“ It’s hard to know that she will never be anything other than my therapist.”
This was a quote from an email I received recently. It is something I’ve said and felt hundreds of times too. And I know that it’s such a common sentiment from people in depth therapy.
My reply was this;
I don’t know if it helps any, but even though I struggle a lot at times with Sienna not being able to be my mother or not wanting to be, I do also hold within me a gladness that she IS my therapist. That her in that role is what I need. And the love and care she gives me as my therapist IS enough, more than enough. Being “just my therapist” doesn’t make the relationship less than others or shallow, on the contrary, it’s one of the deepest relationships I’ve experienced.
Our relationship is limited by professional boundaries. It’s limited in terms of where we meet, or the things we can do together or the time spent together. But there is no limit to the depth of feelings or emotions. It’s the most honest relationship I have. The feelings are all authentic. With friends, yeah we can go out and do things, go places, spend a ton of time together…. but we are rarely deeply authentically honest with each other. Not in the way I am with my therapist. And I don’t lean on my friends the way I do my therapist.
So, I think the therapy relationship can be enough as it is. If my needs are getting met in the way I need.
I can’t always hold onto that sentiment. Sometimes parts of me grieve hugely that she can’t be my mother. Or sometimes when there’s been an empathic failure on Sienna’s part or a rupture of some sort, I immediately doubt the authenticity of the relationship. Bumping against the boundaries and limitations of my therapist produces so much pain and anger and suspicion and mistrust.
In those moments, I see the limitations of the relationship and sometimes it just feels so narrow and just not enough for me.
The cold hard fact that Sienna cannot be who she is in the therapy room ALL the time is hard to swallow. And it’s hard not to feel suspicious of who she really is, if she’s not exactly how she is when her “therapy hat” is on.
How can one person be so deeply attuned and caring and say all the right things (mostly) when we are face to face in session, yet outside of session she is someone else. Who is that other person? Which one is the real her, then?
These are things I often wonder.
Part of my mistrust of people is that I try to find their essence. Who are they when they take the mask off? That’s what matters. Who are they when no one is looking? I think that if I can find that out, then I can decide if that person is trustworthy. I can take a risk on a person if I think I know who they really are.
A therapist who is playing a part is a danger to me.
Thanks to my other superpower- hypervigilance, I can sniff out an inauthentic therapist from 30 miles away. I can tell generally by just looking at them, and then when they speak and when I see how they move….. there are signs.
I’ve never sensed inauthenticity from my therapist. But many times I have came across her “real” self, as in the normal human who is busy and stressed and frustrated and tired. And I hate it.
My need for outside contact was in part an attachment need and in part a symptom of hypervigilance – the need to “know” who she was without the therapy hat on.
Anyone who’s read my blog for any length of time will know the ruptures the outside contact has brought. I don’t regret any of the ruptures, even though they were and still are hugely painful and sometimes re-traumatising. I see it as all part of my journey.
What I have learned through those ruptures is that I really need my therapist to be my therapist. The moments that she has been human and fallible and a bit of a moody cow to be honest, have created huge ruptures that don’t feel good to either of us.
Yes, I have a better idea of who she is outside of the therapy room. Though she still remains a bit of a mystery to me. But I can’t cope with the real her. I need therapy her. I need the idolised perfect mother.
And even though I know cognitively, that it isn’t real. That “ therapist” it is a construct, a role that is bourne out of need and attachment theory and training and isn’t something I’ll find outside in real life…. I am okay with going along with it because it is healing. It is what I need.
I never thought I’d say that or feel that way. I’ve always been determined to get to the real person under the therapist persona. Determined to catch them out. Determined to find the real them.
And also, I suppose I also thought that if they gave me access to the real them then somehow I existed more to them. That I was more than “ just a client” to them. That I existed in their real life not just that stupid therapy room. I needed to be more to them than “ just a client” or “ just work.”
I probably still do have that need sometimes. To be something more than the rest, to be special, to belong to someone, to belong somewhere, to exist to someone. After years of just fading into the background in my own life, after years of meeting everyone else’s needs and denying my own, after years of never feeling wanted or good enough or special to anyone or belonging anywhere, after years of being ignored and dismissed….. I want to be more than a face in the crowd. I want to be more that “ just a client”. And if someone whom I regard highly and love dearly feels warmth and care for me then it’s like something magical, like a wish come true to experience it.
What I am learning is something I always knew cognitively, but could never feel authentically. And that is that the boundaries and constraints of the relationship are deliberately constructed and based in theory and ethics. The relationship has professional foundations. That part is unreal I suppose or to use a phrase; “ just a professional relationship.”
But that’s where the “fakeness” ends. The two people who come together in that room create something unique. Something that can’t be replicated with any other person (therapist or client). Because the relationship that is created is real and the energy in that room is a co-creation between two souls. The intricacies and the emotions and the dynamics are individual to the two people involved in this therapy dance.
It is special and unique. It is intense, and the highs and lows can be dramatic, there’s actions and reactions.
The level of intensity in that room, the sheer mass of emotion emitted by both parties would be impossible to keep up 24/7. The wish for access to that magical energy is very normal, very natural for people who haven’t gotten enough of it in childhood. But it’s a child’s wishful thinking and it can’t survive adult reality.
Because if we truly had access to our therapists 24/7, we’d soon get the exhausted “mother”. The “busy, not now” mother. The “not good enough mother.” Because as amazing as our therapists are, they cannot expend all that intensive loving energy on one person. It’s impossible to produce the amount of energy needed and it would be unhealthy to try.
And honestly, we would quickly become exhausted with all that intensity too.
Babies will look away from their mothers when interaction becomes too much. Even babies need a break from the lovely stuff. And so do clients. It’s in the moments in between sessions that we process, and feel and learn and rest!
I feel like in session I get the very best version of Sienna. I get the “good enough” mother. And I don’t feel like what we have is fake or shallow or “ just” anything. I think what we have is pretty special. I feel like I do get the real her, even though I don’t get All of her, there’s so much of her I don’t know, so much of her I don’t get, so much I don’t know about her. Yet what she does show me and share with me is the realest thing I’ve ever experienced.
What I get from her, I suspect not many others in her life get to see. I don’t know that for sure of course. But that paid-for hour gives us both the chance to take of our real-life masks and be authentically us. Yes, I pay for her attention. I pay for her to be ethical and I guess I am paying for her to be professional rather than personal to an extent. I am paying for her to take a role, I am paying for her to keep her needs out of the room. I am paying for her to stay within a therapeutic framework.
But I don’t think I am paying for a shallow relationship. I don’t think it’s a limited relationship in ways that matter. I don’t think her feelings (good and bad) are fake. I think she cares deeply. I believe her when she tells me I’m a really important part of her life. I believe that I exist to her. (Disclaimer – I don’t always feel this way depends which part is out!)
Sienna and I don’t have a traditional therapist/client relationship. It can be a little “outside the box” at times. We rupture big, we repair big too. It can feel stormy at times. But as time goes on, I am slowly learning to trust that ruptures don’t necessarily mean termination of the relationship, though it still feels that way in the moment it happens.
I used to need the relationship to not be traditional in its framework. I hated the traditional framework with a passion. I am still not terrible keen and I couldn’t work with a therapist who stayed rigidly within it. But having experienced the downsides of outside contact and all the drama it brings, I have surprised myself in learning that I really do need the safety of a more traditional framework. I need predictability and stability and a therapist who is on her A-game.
Right now, it doesn’t work for me when the lines blur, even slightly. In the past I’ve actively pursued a blurring of the lines. I needed it so badly.
Yet, after last year which was horrendous from about April onwards, I am so tired and worn out from the blurred dynamics that played out, from the transference-laden bullshit that confused and terrified me.
Perhaps it’s because I am more in touch with my extremely vulnerable child parts since the rupture. Maybe it’s them who needs structure and clear boundaries and a therapist who is focused completely on them. I find myself unable to discuss transference and Sienna’s counter-transference. I literally can’t cope with hearing it.
Whereas it used to fascinate me and I really enjoyed hearing Sienna’s perceptions and feelings and discussions in supervision about me.
I enjoyed the less traditional framework and the blurring of lines. I wanted to work that way. And there is so many gains to be had by working like that. It’s so enlightening and there’s huge lessons to be learned in it. I don’t regret it at all, we’ve done some amazing work in that place.
But the downside was the ruptures. Too many. And now my capacity to deal with any upheaval has greatly diminished for now. I feel too vulnerable to cope with the heavy weight of counter-transference and blurred lines and parallel processes and fiery dynamics.
Right now I need simple. I need clear. I need nurture and reassurance. I feel better without the outside contact. (Can’t believe I’m saying that!!!)
My sessions are a lot simpler. There’s less to fear. There’s less focus on the relationship and more focus on just me. In some ways it feels like having been at university and now I’m back in infant school, year 1. It feel strange and below my capabilities but it’s also restful.
It’s like when I was a therapy rookie, I was so busy coping with therapy that I didn’t fully experience all it had to offer on a felt body level. It wasn’t a felt experience, it was a cognitive assault on my poor trauma addled brain.
Whereas now, I am fully experiencing the benefits of basic, year 1 therapy level. I can now take in the therapist’s caring and warmth in a way I never could in the beginning. I can go in an be a baby client again and just have things fully focused on me. Everything has been slowed down for me. The focus is very much on nurturance.
That’s not to say there haven’t been bumps in the road. Just last week Sienna and I had a small rupture which felt huge in the moment. But that’s just us. It’s what we seem to do. And I’m getting better at accepting that.
I’m not sure if this post has been a bit un-focused, it feel like It has. I’m just thinking out loud really.