sort of person, and when I was short of cash he was prepared to go without payment for a while. So, let’s hope it was an elaborate ploy. It was a good one, if so! 🙂

    Caroline – you’re absolutely right. It was one of his lines, in fact, that betraying others is painful, but betraying yourself is unbearable. But I really struggled to understand what he wanted at the end. I think he really did want a different way of working, and it was unfortunate that I simply cannot work without a purpose in view. I was hating that. Ah well, I guess I will never quite know what happened!

    David – well you are spot on, as usual, as I really want to read the new Eugenides novel. I also think your description is brilliant, and very accurate. I have lots of wonderful support these days, here, and in the real world around me. I’m nowhere near as isolated as I was when I was ill, and I want to turn to friends now for help (and help them, too) and let life teach me stuff. It’s about time (and I’m encouraged by how well you have done that, too).

    Voula – oh thank you very much – that’s so kind of you!

    Danielle – that’s a wonderful comment, thank you. Bring on the freedom! And oh it will be nice to have a little more money.

    Lilian – aw, dear friend! Thank you so much for your encouragement and support these past few days. You’ve been amazing.

    Emily – that’s so kind of you, thank you! I must admit it was his inability to put words to what he was thinking that finally finished it for me. If I’d sprung a decision to leave on him that session, well fine, no problem. But after discussing it (endlessly) for what must have been a couple of months, I simply could not understand his refusal. And then I felt very played, or at least that he was putting it all off and would do so again, and I felt very uncomfortable with that. It IS a shame, but we did do good work and I will remember him as he was when he was most helpful.

    Charlotte – oh bless you. We pleasers have a very hard time being displeasing! I really don’t know why he wanted me to stay, and at first I was only suggesting a break. So what WAS the big deal? He’s not a very emotionally forthcoming man, so I have no sense that he was fond of me – I mean, I knew he wanted sincerely to help, but nothing more than that. Ah well, one of the great mysteries of life – to add to the rest of the pile! 🙂

    Eva – oh thank you! I know you’ve been through a tough time lately. Do so hope you are feeling a bit better now.

    Kathleen – thank you, that is such a nice thing for you to say. I feel cautiously optimistic about moving forward – which is pretty good for me! 🙂

    Ms Thrifty – ach! Hasn’t it been a saga? But now what will we do on a Monday for gossip? 😉 I expect we’ll think of something…..

  20. Jenny – oh! oh! you’ve just described my life right there. That is exactly how I function – I’m fine so long as it all goes along as normal, but I don’t do upheaval, stress and the unexpected very well. And despite many years of therapy, I still loathe conflict. I am trying to embrace firmness, however, and a rationality that includes my own needs and desires. I’ll let you know how I get on with that…. 😉

    Arti – what a great comment. I did feel uncomfortably at the end that I was in charge of the relationship, or at least much clearer what I wanted out of it. Not great. I also think that therapists should do their best to encourage clients towards autonomy and independence. After all, what is the point, otherwise? Thank you for your support.

    ds – aw bless you. I’m really hoping that living itself will show me that I’m much better now. I did feel it was all getting counterproductive, and that staying in therapy was perpetuating the sense there’s something wrong with me. When in fact, I’m about as sane as I’m ever likely to get! And really, I am so lucky in my life at the moment. Bad things will come around again, inevitably. But I do so want to enjoy the good while it lasts.

    Ms Musings – well I am all for therapy, and it struck me that if I was feeling extremely dubious about it, I should really get out! But yes, as you say, that inability to articulate feelings just did not sit well at all with me…. Do hope your cottage remains cozy and delightful as the winter draws in.

    Lisa – oh heavens, that awful being-paid-what-I’m-worth question! I don’t think I would handle it at all well, so good for you for sticking up for yourself. I do think that people actually respect you more, the more you charge for your services (well, within reason!). But yes, I would go over it relentlessly, I feel quite sure. Hopefully you’ll get reassurance very soon that what you did was exactly the right thing. And I see just what you mean about writing, too. Cyril Connolly said you could either write for yourself and have no audience, or write for an audience and have no self. I think he hit the nail on the head!

    readingwithtea – oh that’s really nice of you. Thank you!

    Harriet – it does give me a very pleasant sense of solidarity to find other pleasers/conflict-haters out there. It is such a hard cycle to break out of (and indeed, I’ll happily settle for just taking it down a few notches!). I am so sorry it all had to end this way, but looking back I still don’t think I could have done anything different. Thank you for your support – it is much appreciated!

    Jodie – I think you’re right and there is. But I have been a bit startled by all this as I think of my therapist as very down to earth. Well, I DID, until these past few weeks when I have experienced him much more like a nightmare! (One in which I keep trying to say things urgently but seem to have been struck dumb) I so agree with you – therapy has to be about fixing or improving certain conditions or problems. Believe you me, I am sure I still have plenty of flaws, but it would be good for me now to handle them the way everyone else does – trial and error! Oho, I do not dare carry on in this vein, however, as I am bound to say something and tempt fate to bring me insurmountable problems…. Let’s just leave it that I’m very, very humble. 🙂

    Pete – oh Pete, one day when we are old and grey (and in the same country) we should sit down and chew this over. I told my therapist over and again that I felt uncomfortable with him dragging his heels and he acted like he hadn’t heard me. It was SO infuriating, as I felt sure we could be doing useful closure work, but he wouldn’t instigate a thing, and I didn’t see that it was my place to (although I felt I was trying, nonetheless, to the best of my abilities). We just seemed to be drifting, you know? Although I must say I do not lose my temper easily or willingly, and I never did these past few months – for fear he would say, aha now we’ve found a problem and you must spend another five months on it! So I became ever more excruciatingly polite, until I could scarcely stand it myself. I really didn’t feel it was an impulsive decision (although he kept on insisting that it was) and certainly not after ten sessions of discussing it, or not quite discussing it, or discussing something that we never quite met in the middle of. After being a fan of therapy I find myself in the odd position of thinking it can be really dangerous if not handled well. But never you fear, I am sure that you would never behave this way with a client.

    Smithereens – lol! You know me too well! That is exactly the way to influence my rational decision making! 🙂

  21. Darling, I am sorry I am so late to this post, but I am appalled by your therapist’s obstinacy and opaqueness and I am so pleased you took the matter in hand and gave yourself the send-off he so bizarrely denied you. One has to wonder, at this point, about his own issues… therapists are only human too, and you are not responsible for his responses. Very curious. But I am so proud of you, especially for forcing yourself to own the irrational fear out loud. You are good to go! xxxx

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