My therapist has troubles of her own

I'm not getting the attention I need. Plus: A reply to the right-wing blogosphere.

By Cary Tennis

Published December 20, 2005 11:46AM (EST)

A brief note to my friends at Instapundit, the Captain's Quarters and similar blogs:

Thank you for your spirited comments on my recent column regarding the philosophy graduate student torn between teaching and political activism. One thing I ought to clarify, for this is something you and I probably agree upon: I do not favor violent revolution. Perhaps you used that phrase for effect and not literally. Still, it was not my phrase, nor is it my wish.

If, however, in this age of remarkable scandal, it should become apparent that democracy itself is systematically being undermined, or if the administration's continued actions abroad seem destined for a calamity that can be averted by no other means, then I would indeed favor a vigorous expression of the popular will in the form of mass demonstrations, marches, nonviolent civil disobedience, even a general strike.

As I tried to make clear in the piece (and perhaps failed in some respects), those of us who find fault with the government have a duty to back up our words with material sacrifice, to become refuseniks in the service of our beliefs, to peacefully withhold our cooperation from a government we find deep fault with. To act in such a way is noble and patriotic.

As regards the tone of your comments, I believe that as Americans you and I are far more alike than different. We may both engage from time to time in overheated rhetoric. But I believe your intentions are good, and I hope you would believe the same of mine.

I fear, however, that the shrill popular spirit being unleashed today in the right-wing blogosphere will not be judged kindly by history. When the more thoughtful and honest among you look back on these times it will likely seem as though a fever had overtaken many otherwise sound minds, much like the fever of communism overtook many fine minds of the left in previous times.

Nevertheless, I have enjoyed hearing from you and your associates. It is rather like being visited by cantankerous but interesting relatives. We will surely meet again. I will think of you often.

Until then, yours truly,
Cary T.

And now, today's letter:

Cary --

I've been seeing a therapist for the last three years or so. In that time, she has helped me reestablish relationships with my family of origin, achieve more balance in my life (I'm a bit of a workaholic) and, for the first time in a decade, have an intimate relationship with a member of the opposite sex.

However, I think our relationship has recently taken a turn for the worse. She completely missed an appointment two weeks ago (to which I drive 45 minutes each way) and was 15 minutes late for our last appointment, without calling. When I did finally see her at my last appointment, she took the first five to 10 minutes of our time together to explain that she and her husband are having marital difficulties, that she's tired of his selfishness and is at the end of her rope. While I didn't say anything at the time, it struck me later that I expect, when I see her, that despite what is going on her life, she will be able to focus on me. I felt that a boundary had been breached in our relationship.

In addition, I know she is not crazy about the person I am in an intimate relationship with. Though a former alcoholic and addict, he now has three and a half years clean, and continues to go to meetings and work his program. He also has sole custody of a 4-year-old. Needless to say, he does have some issues, both emotionally and financially, that he hasn't fully dealt with, though I do think he is moving in the right direction. We had a period a few months ago where things were completely broken off between us, but we are now gingerly reestablishing our relationship.

One of the pieces of advice my therapist gave me in our last session was that she wants me to push my friend for visitation rights with his son (we're both very attached to each other) should my relationship with him be severed again. After thinking about it, though, it seems as if doing this now would be an unnecessarily provoking event -- though something I will definitely need to have a conversation about eventually. I'm not sure she'd be OK with my not taking her advice.

Long and short of it, I guess I've been feeling lately that my sessions with her have been a lot about her giving me advice about what to do -- rather than supporting me in finding the courage and wisdom to make the right choices on my own.

Time for a Break?

Dear Time for a Break,

Yes, it sounds to me like it's time for a break. You do need someone who can focus on you. If I were you, I would cancel your upcoming sessions and set out to find a different therapist.

In announcing this, I suggest you tell her simply that you've made up your mind to discontinue sessions with her and to seek out a new therapist. Do not offer an explanation. If she insists that she is due an explanation, you might tell her that in six months or a year you might be able to offer her one, but not now. Why not? Seriously, I'm afraid she might try to talk you out of it. And you might be tempted, out of loyalty to her, or out of pity, to sacrifice your own best interests to hers.

So don't do it. Don't go there. There are many interesting things that could be said about the boundaries of the therapist-patient relationship and the nature of therapy work itself. But some other time. For now, just give her adequate notice of cancellation and begin your search for a new therapist.

It may be weeks or months before you can reestablish a weekly routine with a trusted therapist. During that time, you don't want to slip into old behaviors, or lose the feeling of momentum and progress that you have had. And you're going to need support. So you could do a couple of things. You could seek support in some kind of group that deals with the issues you've dealt with in therapy. And on your own, you could use this hiatus to sum up what you've learned in the last three years and try to find in that summation the strength and clarity of direction that you are going to need.

Ask yourself how you've changed. Ask how you will manage this crisis differently from the way you would have three years ago. What would you have done then? Would you have meekly acquiesced? Would you have stormed out? Would you have simply quit, not shown up, avoided the conflict? You may find you've come a long way. Look at how you handled this today: You thought it through carefully and expressed your doubts and conflicts. When what you heard didn't sound right, you resisted. But you didn't jump to conclusions or prejudge. You sought out someone for an outside opinion. You bent but you didn't break.

So I'll bet that over the past three years you've gathered some useful techniques for dealing with difficult decisions. Why not use this time to make an inventory of those tools you now have to deal with life. You may need several of them in the next few months.

Finally, you might look at your relationship with your boyfriend today. Is some of what she has said about him true? What parts? What are you doing about that? And give some thought to the larger issues: Have drugs and alcohol figured prominently in many of your relationships? Have they been a theme? If so, ask how your relationships with those who abuse drugs and alcohol have changed in three years. Are you managing such issues better now than you used to?

So basically, I suggest you sum up where you are now so you can get through this period of transition and determine what you need from a new therapist.

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