Towards the end of my session yesterday I told T that I had recently read a fellow bloggers post (you may recognise yourself in this if you are reading but I am keeping this anonymous for your privacy – I hope you don’t mind me writing about it!!) where she detailed that she had sent her T an email clearly showing how much pain she was in and subsequently her T’s response. I said that it had shocked me to read the T’s response because it felt so cruel and so unattuned. I said it had really shocked me and I guess scared me in a way because I don’t know what I would do if my T did that to me. My T has recently suggested that humiliation is a real issue for me because my mother always punished me for having needs and embarrassed me at the same time for being too needy and so I guess that is why this tapped into me so much.
I guess the worry that my T might respond to a similar email from me made me panic. What would I do? How would I respond? How would I continue to see her? What would happen if my T were to become “bad” in my head? Then what?
My T said that often therapists who “haven’t done their own work” can sometimes struggle with knowing how to be attuned to things like this. The push and pull of people affected by attachment trauma is palpable – to me at least – because I experience it first hand and luckily for me, my T seems to “get it” enough that I feel understood. So far at least.
I told T that I had responded to this poor lady with sympathy and said that I was sure she wouldn’t appreciate me or anyone else “slagging off” her therapist because I know I would become extremely defensive, but that I wanted her to know that I “got it”.. I said other people had responded in much the same way as me.
T said that therapists that haven’t had their own therapy and dealt with their own issues often come up against countertransference and can struggle to properly “see” the issues their client is facing enough to be able to respond in the appropriate way. For example I said that someone I know regularly threatens to cancel their next therapy appointment when distressed. I said that even I (as a completely untrained individual) understand that this isn’t really because they don’t want to go to their session, but it is out of fear and panic and pushing away when they most need something – the same way that I push my boyfriend away when I need to be held and comforted most. My T agreed with this and said that usually someone threatening to quit or cancel sessions is for that same reason and that they mostly just need to know that their therapist WANTS them to come, that they will stay, that they won’t give up on them or abandon them – like a lot of us who have been previously abandoned and assume the same thing will happen again.
I think for me when I need my T the most that is when I am the most scared of her. I’ve written a lot recently about the fear of needing T and how I find it difficult to put into words – the fear is so huge and feels life-threatening, I think perhaps this feeling is similar for others. I honestly believe the only reason I’ve never cancelled a session is because I am far too compliant and too much of a people pleaser to take that risk… but perhaps it will happen one day. T often warns me that one day I will feel a lot of anger towards her and that I may not want to come.. she’s been right about everything else she’s predicted in the past despite how unbelievable it seems at first. For example she used to ask me how it felt when she was going or on a break and I used to laugh and find this really weird… not so funny now is it Twinks? LOL.
Anyway, back to the point – therapists that have or haven’t “done their own work”. T said that therapists that haven’t worked through their own issues may be triggered by a patient in distress and this can sometimes explain the reason for a (what seems punitive) response, especially by email when it is hard to know the way in which something is meant. I know for me I read emails in the mood that I am in rather than the way they may have been intended. Have you ever shown someone else an email or text that you think is rude or abrupt for someone else to say they don’t see the issue? … hopefully not just me. I am hugely hypersensitive and very hypervigilent so I notice the most microscopic of change in people – another thing I can thank my mother for.
I asked T what would happen though if the therapist hadn’t had any attachment-based trauma and was dealing with a patient who was very wounded by attachment based stuff? I said what if they had no attachment problems growing up – how would they understand? T said that nobody ever has absolutely no attachment issues. I questioned this as I had thought for a long while now that most people who were securely attached wouldn’t have experienced ANY attachment related problems. T said that everyone has some kind of issue growing up because no parents were absolutely perfect – and that attachment effects so much in our lives, the way we respond to life, the way we grieve, all sorts of things. She then said that therapists barely touch on attachment in their training…………………
Whhhatttttt???????? Sorry but this seems absolutely mental to me. I just assumed that all therapists learnt about attachment in a very deep and detailed way .I assumed it was the pillar of their learning? At least the fundamental building blocks no? Apparently not. I didn’t hide my shock when T said this. I was really thrown. She said they touch on it in a very basic way in that they learn that a baby’s attachment to its mother will have links to how that child (then adult) will grieve.. she said that all her learning has been through her own therapy, through being a therapist and through reading and training seminars etc. Wowzas.
So I said, the thing is, I find it hard to believe that a therapist who hasn’t had deep attachment trauma could come anywhere near to understanding what people like me experience – what we feel and how we view the world, the people in it – how we see things. I just don’t think you can learn that stuff in a book. T said she believed that experiencing things would certainly help.
I said to T that if you were a therapist that had similar issues to someone sat in front of you who was deeply distressed and crying and feeling this unbearable pain how hard that must be – that it must tap into their own issues? I said if I was a therapist and someone was in front of me going through things that I could relate to, I think I would find it incredibly difficult and would end up crying with them! T said that once you have done your own work, you hold a boundary and you don’t get affected by it in the way that I might think I would. She said once you’ve worked through your own stuff, you are boundaried and it doesn’t feel like that….
Okay so basically what I was saying to her was this:
T, what happened to you growing up? Did you have attachment trauma? Did you have a shit caregiver? Were you abused? Was your mother narcissistic like mine? Was your Dad an absent, head-in-the-sand coward too? Please tell me about your life so that I can decide whether you really understand my pain.
Do you realllyyyyyyyyyyyyy understand how I feel or are you just remembering things you’ve read in books?
Why don’t you cry when I am upset?
Share your history with me please!
But clearly I didn’t actually say that and I think I was hoping she might work that out and ask me if that is what I was getting at – but she didn’t. Or at least she didn’t then… maybe she will think on it and what I *really* meant, we shall see.
Back to the crying conversation: T said something like “I am not really a crier” or “I don’t cry often” or something like that…. I didn’t like it when she said that because it took me a very, very, very long time to be able to cry in front of T and I still feel hugely uncomfortable and embarrassed when I do cry in front of her… for some reason her saying she isn’t a “crier” made me feel like she would judge me more than I already worried she did. Obviously though I acted as though she had said “I like cats” and just smiled and nodded in interest.
She then said that she had a previous career (“before I had my children”) (OUCHY – Why do I hate this so much. T: please stop talking about your children, I don’t like it)that had helped her with this stuff.. she didn’t expand on what that was (although in the past she has told me she worked with domestic abuse victims and that she worked in a school and a care home) – so I assume she meant one of these: my mind has since fantasied that she was saying
“I’ve worked with victims of domestic abuse who have had it much, much worse than you – that will stop you crying at attachment trauma“…
but I know that isn’t really the case.
T said it really wouldn’t be helpful if she were to cry (if a therapist were to cry) because it would put the patient in a precarious situation. She said that if someone was co-dependant or was used to parenting the adult (like me…) that person would then feel a duty to protect and look after the crying therapist. That made sense I guess. I admitted to T that one half of me would feel like they really were moved by what I was talking about – enough to cry for me but that yes, if she were to cry I may feel I had to stop what I was saying because I wouldn’t want to be the cause of her tears… it was a double-bind. She said that sometimes she may feel her eyes go prickly/water but that she could generally hold her own stuff back.
I said to T that therapists must see so many people cry that I guess it is hard to be moved to tears – they’ve seen it all and heard it all.. I was basically implying that nothing would shock them enough to be that moved emotionally by someone else’s pain.
I was basically saying:
Do you think that my stuff is boring?
Do you think I am over the top upset?
Do you think I should be over it by now? That compared to other clients, my stuff is very basic and not a big deal?
Do you think I exaggerate or that I feel sorry for myself?…..
Do you ever get upset for me?
Do you ever nearly cry at what I tell you?
Do I as a person MOVE you at all?
The session was over at this point and I was standing at the door on my way out when T said that of course they get moved by things and that they’ve never seen or heard it all – that they are not robots and of course they still have their own feelings about things but they have just learnt to handle them effectively and that they need to do this in order to not “burn out”. She said that therapists who were burnt out were dangerous to their clients which was why their breaks were important. She said that burn out was a dangerous little shit.. and that she could see it from a mile away.
She said “bring this back with you next week” and I said “Yep, will do!” but I meant: l want to see if you remember and I want to see if this plays on your mind at all and you work out what I was really saying/asking you.
We shall see but I just have this feeling that she won’t, which is a shame.