Yesterday one of the company members who reads this blog was over and we had a very satisfying therapy-bashing session, in between watching youtube and talking art. We got very in sync talking about therapy as rent-a-friend. It made me think about this past company member who is an adult child of an alcoholic, and she said when she first went to therapy and the therapist told her about being an ACOA, and the shame, the feeling of needing to be in control, the low self-esteem, she felt so understood. Then she read one of the classic ACOA books and realized the therapist probably said that stuff to every ACOA and every ACOA would feel that understood. Suddenly it didn’t seem the therapist was so wise. It just seemed like she’d read the right books…books anyone could read.
BUT, this is not going to be just another sounding off on therapy. I’m not interested in the arguments about what make therapy works. Scientifically, no one can prove that it works at all. Anecdotally, some people swear by their therapists and give credit to their therapists for saving their lives. And then there’s me, who wanted it to be good, only it wasn’t. The therapists kept falling asleep, or telling me I was sexy, or telling me they loved me, or firing me for not having problems, or getting overinvolved. And there’s my partner, who fades out of therapy with straight people, feeling as invisible as when she walked in the door.
Here’s the thing. I once had a therapist I liked. She was not a rent-a-friend. Why? Because she didn’t listen and make sympathetic noises and ask me how I felt. She drilled me, over and over again, to figure out what my intuition told me about my life. I’d tell her what was going on, and she’d ask questions that forced me to do the work, getting me to realize I knew what I knew. If I really couldn’t find my way, we did guided visualizations to locate my intuition. I’d been really intuitive since, well, birth, but had been talked out of knowing what I knew as all women (maybe all people) are. She trained me back to listening to my very own self. I was 28 years old.
I know I’ve mentioned the therapist I pretty much tortured, which was very fun for me. (God I miss that!) She’d disagree with me and I’d say, “Who do you think you are, God?” or “You could be wrong. Is that something you even consider?” When she asked me why I needed her to laugh at my jokes, I said, “Because they’re funny. Maybe you should consider getting a sense of humor.” With her, I crossed the line from provocative in an extremely irritating way to be insulting and even mildly abusive. She’d say, “That’s over the line.” I’d be like, “Really? I didn’t know that.” (I was very young.) She’d be like, “Yeah, you have to stop that behavior.” I was like, “Oh. Okay.”
Not rent-a-friend. I mean, what friend would have put up with me? AND, I didn’t even like that therapist for most of the years I saw her: I still don’t think we were very compatible. But she taught me boundaries. It was education.
Therapy has no standards. Some therapists are licensed, some are not. If a therapist loses his or her license, s/he can continue to practice. Those that are not licensed can pretty much do what they want–they are only in danger of civil action, not criminal. The practice of therapy is so wildly diverse, and therapists often describe themselves as eclectic, so you can’t really tell what they do when you try to interview them over the phone. They’re like, “Come in and pay me $175/hour to see if we mesh.”
I am an ARTIST. A REACTIVE artist. I don’t have $175 to throw at therapists to find out if I hate them as much as I think I do.
The therapist who commented on this blog talked about the value of the therapeutic relationship, of “clicking.” It’s who you work with, not what school of therapy they practice. It’s the relationship that heals. I have heard this over and over again.
Boy does it sound like rent-a-friend.
I had a life crisis when I was 30, when I was grieving and my two best friends stayed overnight at my house, they called me every day, they helped with meals, they told me they loved me. No therapist, ever, could bring that level of closeness into a life. I have known commitment; I have been held in my deepest suffering by people who truly loved me. That is what I think of when I think of healing. Or friendship. Or love. And my friends were flawed, as I am–we let each other down, we hurt each other, sometimes badly, but that’s part of the game, that’s part of the learning, that’s how we find out who we are.
I question whether turning to a therapist removes the necessity of healing with each other. I think our society has grown so mechanistic and disconnected that rent-a-friend is what we know of intimacy. It’s true; there are very few people I would grieve with, I would hold, I would set aside the demands of my life to show up for, to commit to, but there are some. The times I have given or received this kind of love have been so meaningful…and no, you don’t want to live at that level of intensity, but it’s a gift when it comes to you and you know it’s a path you are meant to walk. How we duck it. How we want to pretend there is another way. But knowing each other, deeply…how else can healing happen in our lives? Paying someone to listen to our problems…it’s not the same. It can’t be. And thank whatever/whoever for that.
I believe in healing. I do find paying for attention humiliating, so if I go to therapy–any therapy, couples therapy included–I am not seduced by compassion or chemistry or “click.” I want education. I don’t want to be told how dysfunctional I am and that I don’t know what I know. I want to learn more, I want to grow, I want someone who can teach me something I haven’t yet been able to learn any other way. I mean, I know what it feels like to be a twenty-one year old woman sitting in a room talking about her pain while the fifty-year-old therapist snores in her chair. The thought of rent-a-friend, after that, just makes me nauseated.
I fantasize about creating a way of healing that will be as community-based as shamans in a tribe–people who are grown up to serve. I listen to my partner do Internal Family Systems co-counseling on the phone, I watch the way she and her long-term partner in IFS heal each other, though they have never met in person. I think, there must be a way. To stop all the pretending–that we’re okay, that success is all that matters, that we don’t need each other as much as we do, that we don’t need a spiritual life with each other as well as on our own, that we don’t need, perhaps, to grow our own food, or find some way of getting closer to the earth and her rhythms. I dream there is a way to be closer than church community, and I come back to art, to the communion of two actors in a co-creative story, and I know that even this isn’t enough, though it’s part of it. I am looking for a way to take my turn in holding what is broken, and to take my turn in being held. I am looking to be able to share joy and levity in between the broken times. Not just in my marriage, not just with my closest friends. But in the world…a remade world that isn’t so lonely.
There’s always Silenceville. There’s always poetry. There’s always the trust that if I let go, it will simply appear.
But not in therapy. I just don’t believe that the real healing happens inside those office doors.
PS–Yes, to my therapist friends, I have been holding back on telling you that this is what I really think. Because I LOVE you and I did have that therapist who told me that holding my tongue might be a skill to consider. (She’s the one who needed the sense of humor.) BUT, the whole thing about the blog is it can either get us talking in new ways, or you can just pretend you didn’t read it and then we can go on as we are. I’m not going to bring it up. At least, I think I’m not.