There is another aspect of this story that, while embarrassing to me, is partly what was behind some of my hurt and anger. Before the day of the “Jezebel” session, earlier in the year, we had talked one afternoon about the possibility of my sharing the office with her on a part-time basis at some point in the future. (My counselor, not Jezebel.) I knew that I would be graduating soon, and would then be working on my Master’s degree, which would take me about a year or so, because I had worked hard to maintain my advanced standing. (Which only means that you’ve maintained a certain grade point average in your classes. I did, until November, later that year.) She said that she would talk to her landlord about it. This would have worked well for me, because I wanted to only work part-time while finishing school, and I could have worked around my classes much more easily than I could have if I worked for someone else. It would work perfectly for her, she said, because she wanted to work fewer days per week, and then eventually retire. I thought it would also help with some of my anxiety, to be able to meet with people in a safe place that I was already familiar with. Because I’m also a writer, I have an obsession with desks, and I have grown to love hers. It is the absolute perfect writing desk, and I would have been unbelievably happy working in such beautiful surroundings, and just being free to be me. A very happy me. Not only that, but I would have considered it both a privilege and an honor, as I look to her not only as my counselor, but also as a mentor. As an example. It meant a lot that she took me seriously, even knowing all that she did about me. (We don’t take our best selves to therapy.)
I left the appointment so very, very happy that day, but didn’t want to bring it up again, just in case she had for some reason changed her mind. I didn’t want to be disappointed. At the end of one of my sessions a few weeks later (I think) we were leaving her office one night, and I finally got up the courage to ask if she had really meant what she said about sharing her office with me. I didn’t want to risk the embarrassment of being told no, or of being rejected, after getting my hopes up. As she reached to turn off the light in the waiting room, she looked at me directly and said “Well I don’t know; are you going to be a therapist?” I said “Yes, I am”, and she said “Then yes, I meant it.” And so we left. Again, so very happy. For someone who likes to know two years ahead of time what is going to happen tomorrow; who craves structure and security, I felt like I finally didn’t have to worry. At least one problem in my life was solved, or so I thought.
Some weeks later, I brought it up again during a session, and instantly saw by the look on her face that she had changed her mind. She said she was sorry, but she had “been advised not to do that.” She did not say by whom, or why. Only that she had decided to give the office to someone else. My office; my safe space. Desk and all. I had long since become quite attached to that particular piece of furniture, and to everything else in the room that had grown so familiar over time. With all of our moving, and constant upheaval since losing our home, her office was an anchor in a never-ending nightmare. A literal oasis in the middle of every week; in the middle of a very traumatic and disrupted life. I was crushed. Both ashamed and heart-broken. And so embarrassed, for being such a fool as to think anyone would have ever taken me seriously, or thought that I was capable of doing anything like that. And, to be honest, I wanted so badly to be like her. To be adult, and professional, and capable, and not so damned insecure. I tried so hard to earn her respect and approval, but never could quite pull it off. This may not be important to anyone else, but it is to me, even now. Please don’t write and tell me why it shouldn’t be; it won’t matter at all, nor would it make any difference. It just is.
But I think this is partly what was underlying my insistence to set things right about the other matter, because I felt that people were talking about me, and didn’t know who, or why, or what was being said. But mostly I felt that she had changed her mind, for some reason, because of some inadequacy in me, and that she didn’t really take me seriously as anything more than a client. That she would never see me as anything but unhealthy and incompetent, and I knew this was partly my own fault. I had said, and shared too much. Trusted too much. And now hated myself for it. When we hate ourselves, or reject ourselves, we act funny. We do act odd, and people do talk about us, and not usually with a great deal of grace or mercy. We ruin our relationships, both personal and professional, and I had done both. Hence, the “Jezebel” session.
Interactions like these are important, no matter how frustrating to both client and therapist. Therapy provides the perfect place to pull these things apart, and face them, no matter how difficult, because this is where the meat of all real therapy is. How the client interacts in relationship with you is probably much the same as they do with others, and this is what they actually need help with- not the situation, or crisis that brings them into the room in the first place. Unfortunately, this is also where therapists all too often throw up their hands and make a referral, in the desperate hope that a different counselor can clean up the mess they made in their own office. Have you ever tried to clean up a mess made in one room while sitting in a different one? Doesn’t work very well, and it’s not for someone else to do. For a client who has a hard time speaking up and dealing with people, the relationship with the therapist provides the perfect opportunity to practice how to hang in there and talk about hard things, including anger, without running away, quitting, or altogether avoiding uncomfortable situations. This is what results in true life-change, not just behavioral modification. My normal pattern is to shut down, run away, and avoid the person who hurt me like the plague. Instead of her using this situation as a way to help me learn a different way to do life, it ended up being a re-enactment of what I had already spent a lifetime doing. I went to therapy to un-learn this, although I didn’t know it at the time.
We can’t, as therapists, run from and avoid transference and counter-transference; we have to learn how to use it, because, as I said before, this is where the real work of therapy is. (These are just important sounding clinical terms, courtesy of Freud: transference represents the clients’ ‘stuff’, and counter-transference represents the counselors’ ‘stuff’. It’s what we both bring to the table, and is a normal part of all true therapy.) Our perceptions of other people are filtered through the grid of our own past experiences, and we transfer both our opinions and our feelings when we interact with each other. We make assumptions based on fears that are not necessarily unfounded. To chalk everything up to client resistance is neither fair, nor true. Counselors are not God; the best ones realize this, and work with full awareness of their own humanity. This is what creates the safe space required for life-changing therapy. Anything less cheats both, and limits God.
What counseling is about for the client, and what it’s about for the counselor are two completely different things. If you’re going to help anybody, you need to understand that from the beginning. Clients don’t care about your degrees, your awards, or your theoretical orientation. They don’t care if you are Freudian, Rogerian, Bowenian, or a Martian. They care that you care. That you are a kind, honest, and wise person. That you see the person paying you as having worth and value apart from their signed checks. I, personally, do care however about your theological orientation, because as a Christian, I am not going to go for help to someone who is not well-grounded in scripture and serves the same God; someone who understands both spiritual warfare and spiritual authority. Unless, of course, all I’m looking for is practical help, such as how to balance my checkbook. I’ve had to take a long, hard look (as we all do, at some point) at who I choose as to look up to and learn from. Do we choose our mentors, or do they choose us? I have a feeling it’s a bit of both; helping others makes us feel good about ourselves, and makes us feel competent. If we have any insecurity at all as counselors, it’s soothed and satiated by sitting with a clipboard or a keyboard in front of someone who is looking to us for help. And we keep those clients who make us feel that way, and get rid of the ones who don’t.
I have a pattern of looking up to certain people who have turned out to be false, dishonest, or harmful. I don’t know why. I don’t count my counselor as part of this group. I learned a lot from her; more than I ever did from school, and got what I call a back-door education. I learned not only by being a student, but by being a client at the same time. Of the two, I would have to say that I got more for my money from my counseling than I did from the university. What was being taught to me in class was being experienced in weekly sessions; you can’t put a value on that kind of education. And you could tell many of the teachers hadn’t had it themselves, by the way they taught. An exorbitant amount of text-book theory, but very little common sense. Not a whole lot of “how to help the person sitting in front of you.” And an education that benefits you, but not your clients, is just not worth the time, or the money. Remember; most clients could care less about what is hanging on the wall of your office, no matter how pretty the frame is.
The person of the therapist is the therapy. This part is essential. If nothing else, remember that. A degree simply means you’ve done your homework, checked all your boxes, and jumped through all the hoops required by the university. It doesn’t mean you’re actually competent, nor are you necessarily even called, to be what the piece of paper and plaque on the door says that you are. It doesn’t say what kind of person you are. Do you cheat on your taxes? Cheat on your wife? If so, pick another line of work, please. We don’t need, or want, to emulate people who are as unhealthy as we are. Sometimes more so.
All that being said, my heart changed after that appointment. I can say that I was both defensive and difficult, (more so than usual) over trivial things that shouldn’t have mattered. I lost both trust and respect for her, but never told her why. And, I got severely depressed. Even more so than I already was. I still don’t think that any of this should have happened; I still believe that ending my counseling was wrong, and I believe that it should be made right. I think it honors God and defeats the enemy when we clean up our messes and stay the course. I still think that what she originally said about sharing the office was right, and was the plan of God all along; it would have been the natural outcome of all that had gone before. I don’t think it belongs to someone else. It’s just too late now to fix it, all because I sent that email way back in October. I wish with all my heart I hadn’t sent it, and will possibly pay for that mistake for the rest of my life, but there is absolutely nothing I can do about it now.
She called that night, also, and apologized sincerely for having ever made the promise in the first place. She said that she had never meant to mislead me in any way. (She hadn’t; I heard her clearly and correctly. I don’t get happy easily, and certainly not without good reason.) She said that she was truly sorry for any misunderstanding. And I believe she was. But, it did change everything for me. Nothing made any sense; I had believed all along that it was what I was in school for, and what God was preparing me for. Now I didn’t have a clue or a plan. And my degrees didn’t make any sense any more. Nothing did. Or does.
Doubt like that makes the perfect open door for the enemy. And I fell headlong through that doorway, and have been falling for the last three years. The first two were a hazy blur of medication that did little but numb my brain, and the last has been a clear-headed journey through hell. I’m sorry all this happened, and sorry for my part in it. There is still so much more, because ten years is a long time. But it’s late, or early, rather, and I’ve written myself into oblivion, and am going to bed. The sun should be up soon.
Good early morning, people.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” Psalm 32:8