the type of person that needs directions for everything. Isnt there
some way of getting instructions on how to be an open and honest patient
without causing a total meltdown of emotions?
Well, now there is a way, because I will provide some instructions here.
In terms of your
need for directions, lets admit that psychotherapy can often have an
exhilarating intellectual satisfaction to it. In fact, much of the material
on this website has an intellectual flavor. Nevertheless, there is a big
difference between describing psychotherapy and practicing psychotherapy,
because good psychotherapy
is primarily an emotional, and often intuitive, process. Without the emotional
basis to the work, the intellectual discoveries have no real, practical value.
to undergo a painful medical procedure. You can research it until you know
everything that is going to happen, and you can say, OK. Im ready.
I know what to expect. Well, knowing is one thing, but when
the real procedure it will be a different matter altogether.
And as I say
on other pages, during the
process you will experience many emotions that are similar to the intense
and confusing emotions you felt as a child. Disappointment. Anger. Confusion.
Feeling misunderstood. Feeling devalued. Feeling abandoned. Many different
eventssome of them just chance occurrences during psychotherapy, and
some of them deliberate therapeutic interventions by the
psychotherapistwill trigger these emotions. Just remember that when
you feel an emotion in psychotherapy, the therapeutic task will be to name
it as an emotion
and understand it as an emotionnot get caught in it as if it were your
helpless destiny. For if you get caught in it, you will feel like a
victim and will
blame the psychotherapist for your pain. The entire therapeutic process will
feel like judgment and criticism. And then, in deep bitterness, you will
want to get away from the psychotherapy just as you wanted to
get away from the original emotions as a child.
happens in the psychotherapy and you feel abandoned. So instead of
impulsively acting on that feeling by doing something to control things and
protect yourself (e.g., punish yourself, or terminate the psychotherapy),
just sit with the feeling for a while. Understand that the psychotherapist
(at least, a competent psychotherapist) isnt there to hurt you
but is there to help you learn. So just say to yourself, OK Self. We
feel abandoned. But its not really abandonment, it just feels like
abandonment. So how have we ever felt like this before? When did it happen?
Under what circumstances? What did we do? What are the similarities across
different events? What can we learn about our past behavior from this feeling
that is happening now? What can we see now by examining the feeling
with curiosity that we couldnt see then when we just blindly
reacted to the feeling?
There can also
be times during psychotherapyfor example, when you are working on
recognizing suppressed anger at your
parentsthat you will feel oversensitive and ill-humored outside
the therapy setting. You can come close to losing your temper with everyone.
You will feel flashes of
anger. Your thoughts
will seem irrational. So what do you do?
Well, just go
ahead and be irritable. You wont be able to stop it anyway even if
youre in this mood, dont make any rash decisions, such as deciding
to quit your job.
After you cool
down, make appropriate apologies to everyone you have offended.
And then tell
your psychologist about everything in your next session so that you can discover
the real source of the anger behind your irritable mood. Most likely
it was anger being displaced from some childhood experience.
Now, as your
question shows, in addition to your conflicted
fear of your emotions,
you also have a healthy respect for your emotions. After all, if everything
came pouring out of you at once it would be a psychological disaster. But
treated with respect, has a way to protect you.
Dreams, for example,
tell you only what you need to know, as you need to know it, and as you are
capable of knowing it. Even the experiences you have in psychotherapy are
given out in healthy doses by the unconscious. All that matters
is that you and your psychologist have a healthy respect for the dosing
As an example,
lets assume that for some reason you decide to go on a sudden short
trip. You call to cancel your psychotherapy appointment the next day. When
you show up at your next appointment the following week, your psychologist
tells you that when you canceled your session, you gave only 23 hours of
advance notice, rather than the required 24 hours notice, and so you must
pay for a late cancellation. You dont say anything, but when you get
home you send an angry e-mail to your psychologist saying that most people
understand 24 hours notice to mean about 24 hours,
and that you can no longer trust therapy and so you have no choice
but to terminate
OK. Now lets
follow out a different outcome. Imagine that when you get home youre
feeling miserable and shaky. Youre hurt, but you dont quite
understand it all. You feel distracted the rest of the week and have minor
conflicts with everyone. But, because you are committed to your psychotherapy,
you show up for your next session. And you begin the session by complaining
about how poorly you have been treated by your husband (or wife, or boss,
or whomever). And you mention an example about a dispute over money. Suddenly,
your psychologist interrupts you and reminds you about the late-cancellation
fee and asks what sort of reactions you had to it. You hesitate. But then
you start talking. You describe how you went home last week and got drunk.
You talk about how you thought of stopping therapy. Your psychologist asks
for more associations, and before long youre describing how your father
used to make rash, arbitrary decisions and how you always felt angry but
never said anything. So you would secretly do something self-destructive,
like purposely fail an exam in school. Your psychologist keeps probing. What
did you hope to accomplish by failing an exam? Well, as you ponder it, you
realize you wanted to hurt your father with your failure....And on it goes,
for the rest of the session. If your psychologist is really good, you will
also encounter the very
impulses that led you to make that provocative 23-hour cancellation in
the first place.
So what do you
learn from this? Well, you learn about feelings of hurt, anger, helplessness,
and revenge. You learn how your current behavior
is connected to your past behavior. You learn how in the past you failed
to recognize your own emotions. You learn how to speak honestly about your
inner experiences to another person. And you learn how irresponsible behavior
flows directly from the failure to recognize your own emotions.
Your ability to learn
that you can encounter your emotions without causing a total meltdown of
emotions, though, depends on your willing choice to make
an honest commitment
to the psychotherapy process, however painful or frightening it might seem to
let go of your need to be in
control of everything in your life. Then, as you let off the heat bit by bit
through emotional honesty, the heat will never build to the melting point.
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