Neatly Packaged: A Therapy Moment

In therapy, we spend a lot of time (a lot of time) talking about my relationship with anger. Yesterday, my therapist suggested I may have found a particular situation frustrating, and I went quiet for a bit, staring into space, then laughed, and said: “I know this will make you chuckle, but do you know what’s popped into mind just now? That someone’s cleaned the door!”

I thought he’d find it amusing because instead of choosing to think about frustration – something like anger, which my mind tends to ‘slide off’ – my mind had chosen to latch onto something in its line of sight, a tiny detail. I mean, what had been cleaned wasn’t anything dramatic, just a mark below the door handle where fingerprints had accumulated into a smudge.

Of course, being a therapist, he had to find something even deeper in that tiny moment.

He made the connection between the smudge – something “messy”, “out of place”, “unfinished” – and the frustration we’d been talking about. He wondered whether it was that connection which was why my mind had focused on that detail instead of any of the  myriad others my eye could have rested upon.

I think he may have had a point, however, I don’t think my desire to see things all neatly tied up and tucked away is pathological, nor deeply related to my depression and anxiety. It’s there, but it’s not pathological. Still, it’s nice to be reminded that it is a part of my mental make-up, and that it might unconsciously feed into my decision-making process, in matters small and large.

This is why I absolutely adore therapy, and why I’ll continue with it, even after I’m “better”! I just love living an “examined life”. I may not go quite so far as Socrates*, but once the worst of my depression and anxiety are behind me (and I have faith that that day will come) I’ll continue with therapy, because it makes life richer.

I wonder – do you engage in therapy? Do you think you’ll continue, even after you’re “better”?

Jul to Dec 2010 002

 

* “The unexamined life is not worth living”

29 Comments

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29 responses to “Neatly Packaged: A Therapy Moment

  1. I’m an expert at noticing things in therapy although not in the same way you do. I tend to veer off topic or if I don’t really want to talk about something I will be like, “Your shirt is really nice!”
    I don’t know if I will ever be “better” but it would be nice to not have to go to therapy eventually.

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  2. I don’t think I’ll continue once I’m better. My therapist says, “You don’t want to keep coming here every week forever, do you?” so I don’t expect to. But then, I left my last therapist because I thought I was better when I really wasn’t.

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    • I guess it also depends on the type of therapy you’re doing. I guess I would also only continue one of my therapies – the psychodynamic psychotherapy – I wouldn’t continue seeing my psychologist forever, I hope! I mean, he’s nice and all, but not having to see him for support and strategies would be a marker that I was “better”.

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  3. Ideally symptoms lessen over time with the right treatment, and you will get better at managing them and intervening at early signs of relapse in order to prevent things from getting too bad. You don’t have to be in therapy to live an “examined life,” you just need the right like-minded friends who are willing to examine life with you. It helps, though, to have a relationship with a therapist you can return to if needed. This is not always possible, but is ideal.

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    • I certainly agree with everything you say about symptom reduction, and that you don’t necessarily have to be in therapy to live an examined life – but I think the relationship you form with a psychodynamic therapist is pretty unique; the tabula rosa effect isn’t something a friend can offer you! It isn’t for everyone, but I do appreciate it.

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      • I agree with you completely that the therapy relationship is unique. In an ideal world, in my opinion, everyone would have the luxury of having a long-term therapist available as needed. I don’t know about your part of the world but in the US it is difficult to get this paid for. It is a tragedy! One of many problems with our health care system….

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      • I’m in Australia, and am just so lucky that my psychotherapist is a psychiatrist who practices as a therapist. Because he is a registered medical practitioner, Medicare picks up the bulk of my bill for me, which I’m very grateful for. Mind you, it may be cheaper in the long run than extended hospital stays or a coroners inquest 🙂

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      • Wow, you ARE lucky! That is incredible. Good for you. Australia sounds great.

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      • By the way, based on what you just said I totally agree with you…stay in therapy!

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      • Thanks Sharon! Yes, we are so, so lucky to have what I think of as a “sane” healthcare and education system. For tertiary education, we can pay upfront (which is cheaper) or ask the federal government to pay for us, and we repay them through a higher rate of taxation once we’re earning above a certain threshold. Now isn’t that sensible? All these sad stories I read about the struggles Americans have, to pay for their education and healthcare … you really do have a great nation, a wonderful country with fantastic infrastructure (beats the pants off ours!) but were not fortunate to have our visionary governments in the 60s and 70s which set up our health and education systems. Of course, governments are now progressively clawing back those advantages, but it’s very difficult for them to do so.

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      • Thank you so much for educating me about your country. The idea of a sane healthcare and education system is amazing to me. I don’t mean to minimize all that is good about living in the US. I am grateful beyond words. But our politicians could learn from yours.

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      • Not our current batch, they couldn’t! 🙂 Our current prime minister is an absolute embarrassment; I have read pieces translated from French and German papers asking “Who advises this man?” after he broke protocol and brought domestic politics into his speech to the G20, he put his arm around a visiting royal (protocol no-no) and he turned up for a photo shoot with the Japanese emperor dressed for a bicycle ride. My sister has a friend who’s a staffer for him, and says he’s (I quote) “a nut”. Still, our last two PMs were pretty good, in my opinion!
        We look to the US for direction in our domestic politics so much, that what you see happening in your country often is reflected over here a couple of years later. Thankfully, being smaller and being a “middle power”, I think our electorate holds more sway than yours (I do hope you don’t find that offensive; I just think that as a “major power” with non-compulsory voting, our politicians (a) have fewer demands on them externally and (b) are forced to at least pay lip service to the needs of the whole community).
        Anyway, I do find talk of heathcare and education very interesting. You’ve inspired me to write to our current health minister who’s thinking of forcing everyone to pay a gap for visits to primary healthcare services. I’ve been going to write this letter for ages, but haven’t got around to it. Now’s the time!

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      • Good for you! Write that letter. No, you couldn’t possibly say anything about our government that I would find offensive. And I think you are probably right that your electorate holds more sway than ours. Most of our politicians spend their energy fighting with each other or working to further their own careers rather than paying attention to the citizens they represent. It is so sad. Good luck with your letter!

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      • Thanks Sharon! I do love our chats. xx

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  4. This is an interesting question, and one I’ve wondered about off and on. I go through periods when I feel like “Ugh, am I really going to come here every week for the rest of my life?” But I think those periods might coincide with times when I’m feeling more down on myself.

    Most of the time I find the whole exercise of psychotherapy fascinating, and I don’t think I will ever run out of the potential for insights. So from that perspective, maybe I would continue after I’ve gotten better at managing my depression.

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    • I guess it all comes down to what your goals in psychotherapy are. Mine are to understand how I function better, and as a side effect of that I expect my symptoms of depression and anxiety to lessen and (this is the important part) stay diminished over the long term. I believe studies have shown psychotherapy can achieve that – unfortunately, it’s not a process which lends itself to randomized trials, as it’s a long term process with many variables. Still, as my primary goal is self-knowledge, it makes sense that I plan to continue. Others will have a different primary goal, and therefore will behave differently. Bingo!

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      • I agree. I didn’t express it well in my comment but I think I would benefit from pretty regular therapy. My depression and anxiety will be with me for a very long time, and I think I could always benefit from more understanding and developing different tools. I also think that the process of therapy and the treatment of my depression is very dynamic – the insights I get today, and the tools I develop today, are great, but I may need different insights and different tools twenty years from now.

        I think you also raise an important question: What is my goal in therapy? Every first appointment with a new therapist asks the question, but then I don’t often stop to reassess later where I am relative to that goal.

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      • Well, some people would say my goal is so broad it’s hardly a goal at all 🙂 but it works for me!
        I have set other goals with different therapists, though – for instance, a social worker I was talking to for a while; that worked well. And the psychologist I’m seeing now, too. Sometimes goals go missing from memory, though, as you say, which is annoying.

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  5. Yea, for me, no I’ve basically stopped. I haven’t seen my therapist in a few months, and I called her the other day just cuz I was having a rough day. I left a voicemail and she called me back a few hours later, after I had already sorted out what was bothering me and felt much better. It was then at that point somewhat regressive to go back and rehash what I was struggling with at a previous time but no longer. After a little bit of this, I also found myself uncomfortable only talking about myself and I wanted to know what had been going on with her, and so I asked a few questions. Per therapy protocol, she gave a few very brief answers, and then directed the conversation back to me.

    And so what I realized is that I didn’t want to talk a therapist but rather a friend. And so I don’t think I’ll be calling her too often in the future anymore.

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    • Fair enough! Sounds like just the right call for you at this stage. It’s so important to make that distinction between friend and therapist, isn’t it? Mine’s absolutely inscrutable when it comes to anything personal. He goes all “black box”. He wears a ring, but I don’t even know whether it’s a marriage ring or not! And – to show what extremes he takes this to – when I first met him, I asked him how he would like me to address him. He said: “What would you like to call me?” and I said his first name, and he said he was happy with that. Since then, I’ve heard some people refer to him by a diminutive name, which I assume is his preference, but he didn’t express a preference, so I’ll just keep calling him what I have been for the last 3 years.

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  6. I engage in therapy, I have sessions every other week. It’s talk therapy, where I go in and talk about what is foremost on my mind and then what has been going on in my life for the past two weeks. Issues seem to spawn other issues and before you know it the hour is gone (most of the time). This “most of the time” is probably I don’t seek therapy every week, sometimes I fail to fill up an hour. I’m not sure what the issue is. Maybe I don’t have the kind of chemistry I had with my previous therapist. He and I could probably have met every day and been able to talk for an hour. Maybe I’m just doing better than I was when I was meeting with him.

    I have thought that I would probably be in therapy for the rest of my life. It’s part of my support system and even if I do get “better”, I’m always going to need that support.

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    • I was talking today with a friend about having quirky brains/minds. We talked about the language we use. Neither she nor I like the term “mental illness” because it does carry connotations of recovery – we recover from illness such as the flu, measles and gastro. As you say, people like us with “difference” (her preferred term, though I think it’s a little broad) probably will live better with support over the long term. Still, even people without obvious “quirks” have their own support systems, don’t they?

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