If I’m not at the beach, I’m spending time in my soul garden, enjoying the peace and quiet the suburbs has to offer between nine to five when most hard-working folk are gainfully employed elsewhere. After clearing a patch of weeds and planting some colourful flowers I’ll sit back in my garden swing with a fresh cup of percolated coffee and peacefully rock backwards and forwards in the gentle breeze. This is my time. My time with no husband and kids. This is my special quiet time where I get to sit for ages and think of nothing.
But for the past week I have been very excited. Perhaps more excited than I should be. For once my fantasies have not centred around George Clooney or winning the lottery, instead its been focused on buying a decorative wooden wheelbarrow and using it as a central feature for my newly created soul garden. My passion and eagerness stem from the fact that my garden was once an unruly mess and resembled my chaotic, unmanageable and directionless mind.
Both were cluttered, full of weeds, rubbish, overgrown bushes and sad neglected trees with long thin branches, and to be honest it was far too overwhelming and very frightening for someone suffering the throes of depression and anxiety. It was easier to close the curtains, take my medication and make yet another appointment with my therapist than it was to contemplate tackling the huge task of getting it all back together into some semblance of order.
One day, after discovering I was vitamin D deficient, I went out and spent ten minutes pulling weeds from a sorely neglected rose garden. I felt the warmth of the sun on my back, heard the birds singing in the trees and it was there that I had a quiet epiphany.
Now that there was a clear spot in my garden, and my head, I could think properly. I developed a plan and a goal and slowly as my garden started to take shape and form so did my thought processes become clearer, more cohesive and increasingly coherent. I started to think less about personal issues, …
Mother Nature can be the best therapist of all. When Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, CBT, Gestalt, Transactional Analysis, Dyadic Behavioural Therapy, Transference Based Therapy or just long-term, garden-variety general supportive therapy finishes; whatever your choice of healing is – there needs to be something to take its place when it’s over. And what better way to stay in touch with your newly created, mindful and restful self than getting down to the beach. All that sand, sea and sky is most helpful and healing and above all – is free and available to everyone, not just ex-therapy clients. After 23 years of living five minutes from the coast of Western Australia, who arguably has the best beaches in the world, I’ve finally discovered the joys of getting up at 6am and taking whichever teenager (or husband) is out of bed and our dog down to Dog Beach for a walk and a swim.
Or sometimes I go without our canine buddy to a non-dog beach. This morning I sat on the creamy white sand of Mullaloo Beach with my fourteen year old son and meditated with the early morning sun on my back after doing a few laps up and down the beach. This has been my most recent pattern of adaptive behaviour. I feel connected to everything and everyone when I float in the still, endless, emerald green waters. There is nothing I cannot solve when I have Mother Nature on my side and the blue sky above me.
I’ve not always been a beach bunny; I’ve been more of a winter warthog, burrowing under the blankets, rolling and reveling in the rain, protected from the sleet, wind and occasional arctic conditions by my fire. This summer, for me, there appears to be far more of a contrast between the weather in the Northern hemisphere and the weather in the Southern where I live. My Facebook friends are envious of my beach explorations, in the same way I am envious of their snow-related activities. I was five when I threw …
Transference can be the duct tape that binds the psychotherapy universe together.
One of the interpretations of my mostly positive, idealizing transference was to use my therapist as a role model. This is similar to Social Learning Theory where people can learn new behavior through reinforcement, punishment and observational learning and are then more likely to model, imitate, and adopt the behavior themselves. This occurs through four stages; close contact, imitation of superiors, understanding of concepts and role model behaviour.
Albert Bandura, expanding on this theory, studied patterns of behaviour associated with aggression by conducting the Bobo doll experiment in 1961. Seventy-two 3-6 year olds were divided into two groups. Two thirds were placed in a room with an adult and Bobo the doll where the adult hit and kicked the doll and the other third was placed in a control group. In a nutshell, Bandura found that the children exposed to the aggressive model were more likely to act out in physically aggressive ways than those who were not exposed to the aggressive model.
So if in therapy I am exposed to someone who deals with life by displaying good manners and an unruffled aura in a situation where appalling manners and a decidedly undignified process of behaviour is apparent; then by the wisdom of social learning theory, good role model behaviour by my therapist will begat new thought processes, schemas, beliefs and behavioural patterns by me, the emotionally-dysregulated client. A classic case of monkey see, monkey do.
For me, mirroring this process was at first largely unconscious in the real world until I related the stories in therapy and realised I had well and truly kept my wits and composure about me. Similar situations would then compound on themselves. As well my therapist would tell me personal stories of adverse situations where clarity and coolheadedness were required. In a similar situation where I would explode, burn my bridges and later have serious regrets, she would be able to stay calm, centred and (most importantly) in control – move on, regret nothing and remain the person she always was.
When I deliberately started to imitate her behaviour, after a …
Yesterday my family enjoyed the company of my mother and her husband. I made the effort to organize and cook a special dinner party because she, along with the help of my daughter, had made a valance for my lounge room curtains. My mother and I had a fabulous time reminiscing about our parenting skills (or lack of them) both when I was young and when my children were young. The conversation flowed freely and laughter was the order of the day.
Last night I had a dream. I dreamed I was looking after a newborn baby. I was trying to wash him but lacked the necessary skills. My mother very gently took the baby from me and sat under the shower naked and washed herself and the baby. I was the baby and I was also the anxious mother and my mother was herself. It was a very peaceful, serene dream and I woke up bathed in warmth, love and contentment. This is the sort of dream I usually have about my therapist.
But this time it was about my mother, the woman who gave birth to me as opposed to the woman who does therapy with me. The sole reason for seeing my therapist was always to reconnect with my family, my husband, my children, my work colleagues, my friends and most importantly my mother. Transference and dependency are side effects of therapy I had no idea existed all those years ago. Side effects which have worked better than the actual cure itself.
I’ve had a lot of criticism leveled at me on this website for my transference and dependency needs for my therapist, but these two phenomena were always meant to be temporary states of mind designed to get one in touch with, and resolve, childhood issues. I know not everyone has completion and closure of the stuff of their formative years, but I believe I have. My heart goes out to those who are permanently scarred from experiences far worse than I have ever suffered.
My mother is a good woman who, for all her flaws and faults, loves me dearly. Over the years we …
The last two blogs I have written have not been about me.
Client Dumping by Therapists and Why You Can’t be Friends with Your Therapist – Ever! were written by me in response to the many emails and blog comments I have received from readers who have unresolved transference issues with their therapists. Especially for one person in particular – you know who you are.
My therapist reads all my blogs before I post them. She enjoys reading them but with the last two she was confused as she felt this was not the relationship we currently share. She picked it up and so did a lot of other astute readers – that these two posts were not of my usual style.
I want to thank all the people who emailed and posted comments on these last two blogs with much thought, wisdom and insight. These are people who seem to know me well and like what I normally write. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for picking up on the fact that these last two were so incongruent. In answer to one question I was asked – No, I do not get paid for this nor do I receive any compensation for it. I do it because I am passionate about therapy – especially the transference/countertransference process. In answer to another question posed by the same person – I am not a therapist – yet!
I have had 14 years of therapy and am what is known as an informed, educated client. I am studying for a double major in Psychology and Counselling. I work as a medical typist (my day job) but my main vocation is writing, especially about families and psychological processes. I have had two books published by mainstream publishers ABC Books in Australia, The Bad Mother’s Revenge and Death by Teenager (see biography at bottom of blog). I write a regular column for My Child magazine called Reality Bites and am an occasional social commentator for ABC720 Perth radio.
I have an “adult” relationship with my therapist whom I …
So you’ve been in session several times now and you really click with your therapist. He/she is warm, sensitive, caring and empathic and everything you’ve ever wanted in a friend. During the weeks between sessions you start to fantasise about sharing a coffee, walking along the beach, going horse-riding, having dinner with them, going shopping with them or just generally shooting the breeze over a glass of wine or two.
This is not transference talking, this is the here and now of the therapeutic relationship. What is happening is in the present, not the past and you don’t quite understand it when your therapist tells you that a friendship is not a good idea and will never happen but still you persist because you feel connected and think you both have so much in common.
This is not a rare fantasy for clients. When it is well boundaried it can be a positive healing experience to explore the imagination of a friendship with all its fun and creativity, and this is great – as long as it never happens.
Here are five good reasons why it’s not a good idea to become friends with your therapist.
1. The extreme power differential.
He/she knows way more about you than the average person would be comfortable with and it’s a one way street, extremely tipped over in terms of disclosure. Therapy is not a mutual sharing of intimate secrets. I would be appalled if my therapist flapped her dirty laundry in my direction. I pay her to be the keeper of my secrets. If I were with her in public I would feel naked and vulnerable and I doubt I would ever feel equal to her which of course is the foundation of an egalitarian relationship.
2. Neediness, greediness and jealousy.
If, in the very unlikely possibility my therapist and I became equal friends, it would rapidly become unbalanced because I would become very possessive and jealous in a short space of time. I don’t think I could bear to see her talk intimately with anyone else. That is why it’s a …
Being a therapist is not like being an accountant, a policeman, a dentist, a lawyer or even a nurse. When these people go on holiday they are replaceable without too much grief to their clients. Therapy is different. When you have a practice full of people who are deeply committed to therapy (and their therapist), who are in heavy-duty, emotionally charged, excruciatingly painful discussions about their mothers or fathers, sometimes deciding to take an impromptu vacation is not a good idea, especially if you have no contingency plans in place for your clients suffering the heavy throes of transference.
Any rupture in the therapeutic process can be disastrous. I used to go postal when my therapist would have a weekend break, let alone a long, overseas holiday. Gradually over the years these feelings lessened to the point where I could actually wish her a happy time – and mean it.
This is because I have pretty much always had electronic communication with her during her holidays. Not just me, but her other clients who need that brief contact for stress relief and personal safety. Being an effective therapist is not a nine to five job as some clients tend to disintegrate at inconvenient moments.
So what happens when your therapist suddenly decides to take an extended vacation and tells you, attached weekly client of many years dealing with painful childhood issues, that you cannot under any circumstances contact her via email, text, or phone even if it’s a life-threatening emergency? What long-term irrevocable damage is that going to cause, not just to the therapeutic relationship, but to the client’s mental health in general?
If you want to charge serious money to help and support people in their painful issues, then some sort of personal responsibility and duty of care is needed on a consistent, reliable basis. Dumping your client unceremoniously in favour of me-time is selfish, self-centred, dishonourable, abrogates all sense of caring and disrespects the precious healing process. Trust, tenuous at the best of times for some clients, is irretrievably broken; trust that has taken many years …
“What we all want, really, is to be loved. That craving drives our worst behaviour.”
It was this line from Jodi Picoult’s latest book that captured my imagination and, although not about therapy, made me think of all the emails and blog comments I have received from readers over the past ten months since I started writing “Therapy Unplugged.” These are clients who have fallen for their therapists in a big way before being rejected and abandoned and barred from contacting them ever again.
Some therapists are at their most useless when dealing with transference. Even therapists who have experienced (suffered perhaps?) transference with their own therapists can be harshly cold and dismissive with their clients when the transference beast rears its ugly head and roars loudly in the therapeutic playspace.
When this happened to me my therapist repeated over and over again that she would not abandon me, that we would work it through together. For many years afterwards she would joke about being my substitute mother and I would glow in the warmth of our role-playing. I really wanted to be loved and that craving had driven my worst behaviour.
I have had comments and emails from both clients and therapists who have told me to explore different types of therapy with different therapists, but when transference love fills the room like a sudden burst of red roses, changing therapists is simply not an option. It’s rather like trying to change your eye colour by seeing another ophthalmologist. But transference love can be just as transforming as romantic love if the therapist is willing and the client remains reasonably rational.
I was lucky to have found a very tolerant and willing therapist but others are not so lucky. I’ve received emails from others who are devastated that their beloved therapist has refused to see them again, terminated therapy, refused further contact via any form of electronic communication, called the police or even taken out restraining orders. These are women (it’s usually women) whom, it would appear cannot move forward in their lives till they have closure on their …