Love In The Therapeutic Relationship

Now this is an awkward topic, right? Which is why I haven’t written about it yet. I’ve been meaning to for quite a while now, but I couldn’t get myself to start. After the in-person session I had with my therapist last week Monday, I feel the time is right. There’s nothing strange with what I’m writing about, it’s just that not everyone is as comfortable with this topic as I am. I get it. I was there too. In fact, even though it’s so much easier for me to explore this these days, I still feel a little vulnerable. But that’s why I love my blog space. I can be as open and honest as I want without anyone seeing the different shades of red spreading across my face when I share certain things. “Red suits you”, one of my friends recently said after she kissed me on the cheek. In my defense, we’ve been friends for over 21 years, and she’s never done anything like that. She’s one of those “anti-touch” people.

So. I love my therapist. She knows this, as I’ve told her a couple of times in the past. I once asked her whether that was okay. Trust me when I tell you, it’s okay. I haven’t said those words to her since last year, but there have been a few times where I’ve almost blurted out again “I love you”, but didn’t. I wasn’t quite on the “knowing what I actually mean” path yet.

The love I felt for her has taken on different meanings throughout the first year of working with her. The “in what way?” question had been a source of confusion during much of that time. A few sessions into our first couple of months working together, I had a little bit of a crush on her. Okay, maybe a big one. There was also a time where I thought I might actually be in love with her, or getting there. I told you…Awkward. Plenty of times, I thought that loving her is wrong. That I’m not supposed to. Not allowed to. That it’s inappropriate. The natural consequence of those thoughts was shame. And a lot of it.

Sometime last year, I went through a stage where I had a few intimate dreams of her. They confused me. I told her about one or two of them, but never went into detail of course. It’s intimidating and so scary to bring these kinds of dreams and feelings to our therapists. Wondering what’s wrong with us, and feeling ashamed and embarrassed. But it’s nothing they haven’t heard before. Those feelings can be so big sometimes, and it’s important to talk about it. I’m guilty of not always having spoken to her about some of those feelings. But I know I’ll be able to if something ever comes up again. After all, I need to practice what I preach, right?

I once told my therapist that I love her as a person. A fellow human being. But that’s very broad isn’t it? After all, I only get to see the professional Clinical Psychologist side of her (with little bits of self-disclosure thrown into the mix every now and then). But, it’s still her. Maybe I don’t get to see the other roles she plays outside the therapy room, such as that of wife, daughter, friend, etc. But I also get to see her in her role as therapist, which they don’t get to see.

“I love coffee.”
“I love my friends.”
“I love my parents.”
“I love my partner.”
“I love my children.”
“I love my pet/s.”

Love. One word to represent different forms of it. So I’m going to call this form “therapy love”.

I feel like I’ve grown in the love I feel for her. I’m finally in a comfortable, secure place, where it just makes perfect sense. It’s not the kind of love shared between partners, parents, children or friends. It’s a love of its own. But it’s not less than those other forms. The therapeutic relationship is unique and not the typical kind of relationship, but it’s still a relationship. And the same is true of the love that we feel inside that relationship. I know a lot of you love your therapists this way too.

Then there’s the love that the youngest parts feel. I think it comes out of how children might feel about their main attachment figure? I’m not sure. I can’t remember if I felt anything about my earliest attachment to my mom. The earliest memories I have of her is when I was about 3 or 4 I think. But I also don’t remember much from those years and those after. Just little (and big) things here and there. But the love for my therapist that comes from those little parts feels different. Attachment love maybe?

Seeing my therapist again last Monday was amazing. When she came to get me, the minute I saw her face, it felt as though my heart just lit up. It was so nice being back in her office. It was familiar, with that “home” feeling. I like the fact that she has couches, and not just chairs. Like with my psychiatrist and OT, it felt a little awkward sitting in those chairs. I also find it intimidating because you have someone sitting right in front of you, whereas the way my therapist’s couches are arranged, you don’t get that “she’s staring me down” vibes. It’s comfortable and makes the space feel less clinical, and more welcoming.

I brought a lot to her that session. Way too much. I was emotional and jumped from one topic to the next. I was extremely ungrounded. So I gave her too much to work with, or too little. But at least now I understand (after she explained it to me), how the way I want therapy to work won’t provide long-term benefits. I might feel better for a few hours afterward, but that’s not the goal. I’ve always felt that maybe I’m doing therapy wrong. But there isn’t a wrong. It’s a learning journey as well. And now I understand her view better, and it makes so much more sense. Now I know better how to approach our sessions. Strangely, I feel more in control, like there’s a clear structure to work with. I’ve always tried to squeeze as much into a session as possible, because it feels time pressured due to the fact that I don’t see her every week. I feel like our most productive sessions have been when we’ve stuck with one topic though, and I know she feels the same way about this. I prefer it that way, so will give up on the “time pressure”.

Sometime during the session, my therapist asked “what do you want?”. In that moment, every part of me wanted to say “can you please come sit next to me? Hug me?” Of course I didn’t ask that. I’m very aware of boundaries these days, and I especially don’t want to cross any of her personal boundaries.

Near the end of the session, I wanted to show my therapist some of the pictures that I had taken while visiting with my mom, sisters, aunt and uncle. By that time I was feeling much more grounded. I like how she always seems so interested in seeing the pictures that I take. Last year, during one of the sessions we had when I was still living in the same city as her, I also showed her a picture (of me when I was a little girl- moody as hell), but I just handed her the phone where she was sitting. This time though, she actually moved to the furthest end of her couch, so she was close to mine. That surprised me (in a good way of course). One of the other reasons why I didn’t ask her whether she could come sit by me, was because I was also holding onto shame (so what else is new dammit), and therefore felt untouchable, unlovable and hideous. Why would she want to sit close to me? Why would anyone? Stupid inner voice. That one little action, of her moving closer, made a world of difference. It felt as though she broke through another one of my defenses. I have so many, I don’t even know all of them. Most are (probably) subconscious.

At some point I had the urge to draw, colour in, paint, etc. Why, I have no idea. My therapist let me borrow some paper and her pencil, and I got to it. It was so small, just took up a little space in the corner. I drew one thing on top of the other. No one would have been able to decipher that and know what the hell I had just drawn. But I know, so that’s what matters.

At the end of our session, I started to feel a little emotional again. I didn’t want to leave. But of course, I had to. Don’t you just hate that? As we were walking out, I wanted to ask my therapist whether I could hug her, but felt too shy to ask. But I knew that if I didn’t, I would probably regret it for a long, long time, and beat myself up over it. And then without thinking about it any further, I just came out and asked if I can give her a hug. She said “of course” and when she said it that way, I knew she was comfortable with it then, and I felt relieved. And my favourite part was when she said “I’ll give you one”. I loved that! It was the most special, meaningful hug I’ve ever had. A hug from the person that I never thought I’d ever get to be that close to.

It feels like my connection to her, that bond, has deepened. Which I didn’t think was even possible. I felt loved and valued. She really cares about me. And that’s such an amazing, warm, and soothing feeling.

So…

I love my therapist.

Dependence On Therapy

Since we’ve started working together, my therapist has mentioned quite a few times, that she doesn’t want me to become dependent on therapy. Whenever she’d say that, I’d feel uncomfortable and get defensive. Even though she would tell me that she didn’t say I was dependent on it, I still took it as an attack. And I think I have figured out why it bothers me so much. Deciding to see a psychologist (or any mental health professional) is terrifying. I was terrified when I first reached out to my therapist. Deep down inside, on an unconscious level, I felt ashamed.

Even up to today, that shame is still there. It’s died down a lot, but a few fragments of it still exist. The man who calls himself my dad contributed to that most of all. He’s told me so many times how some people need therapy, while others have strong minds, so they can deal on their own. How do I take it? I take it as him telling me, and thinking, that I’m weak because I’m getting help, when I should just suck it up and get on with life the way he does. So here my therapist is telling me that she doesn’t want me to become dependent on therapy, and in my mind it sounds like an affirmation that therapy is “bad, so you shouldn’t get used to it”. I know that’s not what’s being said, but that’s the way my overly sensitive, reactive mind takes it.

I see now why regular therapy sessions are so important. It’s not about being dependent on it. How do you become dependent on the process of therapy? It’s damn hard sometimes, and even if I’m okay during a session, it hits me afterward and sometimes I just want to crawl under the covers and shut the world away for the rest of the day. There were many times that I didn’t want to have a session. Where I wanted to cancel. But I knew that those were probably the times when I should have one. So I didn’t cancel, no matter how much I wanted to.

I read a lot of your blogs, and from what I’ve read, the majority of you have weekly sessions, some of you twice weekly, and you’ve also expressed a hesitation and even downright resistance to attending a session from time to time. So I know I’m not alone in this.

As my therapist mentioned during our short phone call on Monday (which was strangely helpful, which I didn’t expect it to be- mostly because I didn’t know what to expect in the first place), I need structure. I thrive on it. I feel unstable, and everything feels chaotic without it. My nervous system feels under threat. When things are structured, I feel calmer.

When I had 3 therapy sessions a month, I felt more secure. It felt more structured than it does now. Now it’s just all over the place.

Sometimes we open up a topic, but there’s not enough time in a single session to really delve into it. Then having to wait two or three weeks, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I don’t want to talk about something painful, difficult and shameful, and have two or three weeks go by before we can pick up on where we were. It feels like something is lost, and it gets disrupted. I know that the nature of therapy is that just because it seems something has been worked through, it might come up in future sessions again. Sometimes we think the work may be complete, only to discover that it actually isn’t.

Even when I write down things to discuss in the next session, it’s not quite the same. Those emotions that I felt, that were so extreme, die down, and it feels pointless to talk about it. If I do talk about it in our next session, those emotions are a distant memory, and I talk about the situation, or whatever it was, without really connecting with my inner world.

I think it’s important to have that safe, consistent space every week. I don’t show up just to see my therapist. I show up because I want to do the work. If you’ve got a physical illness that requires you to see your doctor every week for a checkup, does that mean you’re dependent and happy to go for those checkups every week? No. You do it because you know it’s important.

In keeping an open mind, if a person can become dependent on therapy, is that necessarily a bad thing? We’re dependent on work for an income. Which enables us to live, to pay rent, have food to eat, etc. So why would it be any different with therapy? The purpose of therapy is to help you heal and to craft the life you want to live. To help us grow, giving us valuable tools in order to function optimally in life. We’re still doing the work during and between sessions. But knowing that the next session is only a few days away helps, as you can more easily bring up any observations, experiences, etc in the next session, as it will still be fresh in your mind. Which, brings that sense of continuity.

Of course, right now I can’t afford to have regular therapy sessions. But when I’m able to, I’m definitely going to invest in it. The point of this post is just to share my view on how I don’t believe that one can truly get “dependent” on therapy, and why I think regular sessions are so important. I’m grateful for my therapist, who really tries to bridge that gap between sessions, and keep the therapeutic relationship safe and secure, which has been so helpful.

A while ago, I heard someone say that attending therapy is a form of self-care. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

It will be interesting to hear your thoughts on this. I like hearing different opinions and view points, so please let me know what you think about this topic.

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The Breakdown And Recovery

It happened.

As you know from my previous few posts, I’ve been in a very dark place. Thoughts of suicide overtaking everything, and coming to a head on Friday evening. Obsessive thoughts of death and dying. Over and over again. Pain so intense, memories so vivid. It felt as though I had hit rock bottom. Hearing voices inside my mind telling me to end it. That I don’t belong on this earth. I knew those voices were my own. Frightening visions of a dark figure was also present. Even though it only lasted a second each time, it was terrifying.

I had my plan all mapped out. I even wrote a note, which left me strangely happy in a way. Like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders. It was all going to be over soon. At the last-minute, an image of my therapist’s face flashed in front of me. I heard her voice. I fell to the floor and just cried. A mixture of pain, frustration, and a feeling of comfort and warmth from feeling our connection.

I read a book a few months ago, “Healing from Trauma” by Jasmin Lee Cori. After what happened, I remembered something I had read in that book. So I picked it up again and searched for the part I had in mind. Where she was talking about finding your rock. A person (or even a pet) that you feel connected to enough for them to be a powerful regulating resource. She says that it helps calm the nervous system. That was certainly the case that night. And I saw for myself just how powerful it is.

On Saturday and Sunday, I reverted back to my 20’s. A time in my life that I never want to relive. A time I had vowed to never repeat. But it happened, and I wasn’t aware that it was coming. I didn’t know the signs. I definitely know them now.

Earlier that day (Saturday) I thought about calling my therapist, but decided against it, as I didn’t want to bother her. If I knew then what I know now, I would have called her. Because once it hit, I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t regulate myself. I was so out of control, that all thoughts of calling my therapist disappeared. I didn’t think about anyone but myself. I was literally unable to bring anyone I know to mind. It was all about me and what was happening in that moment. I wasn’t aware of anything else.

I was reckless, self-destructive, and unintentionally putting other people’s lives in danger. (eg. speeding while drunk). I’m not going to go into detail about everything I did, as I’ve already told my therapist about it. But I will say this, I fucked up. Now that I know the warning signs, I will call my therapist this time, if there is a next time, which I’m going to try to prevent at all costs. Because this can’t happen again. I don’t want to end up destroying my life, or anyone else’s. I don’t want to live with the consequences of my behaviour. It only takes a second to ruin a life.

The difference between this time and my 20’s, was that I realized quickly (2 days instead of years) that I was running away from something. From extreme emotions, pain. Reality. Life. I didn’t have that insight back then. The way I lived my life those years, as well as this time, may have kept me alive, but this kind of behaviour doesn’t serve me, and it’s unhealthy and dangerous.

On Sunday evening, once I had “snapped out of it” I felt horrible. Ashamed. Dirty. Furious with myself. Shock was also mixed in. On Monday, those feelings carried over. I felt the effects in my body as well. I felt nauseous. My stomach was in knots and aching. My nervous system was protesting. It felt like I was in an alternate reality.

I usually have therapy sessions early on a Thursday morning, but I felt that I couldn’t wait that long. So I sent my therapist a text yesterday asking for an earlier session. We arranged it for a few hours later that day. At the beginning of the session I told her that I’m a bad person. She asked whether feeling that I’m a bad person, means that I am? Good point. No one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes and does things they’re not proud of and regret. But that doesn’t make us bad people. Near the end of the session, she said that she’s glad we got together that day, and didn’t wait until Thursday. So was I. This is the second time that I needed a session more than any other time. It did me well. She told me that we could spend the session just talking, but it wouldn’t be effective in the long-term. So she went through an exercise with me, that was really helpful. And it will continue to be helpful. It was a very productive session, and she was very gentle and soft with me. Going into the session, I wanted her reassurance that she wasn’t going to leave me. But the way she spoke to me, made me feel very cared for, and I didn’t need to ask for that reassurance. Because I felt it.

I’m still feeling some of the after effects, but it’s not as intense as it was. I’m trying to practice self compassion.

This all proved to me just how important and vital deep and meaningful connection is for us as humans.

It’s The Connection

For the past two weeks, I’ve been so fixated on the thought of not being able to afford to have therapy sessions, that I failed to see what’s been right in front of me this entire time. I was reading through some of my posts on being afraid of losing connection with my therapist, and that’s when it hit me.

I think I finally get what my therapist told me. That she doesn’t want me to become dependent on therapy. I get defensive when she says that and tell her that I’m not dependent on therapy. She counters that by telling me that she didn’t say I am. I realized it’s not the therapy I’m dependent on. It’s the connection with my therapist. The attachment. I’ve never felt a connection like this with anyone. Not even with my grandmother, who was my favourite person in the world. At this point in my life, and for the sake of healing, I need this stable relationship. Especially for those younger parts. They’ve had a hard week without her. I think one of the ways of healing those childhood wounds, and working on integrating the parts, is through a healthy, secure attachment.

The way I see it, is that there’s still plenty of time to focus on the work in therapy. But the relationship needs to be there. And going more than a week without some form of communication is the thing that’s hard for me. I’m not ready to go a full week without hearing from her. It feels like I lose that connection, and it’s agony. I still need to be able to keep that connection with my therapist alive.

I have my weekly group and DBT sessions with my OT, which is part of my journey toward healing. It will help me improve my functioning, and provides me with the tools I need to better navigate this world and my life.

I can have therapy once a month and I’ll be fine. If that’s the way it has to be until I get a job, then there’s nothing I can do about it. All I want is to be able to speak to Therapist and hear her voice once a week or every two weeks, with texts or emails the weeks I can’t call her. A 5-10 minute conversation is all I need. When I think of the situation this way, I feel a sense of relief. We’ll obviously need to talk about this in our next session, and work something out.

The Little One’s Letter To Therapist

I was a little embarrassed when the thought of posting this letter on my blog popped into my head. Until I remembered that my original purpose for starting it was for me to process my thoughts and feelings after my break up and move to a new city. So I’ve decided that it’s okay to post this, since this blog is my space to just let it all out and examine my inner world. I need to do this. For me.

In my previous post I mentioned that I felt very young last night. I’ve been feeling that way for most of today as well. I’ve tried to ignore that little voice inside, and the feelings it brought up. But then I decided that I just couldn’t ignore it any longer. So I listened. I listened to the little one’s fears. I acknowledged her sadness. I cried those tears. She wanted to write a letter to Therapist, so I let her. Which I’ll only be able to show to her at our next session. She told me to use my non dominant hand when writing from that little part. So that’s what I did. And this is the result:

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I have been trying to figure out why this is coming up now. And why it feels so hard. In my session with my OT yesterday, I mentioned to her that my medical aid benefits are almost depleted. The clinic stay took away from my benefits. I told her that after next week’s session with my therapist, I don’t know when I’ll be able to see her again as I just can’t afford it. She’s away this week, otherwise I would have rescheduled to sometime this week since I’m missing her so damn much.

When I told this to my OT, I think it hit me right then and there just how scared and panicked I actually feel about the situation. I shoved it down quickly though. But the uncertainty is killing me. I need routine, so I feel unsettled.

Yes, I’ll survive. But why should I have to? Haven’t I already survived enough shit? The teen in me feels that it’s fucking unfair. But I blame myself for most of what happened in my life. For being in the place I’m at right now. For my part in it. Sometimes even for the roles that others have played in my life. If only I had been better. Done better.

The little one knows, but doesn’t understand why it has to be this way. She thinks the connection will be broken and she’ll be alone. She has me, but she doesn’t just want me. She wants Therapist. She feels that her main attachment figure will be taken away from her again. The way she was taken away from her mother that day. The moving further and further away from her attachment figure, watching her fade away.

And that’s my biggest fear right now. I’m scared that our connection, the bond I have with her, will break. That my therapist will fade away into the distance.

The Inner Child & Teen

I had a DBT session tonight. My OT says I’m making good progress, which was nice to hear. But I feel like I’m not doing well enough. I can just hear my therapist telling me that I’m too hard on myself.

We spoke about a few things, and then started getting into the core emotions. She then focused on one them. Fear. She chose that one for a reason, which I won’t get into here. My memory is a little hazy, so I’m not sure about the order of things, or everything that we spoke about. But at some point, I regressed back to my 14 year old self for a few seconds (I think it was seconds).

This is a fairly new inner part I discovered back in December. This part holds a lot of secrets (that I don’t have access to- but I know they’re there), pain, confusion, fear and shame. The instant I felt her come up, I just shut down. I didn’t want to go there. I just couldn’t. I have no idea what will happen if I allow that part to express herself when someone else is present. In December when I first discovered her, it knocked the breath right out of me. I was back in the place she had been in, and it was excruciatingly painful. I cried for hours, experiencing the physical (I could actually feel it in my body) and emotional pain that she had felt. I wrote her a letter that day which I’ll post here at some point. I first want my therapist to read it, once I feel ready to get into that topic with her again. But since that day in December, I don’t want to explore that part. I don’t think I’m ready yet.

When I was in that disassociated place during this session, OT asked whether it was too much (the territory we were in). I appreciated that she asked me that, and didn’t push me to continue. She helped me through a grounding exercise. It seems and sounds easy, but doing it during those moments isn’t easy at all. I’m still struggling with it, so I’m grateful that she’s there to help me. I’m glad that I get to have these sessions. I’m learning a lot from her. I especially like the consistency. Weekly sessions at the same time, same place. It gives me a sense of stability.

When I got back home, I started feeling really young. I felt like the 5 year old was emerging. I’ve been learning how to work better with this part, how to soothe her, thanks to my therapist’s help.

In a therapy session last year, I had to write a letter to this younger self, and reply to that letter from the adult me. I still find this concept strange and confusing. I know these “parts” are all me, yet they feel so separate. It’s easier to work with if I refer to them as “she” and not “me”. Otherwise it just becomes overwhelmingly complex. My brain overheats. I know that the goal of this work is to eventually integrate these inner parts, so I can be a fully functional adult. Because as it stands, I don’t even know who the adult me really is, and if “she” even exists. I don’t have a stable identity at the moment. I’m all over the place.

The Little One (as my therapist calls her), the 5 year old, wrote a letter to Therapist one day, and she replied with her own letter to that little part. It felt very soothing and comforting to that younger child. I’ll explain how I came to “discover” this youngest inner child in a separate post.

Tonight, every now and then I feel the inner child taking over, and I revert back to my comfort objects (I didn’t have comfort objects as a child). My therapy jacket, and a little blanket. It’s the softest blanket I’ve ever felt. When I’m in this mode, I just want to curl up in bed with these items and cry. There’s a lot of confusion, sadness and fear inside.

I’ve been missing my therapist so much today, and there’s a bit of panic going on too, from the little one. I’m scared of losing the connection with Therapist. I wish I could just phone her and hear her voice. But I know I can’t. So instead, I’ll read the letters she wrote me.

Emotion

I don’t always have the words to express my feelings. During such moments, I either find a song to represent how I’m feeling, or I make collages in Photoshop such as this one.

I search for images that relate to how I’m feeling. Images that I connect with on a deep level, and then add some effects of my own in order to make it more personal.

This image represents how I felt after my previous session, with the intention to share it with my therapist. Just one of my ways to convey my feelings to her. To communicate. Open up. Reach out. I’ve titled it “Emotion”.

Emotion