I read an interesting article today. It was about how long one should stay in therapy and what the author thought one should expect from a good therapist in order to keep the duration of therapy short. Here is a hint: therapy is not meant to be as cozy as a spa treatment…
I have been in therapy on and off for just over twenty-five years. I have seen a wide variety of therapists. Each time I enter therapy it is for specific goals. I outline the goals with the therapist, but sometimes we find other issues to cover as we move through therapy. It’s like walking through a forest and coming to a fork in the road, sometimes we take a jog left, but we eventually wind up back on the same path. The view on the sidetrack was good, and I am always glad we took it, but it’s important that we make it back to the road we started on.
I have a tendency to ramble, to get off track. Anyone who knows me, knows this. I think that when people go to therapy, they think that they are going to sit on a couch and talk about their thoughts and feelings as they come to them. They will have a freeform monologue about their feelings and their childhood as the therapist nods, writes and asks them how they felt about this or that. They believe that they will pick and choose topics that they themselves believe are relevant to reaching their goals, rather than trusting their therapist to help them see the elephant in the room. This is a recipe for long term, unproductive therapy. It is also boring.
Boring? Yes, boring. I don’t want boring therapy. If it’s boring then nothing is getting done. I agree with the author of the article I read when he wrote:
“Many patients need an aggressive therapist who prods them to face what they find uncomfortable: change. They need a therapist’s opinion, advice and structured action plans. They don’t need to talk endlessly about how they feel or about childhood memories. A recent study by the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland found that “active, engaging and extroverted therapists” helped patients more quickly in the short term than “cautious, nonintrusive therapists.” This approach may not be right for every patient, but the results described in the Finnish study are consistent with my experience.”
“Active, engaging and extroverted therapists”. YES! I want my therapist to point out the elephant in the room, to tell me how much it stinks and to throw me on top of it and make me ride around on it until I have figured out how to get control of it on the path of my life. Otherwise, I am going to blindly keep trying to avoid it, taking circuitous routes through the forest, taking wrong turns and making bad decisions one after the other until I am stuck in whatever the worst case scenario is of the forest metaphor I am using. A clear cut? The charred remains of a fire? A “demonstration forest”? (Yes, there is such a thing as a “demonstration forest”.)
There is not a single part of my life that does not connect with another part. I have spent entire therapy sessions discussing my guilt over not getting my dogs groomed when I should have. I have cried hysterically over it. Why? Because that leads to this great desire I have to nurture and mother the people (and animals) in my life. When I fail at that, when I fail THEM, the guilt I feel is overwhelming. For any of you that follow me on Facebook or Instagram or Blip, you may have noticed my obsession with my pet turtles of late. They are my newest babies. Once I am satisfied that we are in a daily pattern of love and nurturing for them, I am sure I will move on to something else. Don’t worry, at the same time that the turtles are getting built up with love and affection, the dogs are still being spoiled. See how I have gotten off track? My point is, that even the amphibians in my home have a place in my therapy.
If you want to go somewhere that is just going to make you feel good, go to the spa. Get a facial or a massage. You can leave with a smile on your face and you will feel good for a day or so and the result will be the same: you will learn nothing about what is really bothering you, what is really holding you up, you will just get one or two of the kinks out. As the week wears on those kinks will come back. As you sit at your desk or do whatever it is you do all week, that knot in your back will come back because you didn’t learn anything about how to handle the stress in your life that caused it in the first place. But, for that hour you didn’t have to really face the issues.
I am excellent at compartmentalizing. I don’t know if it is a part of RRPTSD or something much simpler, but on a day to day basis I can shut anything down and put it in a box inside of me to not be thought about or felt. That remains so until Thursday rolls around. When I get to therapy, all the boxes get opened up. That is the only way this is going to work. And if my therapist asks me about a topic, I am not going to get away with “I don’t come here to talk to you about THAT.” For all I know, THAT could be the link to everything. In therapy, there is no topic off limits, everything has meaning, and it’s up to my therapist to get me there by hook or by crook.
So, how long do I plan on being in therapy THIS TIME? It’s hard to say. I went to therapy because of my agoraphobia. When I first moved to Los Angeles I couldn’t leave the apartment. Yesterday I was in the car driving all over the place. I offered to drive anywhere, late at night to pick Brian up from a debate. I don’t mind going out now. I don’t particularly like driving in LA, just because it’s a pain, but I do it and I get where I need to go. However, in the process of solving that issue I was living life, I was experiencing pain, new things happened and I was struggling with other issues. As I resolve those I can only hope that more issues don’t come up that require therapy. Each time I go I learn new skills that I believe will help me to solve my own problems. I will see this therapist until it gets boring or we become too friendly. My therapist is not my friend. (We do have an excellent relationship though!)
Finally, let me leave you with this:
Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Thus, if you are going to pay someone to help you examine your life, you may as well examine the whole thing, and really make it worth it. Don’t you think? I am certainly not one to question Socrates.