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therapeutic philosophy

Finding a good therapist

I broke up with my therapist yesterday. Actually, it was the first time we’d met – a first date, if you will – but it rapidly turned into an argument. This is the latest in a series of failed attempts to find a therapist. I struggle with therapeutic relationships. I should get some therapy for it.

I’ve had the idea of going to see a therapist in the back of my mind for some time. Occasionally, I feel I want more intimacy in my life – better friendships and a long-term relationship with someone. I got through my emotional problems as a 20-year-old by becoming a Stoic citadel of self-reliance. But at a certain point I realized I need to lower the drawbridge somewhat and let other people in.

I thought that Christianity would help: it’s all about being vulnerable and accepting you need God and other people. Jesus would clean all those difficult-to-reach stains on my heart. But, having plunged into the warm bubble bath of Christian community, I still came up against the old issues of distrust and rejection. I do feel it’s deepened my relationship to God, but, in the words of Kim Jong-Il, I was still ‘so roneree’.

Therapy! The great hope of western civilization. Therapy will bind up your wounds and bring abundance to your life. But where to go? Who to see? You can get free CBT on the NHS for clinical emotional disorders like social anxiety or depression, but this was not clinical, this was basic life-grumblings. And I felt I’d gone as far as I could with Stoic therapy (‘you don’t need anybody, just you and the Logos’).

A friend recommended a therapist they had seen, he said she did somatic body-work and was basically a witch. This sounded good to me – I felt like I needed to go beyond or beneath the cognitive. I needed some magic.

So I went along yesterday for a free consultation, to a place that she works from in the City – a massage room with statues of the Buddha everywhere. She greeted me at the top of the stairs and gave me a firm handshake. She didn’t look much like a witch, more like a middle-aged French teacher, with a thin smile and a rather severe haircut.

We sat down and I launched into a 20-minute monologue about my life-history and my continuing issues with intimacy and relationships. Get it all out there, I thought. Leave no stone unturned. I finished and looked at her expectantly. ‘And can you…help with that?’ Eye of newt? Toe of frog?

‘Wow’, she said. She sort of leaned back in her chair, like I’d just given the locations of 15 buried bodies. ‘So what I’m getting from you’ – ah, I thought, she’s picking up my chakra – ‘what I’m getting is massive sensitivity and massive introspection.’ Really? Massive sensitivity, maybe, sure, why not, that sounds good. Massive introspection? I’m not the most introspective person…am I?

‘So let me describe how I work. I do somatic therapy, have you heard of that? I studied under Richard Strozzi-Heckler.’ Ah, the Great Heckler. ‘This method works at the embodied level, with how we carry ourselves. You know how some people walk into a room and they just establish their presence as a strong person. For example…’

I bet she says Bill Clinton, I thought.

‘For example Barach Obama. Or Bill Clinton. And then other people come in and they’re much more turned in on themselves, and nobody pays them any attention. So we work with how people carry themselves…but it’s not body language.’

Definitely not.

‘So let me give you a practical example.’ She stood up. ‘I was quite similar to you. Before I started the training, I used to stand like…it’s quite difficult for me to do it…sort of like this.’ Her head slouched forward, her shoulders hunched in. ‘And now I’m like this.’ She stood up straight, shoulders back, feet apart. ‘And I have the confidence to walk into a room and establish myself, to give public talks and so on. You see?’

I see.

She sat down again. ‘One of the words that came up with your story was ‘shame’. Now I’ve read a lot about shame, I’m actually writing an article on it. Shame is something you feel in the presence of the Other. And it can only be healed in relationship with an other. So that’s what the therapeutic relationship is. A truly non-judgmental relationship.’

‘Yes but it’s not non-judgmental, is it?’

This is where it kicked off a bit. Or rather I did.

‘You’ve just made a judgement of me, very quickly. You said I was massively introspective, and that you used to be like me, all hunched up and turned in on yourself, but now you’re better and you stand with incredible confidence. So you’re setting up a hierarchy – I’m down here, not well, and you’re up there, all better. And, you know, who are you? I do more public speaking than you.’

I genuinely said this. I think the old Stoic drawbridge had come up.

‘And frankly, why would everyone want to be like Bill Clinton, that’s one type of personality. What kind of a therapeutic goal is that?’

I was surprisingly angry. I realized I had shared a lot with her, quickly, and was then disappointed and defensive about her reaction – first of all the snap judgement about me being massively introspective. If Bill Clinton is the goal, massive introspection is probably a bad thing. Why do therapists make snap judgements in the first session? Perhaps they think it will showcase their intuitiveness, like a palm-reader guessing your dog’s name, but it’s dangerous and even rude.

And secondly, I was disappointed by the crapness of her therapy, which just sounded like a body language course for executives. I was hoping for…I don’t know…the magic sponge of therapy, which washeth all sins away.

‘I’m sorry if you feel I’ve judged you’, she said. We got back on track, more or less. She said the therapeutic relationship was all important, I should trust my gut. My gut was telling me to leave. Then she explained ‘the logistics’ – she held sessions in two locations – Mayfair and the City – and her rate was £170 an hour.

Good God, £170 an hour, for a therapy which, as far as I’m aware, has no clinical evidence for it. ‘It’s cutting edge – we’re about ten years behind California’, she said. ‘Ten years behind California’ are words no therapist should ever utter.

So off I went, dragging my baggage behind me down Liverpool Street, feeling very self-conscious about my massively introspective posture. I got on a bus, and nobody paid any attention. Non-judgmental indeed, I muttered to myself. Who was it that said ‘therapy is the sickness for which it promises the cure’?

This was, alas, the latest in a series of attempts to find a therapist I could bond with. I often come up against the same issues – therapists seem more attached to the precious theoretical schema they’ve spent so much on learning, rather than seeing the person sitting in front of them. And I do often feel judged by them and then feel ‘who are you with your mickey-mouse credentials to sit in judgement of me?’  How many really smart therapists are there out there? And what do they cost??

I’m also aware that many therapists are nuts. They often have a huge amount of baggage themselves. A friend of mine went to see a therapist regularly, and decided to end the therapy – the therapist threw a huge hissy fit, shouting ‘you’re just like my husband, you only think about yourself!’

If there’s a tussle about who is right in the analysis, the odds are always stacked against you – if you disagree with their analysis, you’re in denial, or being defensive. This is even more the case if you’re a psychiatric in-patient, by the way. Then you never have a chance. Whatever you say is mad, whatever they say is science.

I guess I don’t particularly trust the wisdom of most therapists. But I do see the point in therapy, and do think a good therapeutic relationship would be an amazing thing to have in one’s life. So…can anyone recommend a good therapist for me to fall out with next?