Therapy is Weird.
For the first time in my life, as mentioned in my recent editor’s letter, I’ve been attending biweekly therapy sessions.
Now, historically, I’m no fan of therapy. My family member who I was close to, growing up, had a therapist for, what, 20 years? Spending countless bucks. And what good did it do him? Well, probably a lot—he talked of his therapist with respect and affection to the bitter end. But the end was bitter. Still, to be fair, and I aim herein to be fair, it’s impossible to say how much harder and worse my family member’s life might have been without such counsel.
So I’ll stick to my experience.
1. It’s superficial. I have a therapist I respect, and listen to. That’s ideal. Still, therapy sessions are on the clock. They’re short. In that time it’s easy to ask a few questions, answer a few questions, and your shrink is looking at his/her watch. See you next week/in two weeks/in a month?, she/he asks? In other words, it’s hard to get into anything in any depth—and that’s the whole point, right? To—unlike in daily life, in convos with friends and family and loved ones—get into fundamental confusions and questions and begin to shed some sunlight upon ’em?
2. It’s financial. It’s a heart and mind-based conversation…based on money. There’s a subtle sense that the therapist is providing a service. That warps the relationship. When time is up, get out, I’m off the clock. But when the clock is running, if I want to bring up some pointless question that I think has a point to it, I sure do hope I’m not listened to just because I think it’s important.
3. Furthermore, it’s pricey. I don’t have money to do it weekly, which would be more helpful. I frankly don’t have the dough to do it monthly. But, I’m doing it bi-weekly. Last week I bounced my check. So I gave him a new one (that went through). Still, it’s $200 a month I could spend on, you know, food.
4. It’s cliché. There’s a tendency, given the short periods of time, to look for patterns. What’s your relationship like with your mom? Are you always attracted to this sort of person?
5. Bullshit is entirely self-refereed. If you’re good at charm, or bullshitting, you have to watch yourself. Which is a problem. Now, luckily, I’m there because I want to be and I happen to respect my therapist…but if I didn’t, the temptation to say what I want her/him to hear, and to answer in ways I know will please or impress her/him, might tend to color the conversations. And she/he wouldn’t necessarily know the difference, given their…
6. …Lack of connection to the rest of the client’s life. Now, people always say therapy is great because finally you’re having a conversation with someone who can be fully objective. Unlike friends or loved ones, they’re there to offer wisdom, to help, with zero ulterior objectives (if you don’t know #1). On the other hand, unlike friends and loved ones (and, for that matter, random folks who can’t stand me and tell me so once in awhile), the therapist may or may not (most likely, not, since distance is built into this professional relationship) have any involvement or independent knowledge of the rest of the client’s life. So, again, they’re trusting in the client’s honesty. And, as we know, even if the client is honest, the client may be deceiving his or herself.
7. The whole listening thing. When I first met with my therapist, I encouraged him to cut through any bullshiite that might come out of my confusion, to cut to the heart of the matter, to tell me what to do and I’d follow. He patiently said: you’re getting this relationship confused with meditation instruction (in the Buddhist tradition in which I grew up, you meet with a meditation instructor and they provide guidance along the path of life, and the Buddhist path). I’m here to ask questions, and to be someone in your life who can offer their full attention. I’ll do a lot of listening. Something like that.
8. There’s no Commencement ceremony. Therapy should, I keep thinking, you know, heal you. It should wind up with the therapist saying, okay, jump out of the nest, try and fly! Instead, as with my family member, many folks see a therapist forever. There’s no end date.
9. Therapy is an awkward term for what’s transpiring. It’s got weird associations. Unlike “meditation instruction” or even “life coaching,” I’m embarrassed to say to random friends or strangers “hey, I’m in therapy.” I respect that embarrassment: I listen to it. It says that something isn’t in sync with my Buddhist path. It says…therapy is, on some level, based on the premise that something is wrong with us. And that’s not the case. In Buddhism, in the Shambhala Buddhist path particularly, we meditate and we practice, again and again, see things just as they are: fundamentally, unconditionally, basically good.
10. Happy ending. I’m happy to say that I do have some big questions, and some habits and confusions, that my therapist is seeing clearly, and pointing out. And, I’m happy to say that’s it’s been a powerful experience, and that I (mostly) look forward to our meetings, even if they’re intense in some ways, and tough. I relish the experience of looking into someone’s eyes, and trying to speak truthfully and deeply, and trying to listen and open up fully. It’s great. And I’m continuing, indefiinitely (see #8).