I recently had a fascinating session with one of my particularly capable and articulate patients last week. She has been in therapy with me for a couple of years over which time I have seen her through a diagnosis of cancer and subsequent surgery, losing her job and rebuilding her career, and several relationships. She had a problem with me. She explained how in a prior session she had come in and told me about a work plan she had and how I ‘arrogantly’ explained why it wouldn’t work and how we needed to stick to the career strategy we had already decided upon – a position I took based on my intimate understanding of her particular dynamics. ‘You were right, I could not fault what you said. I knew that you knew me and didn’t need to hear it again – but I was feeling vulnerable and wanted to be heard and I felt you were not there for me.’
I asked if she recalled that earlier in her therapy – and when she had seen me work with newer patients in group therapy – I was much more likely to do what she was looking for? She acknowledged that this was so. I explained that the further I went with someone the less I focused on looking after their feelings and more on their personal growth. (My definition of psychotherapy is simply ???accelerated personal growth.???) I then said, ‘However, if you would like me to, I could make more of an effort to go more slowly and take the time to see where you are at and hear you out before I come in.’
She thought about this for a while and then said, ???Actually no. I enjoy the speed at which we move through a range of issues in our session, which makes them more productive. I think it should be up to me, to let you know when I am feeling more vulnerable. If I???m relying on you to work out where I???m at and then look after my feelings, I???m moving more into victim mode. In authoring a healthier way of relating to others, I need it to be up to me, not you, to identify and communicate what I need at a given moment.???
She got it. What she was realising was that children need parents who can empathically connect with them and help them to work out their feelings and then respond to them. To require this of others as an adult is to ensure frustration and disappointment in our relationships. Mind you, when people are able to empathically connect with us and meet our needs that is great bonus ??? but it is a bonus not a requirement. She realised that I was a resource that she wanted to make the most of to nurture her soul in the long term, not her feelings in the short term.