October 09, 2011

Can You Hear Me Now?


All right, I've debated with myself for two days about whether or not to blog about a therapy session from Hell, and I finally decided I'd feel better if I just wrote about it and got it out there.  It'll certainly be more cathartic and therapeutic than the session was!

I've been given diagnoses of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, panic, and depression. I lived through the slow deaths of both my parents from horrible, wasting diseases, a flood, frequent moves, more than one bankruptcy, the deaths of several friends, the deaths of numerous family members--though people in war zones and third-world countries experience things I can't even imagine, most Americans who aren't homeless or something are pretty startled when I begin rattling off the list of things I've seen. Not too surprising then, I think, that I should need to see a counselor. Unfortunately for me, there seems to be a dearth of good ones where I live.

I know there are people out there who disagree with me about this, but I'm a big fan of therapists keeping their religious beliefs out of sessions, especially when those clash with the views of the client.  When religion has been as big a part of a life as it has been of mine, I need to talk about it as part of my therapy, not to mention that I take my faith in Christ seriously, and He appears in my conversation.  If I'm speaking to a friend, an acquaintance, a fellow shopper in the mall, who is clearly not a Christian, I carefully temper how I phrase things and what I say, because I never wish to give offense, though I do my best to be honest.  In a counseling session, however, one of the primary requirements of the scenario is that the client feel safe and uninhibited in their speech.  So, I don't check my faith or pretty much anything else at the door when I walk into therapy.  But if you think you know where this story is going, you may be in for a shock.

One of Rorschach's Inkblots

I didn't find myself in a room with a therapist who was also an atheist, and therefore offended by my mentions of God and church.  Quite the contrary, much to my annoyance.  This woman is an Evangelical of strong beliefs and even stronger opinions, and when I felt so free to discuss Christ in the course of my soliloquy, SHE then felt free to make her own insertions and observations not about my mental health or how we might improve it, but more like we were having a nice chat about the state of the world and all the things we disagree with that other people do on our way out of a Sunday morning service.  If you've never been in therapy before, let me say that it is a very vulnerable place; you feel quite naked emotionally, and you're baring your soul to a clinician in the same way that you would bare some strange rash that suddenly developed on your butt to a doctor.  The last thing you want is to suddenly be drawn up short by the announcement that the doctor can't stand the candidate you voted for in the last presidential election.  The doctor has a perfect right to hold whatever views he likes, but what does that have to do with the inflamation on YOUR ass?  It may be a somewhat flawed analogy, but I think you get my point.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity is a wildly unknown quantity for many Americans, so the need to be involved in constant inter-religious dialogue, to be a representative of my Church, comes up at some point in pretty much every conversation I have with a non-Orthodox person.  I realized that this would be part of the deal when I signed on, and converted anyway, because I believed it was the right thing to do.  I had to learn very quickly how to speak diplomatically about my faith to my in-laws, my long-time Protestant friends, every member of my family, including my parents--I was raised the Pentecostal daughter of a Pentecostal preacher and his wife, for Heaven's sake!  Everyone in my world, until I began forming a wider circle of Orthodox friends, was Evangelical.  So, I'm used to this, and all I can do is be honest, tactful, and hope I represent my Church well and don't offend anyone around me.  Still, it makes many of my everyday interactions with people an awful lot of work.  I don't expect to have to do that kind of mental gymnastics while talking to a therapist, because I don't expect a therapy session to be ABOUT THE THERAPIST!  It's one of the few places where both you and the therapist are supposed to pretend the therapist HAS no opinions, thoughts or needs, except those that relate to your mental health, because as much as you need to be the focus of this person's professional attention, they need to keep clinical detachment from you so that at the end of the day, they can leave you and all their other cases at the office.  Therefore, they don't dive into personal information about themselves in order to maintain that detachment for their own well-being.  They don't discuss their religious views, political views, food preferences, sexual proclivities, vacation plans (beyond mere small talk)--they don't discuss ANYTHING that isn't germaine to your mental health!  Has a doctor ever asked you if "your church is a Bible-believing church," when you came to him needing help with an odd pain in your knee?  Wouldn't you be tempted to look at him like he was crazy if he did?  That's one of the things this woman asked me, and was the point where the clinical relationship between us ended, as far as I'm concerned.


Freud's Famous Couch
(Photo by Konstantin Binder)

I said in my last post about therapy that I was hoping to find one decent therapist and make some progress before having to move away again, like I usually have to do.  Well, the search continues.

2 comments:

  1. "It's one of the few places where both you and the therapist are supposed to pretend the therapist HAS no opinions, thoughts or needs, except those that relate to your mental health, because as much as you need to be the focus of this person's professional attention, they need to keep clinical detachment from you so that at the end of the day, they can leave you and all their other cases at the office. Therefore, they don't dive into personal information about themselves in order to maintain that detachment for their own well-being. They don't discuss their religious views, political views, food preferences, sexual proclivities, vacation plans (beyond mere small talk)--they don't discuss ANYTHING that isn't germaine to your mental health!"

    It just dawned on me that for the last 25 or so years I have followed these rules in something like 85% of my interactions with every one in my life. Including my ex-wife, her family, my family, all of my coworkers, and friends...
    Is this not socially correct, and expected?
    Further I suddenly realize that for some odd reason I have not been doing this on FB since I started my account a few weeks ago... hmm odd that...

    In any case I fined that few people want to spend any time talking to me unless I at least pretend to have no opinions, thoughts or needs, except those that relate positively to Their desires, and well-being.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah, women don't have ordinary conversations that way. That's a blanket statement, I know, and there are exceptions to every rule (obviously, since you seem to have mentioned at least one), but when I normally have conversations with other women, we try to balance out the amount of time spent on each person's views, thoughts, needs, etc. I just don't want to have to do that when I'm paying someone supposedly to help me get healthier.

    ReplyDelete

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