Building a safe relationship with my therapist

My appointment with my therapist, lynn, went well. I definitely psyched myself up to talk about everything I was thinking versus the last time, when I was uncomfortable sharing anything. My goal was to create a bond with her where I could share my vulnerabilities. I wish I could say I expressed my feelings to Lynn but, I would say, I expressed my preconceived thoughts regarding feelings I’ve had in the past 2 weeks since I last saw Lynn. Well, I got everything out in the open so that is a start. For a survivor of sexual abuse, who struggles with exposing vulnerabilities and shame, I am on the right path.

I read quite a bit about the therapeutic relationship before going to this therapy session. I learned that the first thing a patient should do is get any relationship issues or questions out of the way. I had a mental checklist of uncertainties and I dove right in with Lynn.

I began the therapy session recalling her last suggestion that I try to think of ways to feel more comfortable. I told her that last time I left feeling like “a bad therapy patient” and, at that statement of mine, she rightfully, appeared distraught. I explained, I had not put in the effort to express myself and the last session was unproductive. Having said that, I checked that off my list and I jumped right into the next issue.

Am I here to see you for therapy or just to get my medications adjusted? That was a very upfront question from me, which tends to be my style.

“Many patients see one person for medications and another for therapy and it ultimately depends on the patient’s level of comfort.”

I felt compelled to tell her I chose her specifically because she writes RX’s and is a psychoanalyst. I want to deal with the whole mind/ body connection but since our initial focus was treating depression I became confused about the goal of self-improvement through therapy. Our little “talk” reassured me that I was there in her office to work on psychological issues as well as adjust my medications. Now I could check that off my list, too.

There’s something about this therapist that makes me feel disconnected. She is kind enough to offer home sessions apart from her weekly work with a group practice. I see her about every other Saturday at her house. She appears to be in her mid 50’s. Let me describe the scene.

She lives in the next town over, about 15 minutes away. I drive down a suburban road and her house is similar to all of the others, only her house has a tall fence in the back so the neighbors can’t see who comes and goes, except when they get out of their cars. I always park behind a car that is in her 2-car garage, with the garage open. She owns a Taurus or something and the other bay is empty except for “stuff” neatly put away. She appears to live alone. No children’s toys, no signs of a husband’s car, basically I see no signs of another person living at her house.

I walk through a tiny yard on a stone path, surrounded by mostly brick patio. There are some evergreens that can grow and care for themselves. My impression is a low maintenance yard for a person who doesn’t like yard work. Walk up 3 steps and you enter her tiny foyer where there is just enough room to turn around. No waiting room, so I guess the protocol is you wait in your car if you arrive early. There are 3 doors in the foyer. Door number 1 to the left is a bathroom with the door ajar; door number 2 is straight ahead and presumably goes into her main house and door number 3 is on the right and always closed. There are signs on the doors that say “Let it snow” or “cat lives here” and “washroom” or something to the likes of that. Door number 3 goes to the basement and the door opens out into the tiny foyer and you begin a steep, narrow decent to the basement. Call it a lower level if you’d like.

This therapist has so much crap – okay, let’s say collectibles – that I have to hold my (small) purse in front of me so I don’t knock down the set of plates with The Tin Man, The Scarecrow and Dorothy. There are also cats, dolls and more plates all lining the stairwell as I descend.

My thought is, who the hell dusts all of these knick knacks? And I also pray I don’t knock anything over.

When I land at the bottom of the staircase the room opens to half a finished basement. The other half is closed off by folding doors and that’s where she goes to get her prescription pad when needed. I’ve never seen what’s in that room. The room we have our therapy sessions in is carpeted with a couch and a single chair, plus a small desk with chair that you walk by to get to the couch. If you think there were a lot of collectibles along the stairs, well, you were wrong. The therapy room is packed full of crap – wall to wall –decorations that are purposeful and meaningful to the therapist. Idols and pictures from exotic places, plus a lot of cat things (which I like) and feminine floral items that don’t register with me because I’ve never been into that type of decorating. The table between the couch and chair is glass with a brass base, as is the side table next to the couch. She has thoughtfully placed a pen on the side table next to me (for filling out checks, in case the patient didn’t come prepared) and the coffee table in the middle has a crystal clock and a box of tissues. When I arrive on time I notice that her clock is 3 minutes faster than my car clock and cell phone. I feel suspicious that she is trying to shorten her sessions. To my left of the couch is a built-in bookcase spanning the wall. On the shelves are Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Buddhist knick knacks. It’s a true smorgasbord of little trinkets. I’m intrigued and I would like time to examine them but that’s not the point of me being in her room. So, I try to ignore the clutter and focus on Linda. By the way, I never have seen a spot of dust anywhere. I sit on the couch, placing my jacket and purse next to me on the couch because I don’t see an available coat hook.

I imagine this woman has a lot of time to harness her hobbies and passions. This is unlike me, with a husband and kids; I have little time for my own pleasures. In my house, I have a lot of dust and not as many trinkets.

I read in a blog, how to create a bond in the therapeutic relationship, that it is okay to ask if your therapist has children or a husband, etc. A therapist without a personality can leave a patient feeling disconnected, which is how I felt, surrounding by her eclectic collections. So, I interrupted a chain of thought about mothers and children by asking my therapist, do you have children?

She definitely paused and stared for a long few seconds at me. Probably thinking “who the hell is this person asking about my personal life?” She responded that she did not have her own children but, due to an early death in her family she felt she had raised children and understood the maternal instinct. Maybe she does. I give her the benefit of the doubt. Check off the 3rd thing on my list.

I asked her why she keeps asking me the same questions. Is she testing me? Making sure I remember what I answered last time I was there with her? IS it to judge the state of my mind?

Lynn said, “Absolutely not. I am asking the questions again because I am still trying to understand your situation.”

When she said that, I realized the barriers I put up are not helping me make progress with this well-intentioned therapist. We hit a turning point in the relationship and I consciously let my guard down. I checked off the final lingering question I had about her. The air was cleared by going through my inventory of doubts and uncertainties.

I decided to share my immediate personal source of anxiety, which is regarding the relationship I have with my 78-year-old mother and her relationship with my brother, the perpetrator.

I spoke honestly, swearing and cursing to show my discontent. An example, “my brother is such an asshole.” “My mom has never understood me.” “It’s always about her,” etc.

No surprise, the 45 minutes was up by the time we got to the meat of the issue, which is my mother. Lynn thinks, after frequent questions about how much therapy I’ve done around the sexual abuse in my childhood, that the last remaining piece is the dynamics between my mom and me.

What gives it away is the feeling I have that I was not the right daughter for my mother.

Lynn asked, “Do you mean she was not the right mother for you?”

Admittedly, I have grown to adulthood believing my family –brothers, father, mother – were all perfectly happy and the reason I wasn’t was because I was defective. I grew to protect their vision in spite of my own sense of discontentment.

I haven’t written in a few days because I’ve been trying to cope with fresh, new emotions. I’m drinking more than I should, yelling at my kids more than they deserve and basically, feeling angry at everyone. It’s a sad realization that my mother did not nurture me as I needed. Not only that, she allowed my older brother to sexually molest me when I was a girl. Most likely, my real anger is at my mother and the bullshit she is doing right now, enabling my brother, who has a ton of problems that she is helping him through. If you ask me, he does not deserve it. This is causing me major stress.

7 responses to “Building a safe relationship with my therapist

  1. I recently got my first therapist in three years, and I am feeling largely like you. Sometimes I feel the healing process (if there truly is one) is just as debilitating as the illness. But I woke up today, I guess that’s a “positive” according to my therapist. We’ll see…

    • I’m glad you got a therapist and good luck with that. I get apprehensive about seeing a person I really don’t know to talk about things that are very sensitive. I’ve been to quite a few and it never felt really comfortable.

  2. Reblogged this on South African White Girl grows up and commented:
    I can so relate to this woman. I feel connected to her.

  3. I think you’re a fucking super-hero, lady 🙂
    but I think you’re with the wrong therapist.
    You have to find someone you truly LIKE; and who you feel HELPED by, after every session.
    And you absolutely HAVE to cry!!!
    At every session.
    I fully believe that.

    • You’ve got me questioning whether the patient/therapist relationship I’m in is the right match for me but I really can’t say for sure. I have issues with trust and vulnerability and I don’t share my feelings easily. I’m thinking that as long as Linda is professional and doesn’t take advantage of me (which I know she won’t), the therapy will work.

      I CAN NOT cry in therapy!!! I am laughing at how much you mean it and how honest I am that I can’t. I cry when I leave therapy. Again, I don’t know how to spontaneously feel stuff, I intellectualize it in therapy and then feel it later. I’ll keep your words in mind and try to cry. No promises though!!!

  4. I think you handled that new relationship well. I found that having notes or being able to check items off of a list, whether real or mental, can be very helpful in discussing important issues that you want off your chest before you start delving really deep. Sounds like this went well.

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