Last Monday, my therapist, “Kirk” (not his real name), was more annoying than a tick that had buried itself deep under my skin and was gleefully disco-dancing under my epidermis like an LSD-ridden raver.
He was irritating me in a way very few people ever had. Honestly, he made Joffrey Baratheon seem pleasant.
What was his crime? Not letting things go.
Oh, he’d pretend to. He’d pretend to have noticed my discomfort and poor deflection techniques, only to circle back around and attack the topic from a different angle. His relentlessness was infuriating. Some might deem such behaviour as merely being “professional”— yeah, it was professional alright. It was the work of a professional douchebag.
And as for that time he pointed out that he had— more than once —begun asking about an entirely different issue, but each time, I had, in fact, brought it back to our original subject? Therapist witchcraft, I tell thee! He made me do that with his nefarious box of mind tricks.
Truly, if there had been an award for the most annoying individual to have ever, ever breathed, “Kirk” would have romped home. He was a d*ck and I’d obviously drawn the short straw in being assigned to him.
I couldn’t wait for the session to end.
Having just worked a night shift and hurried home to have the session with my psychological nincompoop, I went straight to bed after the call. I was too tired to mull over anything—I passed out seconds after my head hit the pillow.
Seven hours later, I woke up, showered, and went to work again. That night, I didn’t have time to think about “Kirk” —I was too busy fending off an angry client who, like many in this world, had taken a disliking to my face and wanted me nowhere near them. They repeatedly showed this by trying to push me through a door, which was sadly both closed and locked. I’m not sure how many times my back bounced off the unyielding wood.
The next night, the same thing again. Except this time, the door did give and I did an impressive backwards tumble followed by an elongated arse-slide. I’d like to say it was all a bit “henchman being smacked by John Wick,” but I’d be lying. It was more “Mr. Bean takes a tumble because it’s a bit icy underfoot.”
Then, because it never rains when it pours, that same night, I started to feel ill. Thus began my short, intimate, four-day-long relationship with my toilet. I was a faecal Vesuvius—even water went through me with frightening alacrity.
Thoughts of my idiotic psychologist were far from my mind. However, that’s a good thing because I would only have blamed all this on him as well.
I finally began to feel human again on Monday morning, just in time for…therapy.
Oh, great. Yipee.
Like a sulky schoolboy, I made my way to my laptop, logged onto the special NHS portal-thing, and waited for his silly, bespectacled face to fill my screen. Honestly, given the week I’d had following our last awful session, if he was a d*ck today I’d—well, I’m not quite sure what I would’ve done but it would’ve undoubtedly been spectacularly immature and petty.
Bang on 9:30, “Kirk” arrived and our session began. And it was…
Pretty amazing, really.
He knew I’d been ill and that work had been eventful, so he was gentle with me. Whereas I felt he’d spent the whole hour the week before jabbing at an open wound, this week, he patiently explained why he had.
There was a lot of psychology theory, all of which helped me to understand just why what we were trying to discuss mattered, as well as why last week I appeared to be caught in the continual see-sawing between constantly raising that subject and then backing away as quickly as I had.
He also felt it was time to have a bit of a chat about the therapist-client relationship, and about how it swings from affection and respect to loathing, and back again, whilst taking brief detours into all manner of places in between. You read about this before you begin therapy, but nothing quite prepares you for the reality: it’s an emotional rollercoaster that can leave you giddy.
The trick, if there is one, to maintaining a healthy balance is to try and not project.
For example, if you’ve suddenly reached an epiphany, it’s not because your therapist is a God-like genius and needs to be worshipped. It’s because the two of you have worked as a team to dig down to that important truth, and you deserve as much acclaim as they do. Conversely, if you’re suddenly feeling antagonistic toward your therapist, there’s a good chance it’s the subject you’re talking about that is evoking that feeling — quite naturally, you blame them (after all, they’re the one making you talk about this sh*t) but it’s not really them.
As I have a deep interest in all this stuff, none of it was dry. It was fascinating, albeit in a genial, low-key way.
It was also a “safe” way to begin talking about me and my stuff. We started with the abstract theory and slowly segued into the deeply personal. You know all those things I had resolutely not wanted to talk about last week? Yeah, we did this week. And then some. Even in my “just recovered my humanity state,” I went full in.
A different approach brought vastly different results.
Except, as skillful as “Kirk’s” change of attitude was this week, it was really just a continuation of what we did seven days ago. If last week was blowing the ground open with emotional TNT, this week was about scouring that same ground and looking for the diamonds that had been dislodged by the blast. But, even if I hadn’t spent the last few days hugging the toilet, I think he might’ve adopted the same approach.
Just as when you’re watching a good film and should be so engrossed in the story you don’t notice the prodigious craft that’s being employed to tell that story, likewise, you shouldn’t always be aware of just what your therapist is doing, but instead, be fully committed to the therapeutic transaction unfolding around you both.
But sometimes, just as you can’t help but admire a wondrous piece of direction or acting, you also occasionally can’t stop yourself from sitting back, looking at your therapist, and saying, “Boy, they’re good.” And “Kirk” had undoubtedly been good. The change of gears was not only both smooth and seamless, but also hugely effective.
However, all that comes later. First, the insights arrive.
If you actively engage with your therapist, you will have moments of Earth-shattering illumination.
For instance, you know that weird thing you do in every relationship? Talk to a therapist long enough and you’ll begin to know why. And it’ll end up making much more sense than any conclusions you’ve arrived at on your own because you’ve done the solo work in your head. But the moment you have to actually say that aloud to another person? Yeah, doesn’t sound so good now, does it?
However, exploring that with a compassionate helping hand will mean you don’t just alight on the first, often most comfortable, theory — a good therapist won’t let you. It’s a cop-out and of no lasting benefit to you. It might be immeasurably harder to do this in therapy, exposing yourself and all your silly little faults to another living, breathing person, but there’s oil in them fields if you’re willing to dig.
Sadly, these epiphanies won’t be like those cartoons of Archimedes sitting in the bath when a lightbulb suddenly appears above his head. Real insights are more of a dull click. You don’t go “Aha!”—it’s more like, “Oh, crap.”
And this week, I had a few “Oh, crap” moments as I saw the thin, emotional gossamer thread that — almost invisibly — connected disparate incidents from my life together. They weren’t separate at all; they were part of a pattern. One I had to counter if I wanted to be happy. I was beyond grateful for the role my therapist had played in bringing that pattern to the fore, to opening up the path toward contentment. The antagonism from last week was replaced with an overwhelming affection for the man. To be honest, I would’ve proposed to him if I could.
Next week, we’ll undoubtedly explore that pattern further.
And I’ll probably be back to hating “Kirk” again. Even though part of me knows I’ll just be projecting my discomfort about what we’re talking about onto him.
That’s cool, though. It’s just how this kind of relationship rolls. It’s an intense one, like a 25-year marriage on fast-forward. Yet, for all the ups and downs, my one with “Kirk” is proving to be one of the greatest of my life. (Even when I do think he’s being a d*ck.)
Therapy works. Even when it feels as if it isn’t (as it did last week), somewhere under the surface, things are always shifting, coalescing, waiting for the right moment to emerge into the sunlight, as they did for me this week. And when they do? Well, get used to those “Oh, crap” moments.
Therapy: try it. You won’t regret it. It’s quite the ride.