A Guide to Psychology and its Practice

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Page Contents: Needing to speak over and over in psychotherapy about problems.                    


I have read things you and others have said about therapy and I understand intellectually the reasons why I am finding therapy so painful and difficult even after three years. However, I just can’t get my feelings to understand. I just cannot stop the intense longings and desires I have for things from my therapist that my therapist cannot give me. I also do things in the session, like act like a child or become speechless, that make it even harder to have a normal adult relationship with her. It seems impossible—that my feelings will never accept reality, and that I will never be able to end therapy having gotten through to the other side this. What can I do to align my knowledge and my feelings and accept the limitations of this relationship?

You touch here upon one of the most difficult aspects of psychotherapy, and it’s a place where many clients get stuck. As you say, knowing something intellectually is one thing, and letting it reach deeply into your being is something else entirely.

Now, some of the other difficulties you describe can be called an issue of “transference.” That is, the same needs and resentments about basic human relationships that trouble you from your past are being experienced in regard to your psychotherapist.

And there’s really only one psychotherapeutic solution to such a difficulty: to speak about your experiences to your psychotherapist. Not just once, but over and over again, session after session, until one day something inexplicable will “click” and, with new insight, your intellect and emotions will begin to recognize each other. In fact, you most likely got stuck in the first place because when you were a child no one bothered to listen to what you were really saying and to offer interpretations of what you were experiencing. As an unconscious defense against this sort of frustration you then trained yourself to disconnect emotions from intellect.

People get stuck here because they believe that such talking “over and over” is nothing but complaining or whining. But as long as your psychotherapist can listen to you and offer interpretations about connections between what you say and what you are feeling—even if you aren’t consciously aware of those feelings—and as long as you remain open to hearing and considering those interpretations, the work will be productive.

Note that if you have a psychotherapist who fails in offering proper interpretations of what you say, then everything you say will be just complaining—and you will remain stuck. As things are now, the only way to determine if your psychotherapist is competent if for you to work through the transference and be open to hearing and considering the interpretations given by your psychotherapist. If you make this effort and things still seem to be stuck, then you may need to find a more competent psychotherapist.

But if you have a competent psychotherapist, there can be progress. Still, because you have been so deeply wounded in the past that you have disconnected your emotions from your intellect, psychotherapy can be a slow, tedious process. It’s all a bit like a child who has to walk in circles around a big, friendly dog until she works up the courage to see that he won’t bite and to reach out and touch him—and to allow her affection for him to reach deeply into her being.


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
San Francisco




A Guide to Psychology and its Practice



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