Shrinking rather than Growing
Updated: Feb 6, 2019
In completing my long and bumpy journey (going with the lingo early!) to qualify as a professional counsellor, I am required to attend at least 30 hours of personal therapy per year. This is understandably necessary. As somebody so far from being able to have written the book, I see it simply as being essential to complete your training, in that you must be able to see the world through somebody else’s shoes as closely as possible. This has to be the only way to achieve any true empathy.
A stark difference between entering into your relationship in this way rather than consciously seeking therapy, is that you are not organically looking for or are aware that any particular aspect of your life is asking for any changes. Initially though, it was seen as a welcome chance had by me to air some of the major life changes that I’d had taken place since I'd last seen a therapist in Spring 2014 and something of a bonus to being on my course. In a delusional sense I’d almost allowed myself to believe that I’d be having therapy in some sort of almost professional capacity; being on the road to become a counsellor myself. What a ridiculous notion. I admit this as I certainly now understand there being no point in undergoing therapy for any other purpose than wanting to have the ability to make better sense of things for yourself in the future.
The therapist all too astutely tapped into my natural disposition of relating everything to other people in my terms, rather than actually disclosing any of my core. I was almost appalled at the time, as a wannabe emo is not something that I was always proud of feeling that I could not distance myself from further!
There was some truth to this; this accusation came as something most unexpected. Being called ‘an open book’ is something that I have been several times in. Yes, I always tried to be; as long as it were on my terms. Albeit, I saw this as a useful nugget of information to bear in mind and saw this as the sort of healthy piece of information that my counselling should provide and I should work with.
At the time I published a therapy related blog on the 8th of November 2018, I had been with my therapist for the best part of two months. There is no such thing as their existing a definitive ‘black’ and ‘white’ way to offer therapy. It is fair to say, that – as my girlfriend Sarah can only too keenly verify – the traditional Friday night curry directly following my therapy was nearly always tainted by having become intense. Indeed, I’d almost subconsciously end up throwing things around for us to analyse and have some meaty conversation around. As somebody who is susceptible of internalising everything, I instinctively always held myself, as opposed to the therapist responsible for a session living me feeling vulnerable. Being desperate not to appear overly defensive, it seemed easier to trust my therapist.
This negative pattern is something that I soon picked-up upon. Whilst I was well prepared for this to happen after the first few weeks and I changed our meeting time to be on a Tuesday evening, directly after a day’s class at City Lit College.
It was a fair commute on the Central Line to Bond Street and then on to the Jubilee Line to West Hampstead (to give you all the deets!). The separation from my East London home of Hoxton, was something that I saw as a welcome separation between my personal private life and the therapy room. In spite of the natural contradiction that there may seem in this, I do not see it as any detrimental factor in leading to our relationship breaking down
Admittedly – and hopefully not just in the beautiful benefit of deluded hindsight – I never felt that any real understanding of me is something therapist actually properly had. Some old-school cynics of therapy close to me – mentioning no names! – may almost sadly believe that therapy is some sort of ‘a game’ and inadvertently, this is something that I could not help but believe was taking place.
Of course a therapist should have input that can lead you to question your life decisions, though it often often felt to me, as though I my disposition was being scrutinised, rather than supported. An example that springs to light was being asked in our earliest stages of 'why I’d chosen to study at City Lit College?' (sic.) when he did not recognise the ABC Counselling Qualification that I was taken. Before elaborating about having moved from Northampton to Southampton (I think and it could well be vice-versa!) to find the most fitting form of study. This is just one particular largely irrelevant tit-bit, but explores how sometimes I felt that he were exerting himself or trying to prove some sort of point. This is not what I need to take place in my counselling.
It’s also interesting to me, how he would refuse to answer any question that I posed about himself. Of course in such an environment, it is fair to stringently assess the relevance of such enquiries and need to answer. It just felt rather one-way to me and in respect to his sentiment that 'it’s not about me, it’s about you', this tenuously almost seeming like something of an old-school Freudian psychodynamic approach to therapy, it just felt more elitist and hierarchical from my perspective.
In our penultimate session, I vividly recall entering in positive spirits. I had optimism that my class was given a new and most personable ‘looking after your interests’ seeming tutor and returning to studies after a relaxing Christmas break. This was not something that seemed to be met with any interest. Instead, I just recall feeling as though I was being prodded to display some inadequacy or confusion towards something..
Now, I’ve got umpteen flaws and was not consciously try to hide them from my therapist, though it felt to me, that I was being prodded. It all seemed to blow-up rapidly from a standard conversation into somehow finding myself say 'you’re mocking me!' Whilst I do not (and do think that I ever did) really hold my therapist to be guilty of this accusation, I definitely said it. It was on the back of being told 'you’re tense' followed by 'you are tense' after I questioned it. This may not be the order or indeed actual parroting of what was exchanged, but I hardly think that the outcome of our discourse is a real question of semantics.
I draw the comparison of the recollection to that of me sitting in my booster seat of the car and my mum saying ‘oh you’re tired…’ and me all too rapidly always responding with something like ‘I’m not tired, I’m NEVER tired!’ What an analogy. The fact of course is, that I inevitably was tired. Just like in the case of this therapy, I’m sure that I was tense. Most perceptibly, the therapist looked disheartened at any claim that he were being at all sarcastic toward me or even taking light in my discomfort. I’m sure that he weren't, but I cannot help having been made to feel like this. The way that he felt uneasy was something that I were acutely aware of and I recall behaving almost apologetically for placing him in the position that he was; only cemented by his telling me that 'nobody has ever accused me of that in 11 (I can only think that was the exact number) years of practising'.
Being made to feel tense is not something that is ideal in a therapy room, but at the end of this session, I recall feeling a combination of some guilt and relief at saying exactly how I’d felt; it was better than feeling as though I was being directed away from saying anything of much worth. I was looking forward to being able to try and wipe the slate clean and hopefully perhaps even progressed our relationship into something that could blossom; or even just bud at this stage.
Upon entering the room on Tuesday the 22nd of January ‘toxic’ was how I remarked that I felt our last session had been. The therapist simply responded by telling me that he was glad that I had expressed this, how perturbed the session had made him and how he felt that we would need to end our relationship.
This knocked the wind out of my sails completely. It is not what I was expecting. My feelings of having gotten to some more human side of my therapist (which my sister had already told me how she did not feel that this should ever be the point of therapy), were instantly thwarted.
After sine silence ‘how do you feel about this?’ was what I heard. Of course I could not be sure at how I would digest such a fresh and unexpected piece of information. Fair as enquiry as it was, to me it instantly rang of me being on the powerless end of this relationship.
Weakness and dominance have to be antonyms of anything that you should ever feel in a therapy room anyway. They are not states that I ever believe that either I or my therapist were ever in search. If anything, the way that I felt can best be described as being split up with, but wishing that you’d enacted it!
Benevolently, he did offer me to have another session if I needed it to have an ‘ending’. I shan’t say what I felt towards that idea. Apparently, according to our Personal Development supervisor, this was a grossly unprofessional way of ending a relationship. Whereas I couldn’t give a monkeys about this.
The only part that I took umbrage with, was that after he had severed our ties, he began to interrogate my working memory by asking me what the last thing he said was! In that sort of awkward scenario, could I really have ever been expected to know?
Excuse any crassness, but asking somebody with a brain injury about memory in that way, would be something akin to asking somebody with an eating disorder about cake. Respectably, he did self-disclose how he felt unequipped to deal with my injury and that he aims to do some training on it. Talk about making me feel like a leper! In my eyes, our conflict had everything to do with what I took – however accurately – to be his rather clinical and formulaic approach to life. As if it is ever at all wise, holistic or rounded for somebody to feel that they need more ‘training’ (gee-wiz) to work with you.
It was also commented that I would often turn my head away and evade it when he talked of my injury. Perhaps in this case I may have appeared to have been placed in an awkward position. The fact that I have written a book explicitly detailing the injury is no defence to getting supposedly edgy or uncomfortable in being asked by somebody else; it is though, when I do not feel that the person I am speaking to demonstrates much understanding of what I am saying. And as I hope to write, I try to speak pretty lucidly.
Anyway, I’m glad that we parted on good terms and wishing each other luck. Now, I just have the arduous search of finding another therapist. This one charged a noble £25 an hour. This is not something that I can even be hopeful of this time, though perhaps the old adage that at times you ‘only get what you pay for’ is all too true.
The seeming bonus of having a male therapist of similar age to myself has been lost. Alpha-male is hardly something with which I'd identify with by any stretch, but this is a nasty quality that for whatever reason we came to draw out of one another.
So now I'm seeking a new therapist; this time; bring on a middle age women with lava lamps and asymmetrical jewellery any day.
The priceless lesson that I have been forced to learn is the individuality, gravity and exclusivity of a therapeutic relationship. The simple fact is that in itself, I've come to learn that almost nothing that a therapist says can be intrinsically wrong and as I stressed to my therapist, we just can't be everybody's cup of tea.