During a session yesterday, I was shocked when Jeff told me that his former pastor and friend was charging him for their “sessions,” calling to tell Jeff when he needed a session, and going so far as to ask Jeff to pay off his credit cards. It seemed unethical, and a betrayal of trust.
This got me thinking about relationship dynamics, and what happens when the person who’s supposed to be the one giving — in a kind of parental role, so to speak — becomes the needy (and exploitative) one. It stirred up thoughts about Jeff’s aged father who’s been calling him 10-20 times per day. It’s become clear to me that during Jeff’s childhood, his father was a highly anxious man who relied upon his children to help manage that anxiety. Jeff talks repeatedly about the pressure he felt growing up to become a lawyer as his father had wanted to do, and his feeling that he wouldn’t be loved if he didn’t do so. Yet Jeff always insists that he “for some reason” misinterpreted reality and came to the mistaken view that he wasn’t lovable.
In our first session following last week’s break, Julian began by speaking about a feeling of pointlessness at his job and went on to question the value of therapy: what had been accomplished so far, and was it unrealistic to believe he could really change? It’s not unusual for clients to minimize the importance of the work during breaks, as a way to cope with feelings of unbearable need or “abandonment” when the therapist takes a vacation, but I didn’t have the sense that Julian was devaluing me. I asked him what he thought had been accomplished, if anything. He acknowledged he had developed a deeper understanding of himself: “Of course, it’s nice and all, but does it really make any difference?” His manner and tone of voice seemed very flat.