Thursday, October 20, 2011

"What I Believe of Therapy"

I've been to a lot of therapists. But, with most of them, I've not received much “therapy.” More often than not, I gain some things, feel less understood, and end up more rejected than I did when I started. But one, particularly, was different. Certainly, I mistrusted her initially too. I thought she hated me, was hyperconscious of her affect at all times, was terrified of hurting her or horrifying her with how I felt,and found her as frustrating as most everyone else in my life. But she stayed. And so did I. And, eventually, change happened. It was not ideal. But I grew. I explored. And I ended up transitioning genders, changing careers, surviving the end of a romantic relationship and starting a new one. And most importantly, I trusted. When the time came, losing her was hard. But I felt more positive about it than I've felt about losing anyone else before. That, to me, is realistic therapy: Growth, change, trust, and termination that is affirmative not rejecting.

But the APA Code doesn't settle for realistic. It has those five wonderful Principles that compel every one of us to aspire for an ever elusive “better way.” And, being an idealist, I conceive of therapy in similarly aspirational terms.

In short, ideal therapy is a lot like ideal sex. It is a conscious risk, a giving of a bare and exposed self into the care of another who, if they so chose, could do so much harm or so much good. It is an act of worship, a spiritual experience that tells both parties that there is more to this existence than one's isolated, limited self. It is a connection, a celebration of humanity. It is Cat Power, it is Margaret Atwood, it is T. S. Eliot. It is real in an existence that forces us into self-imposed masks and externally-imposed definitions. I want to leave both experiences affirmed, I want to leave connected, I want to leave secure in the knowledge that I am a person of worth who will find that warm embrace again and again and again.

Ideally, anyway. As mentioned, this is an aspiration not a destination. But the more invested I become in my quest to learn how to love everyone I meet (including that most elusive of prey, myself), the more I veer towards soaring humanism, the more I see existence veiled in existential threat, the more apt my aspirations become. As a therapist, I feel like I am participating in something holy, but instead of prostrating myself before the divine, I am living and loving and suffering in congruence with humanity personified in the individual before me.

Certainly, psychotherapy is not reciprocal. But I would not consider it my “calling” if I did not feel that I get just as much from it as my client does. Certainly, psychotherapy is not desire of the other. But there are different desires which are uncovered and explored. Certainly, psychotherapy's medium is not the physical. But what my client entrusts in my care is so precious, so vulnerable, so fragile that I cannot help but consider it a gift. A gift that I do not take lightly.

Undoubtedly, I am somewhat grandiloquent in my rhetoric and my metaphor sent warning sirens flaring in the mind of each prospective supervisor who reads this piece. But when you ask me what I believe of therapy, this is the visceral response that comes to mind. I am not in this for money. I am not in this because I like to “help people.” I am not in this because I was clueless and had to “choose something.” I am a psychotherapist because I know what it is to suffer, I know what it is to despair, and I know what it is to change. I am a psychotherapist because it connects me to others, to the real like no other role can. I want to stand just outside the ring of fire and watch my clients fall to their demons again and again and again. I want to feel every blow they take. And I want to joyously watch them rise, as they look to me for smiles of assurance, until they finally emerge battered and bloody but victorious and trade their isolated inner struggles for the cause of humanity.

That's what I believe therapy can be. And that's what I'll work for it to become.

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