The current state of play

March 2, 2009

In times of uncertainty – or just on a Sunday afternoon when I want to escape – there’s nothing better than a South Africa versus Australia cricket test match. Before we get there though, there’s good news on the relationship front. After some consulting with the inner match official and as much of a heart-to-heart as can be had on a sunny Clifton beach with screaming kids, arbitrary hat sales-people and two small tumblers of sherry, P and I decided to give the relationship another try and to seek out some couple counselling as well. I think I have a pretty good idea of where we went wrong and what it will require for us to stay on the right side of the line of no return. Funnily enough, the break-up session with my therapist helped to put things into perspective for me. And I’m very glad that I chose to stay with P rather than with my now ex-therapist!

But back to the cricket. I was planning to live-blog the cricket yesterday but it’s been a busy morning and we’re about to lose so I’ll just keep this brief. Yesterday’s action was very exciting and there was a small possibility that the South Africans could have pulled off the impossible 454 needed for victory if Smith had managed to stick around. He wasn’t and the writing is now firmly on the wall with a score of 247 for 5 at lunch. In fairness I think the Aussies deserve to win this one (as weird as that sounds after 20 years of Aussie dominance) because they have largely been the better side over the five days. Apart from some brilliance in the field to bowl the Aussies out for 207 in the 2nd innings and a superb knock from AB de Villiers, the South Africans have not really had the same intensity. Bring on Durban and Cape Town. The rest of the series should be pretty interesting.

Breaking up with your therapist is also hard to do

February 26, 2009

Breaking up, as Neil Sedaka sings it, is hard to do. Equally so with your therapist, as I discovered on Wednesday. I felt pretty angry afterwards, which is a good sign that the therapist was not supporting where I was coming from. At one point I told him, “Stuff you!” What I should have said was: “Shut the f… up, this is my session and you’re doing all the talking.” Now I’m bit embarrassed about the ‘Stuff you’ part but he was giving this whole speech without any regard for how it was coming across. I managed to put my side of the story (quite well I thought) but his blunt interpretations have also given me food for thought. Maybe he’s actually partly right, I realised today. Still, he’s a bully and an ass.

Now I hope the slightly flippant tone of this post doesn’t make you think that I’m taking this whole break-up thing lightly. Far from it. But I also think that we need to be able to laugh about the stuff that’s the most painful to us. After all, choosing your partner is probably the biggest decision of your life so there deserves to be a lot of agonising over it, right?

Coming back to the therapy break-up, I was interested to read other people’s experiences. In the NYT, Richard Friedman says:

With rare exceptions, the ultimate aim of all good psychotherapists is, well, to make themselves obsolete. After all, whatever drove you to therapy in the first place — depression, anxiety, relationship problems, you name it — the common goal of treatment is to feel and function better independent of your therapist.
To put it bluntly, good therapy is supposed to come to an end.

But when? And how is the patient to know? Is the criterion for termination “cure” or is it just feeling well enough to be able to call it a day and live with the inevitable limitations and problems we all have?

The likeable Dr Rob over at shrinktalk adds the following:

… some clients are not connecting with their therapist or are not making progress that is to their satisfaction. No therapist can work perfectly with every client , and good therapists understand this. Again, honesty is the best policy here, and simply telling your therapist that you would like to work with someone else is completely acceptable. However, some clients struggle with this, and will often leave me voicemails with specious reasons so as not to deal with perceived confrontation:

I’m cured
My insurance won’t cover it
It’s too expensive
Your office is too far away
It’s too cold out

You are too young
You are too old
You are incompetent (commonly relayed as “you suck,” or “you’re an arrogant ass”)
I want to work with someone with blond hair
I need a Jewish therapist
Fuck off and die

Now I know he’s just joking about the “fuck off and die” part but it feels quite therapeutic just to read that and imagine someone saying it to their therapist via voicemail. Of course, as Rob also points out, very often clients leave therapy because the therapy is touching a nerve and it’s uncomfortable for them to go there.

For me, the answer was yes and no. Yes, we were touching a nerve and no, I wasn’t running away from it as much as getting frustrated that he wasn’t helping me to make progress in working with it. Just let me be, I wanted to say, let me do this therapy at my pace. And it also didn’t help that he was trying to pressure me into making a longer commitment to the therapy. Ambivalence is not a healthy state to be in, was the message I got, so you need to commit to the process. Now I agree that it’s not that helpful to be ambivalent but it’s also not helpful to ignore the ambivalence by rushing into a commitment. That way leads to resentment. What I think he should have done was to try and hold the ambivalence and try and be sensitive to the underlying anxiety rather than trying to bully me into doing things his way.

From a reader’s point of view I enjoyed some of the comments over at Yelp:

Take him/her out to dinner, get a couple of drinks going, and say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Leave him/her with the check and SCRAM.

If it’s not working for you, be up front with him/her. Try to identify what it is that you are looking to work on and why that’s not happening. Maybe you’ve gone as far as you can go with this particular practicioner. You won’t know until you vocalize your concerns. … Sometimes it’s just time to move on.

As for the song, I like the Violent Femmes version.

Playing truant

February 21, 2009

One of the things I like about Adam Phillips’s writing is that it’s designed to return us to our own thoughts. So it was with not a small degree of interest that, on returning from my internet-less Upington trip, I picked up my latest London Review of Books (LRB) and read his piece, “In Praise of Difficult Children” (12 Feb 2009).

Here’s a taste:

… the adolescent is the person who needs to experiment with self-betrayal, to find out what it might be to betray oneself. Not what it means to break the rules; but what it means to break the rules that are of special, of essential value to oneself. …. So called delinquent behaviour is the unconscious attempt to find the rules that really matter to the delinquent individual. And this is a frightening quest. Betraying other people matters only if in doing so one has betrayed oneself.

Now I won’t claim to have been a very rebellioous child or a wild teenager but my brother did call me a “bolshy biscuit” and also “Bolshy the Bolshevik” as a result of my temper. I learned the hard way that losing my temper with my mother is generally not a good idea, and I turned that anger inwards and became a slightly depressed young man instead. But that’s not what this blog is about. It’s about breaking the rules, and following them, and how it’s good to do both. Isn’t that liberating, to be told that we need to have a truant mind in order to work out what’s really important?

I suppose I could apply that to my Upington trip in the following way. I’ll just come out and say it, to spare P and myself any further agony. I didn’t flirt with anyone in case that’s what you’re thinking but I did find myself wondering what it would be like to do so, for example with the young woman that runs the kitchen at the picturesque B&B we stayed at. She was quiet with a shy smile and a tentative flaunting of her prettiness. (Note to self: are you sure you want to write this? This has trouble written all over it.)

Now we didn’t exchange more than a handful of words: hello, good morning, how are you, are there any more eggs etc. but there was something about her that was intriguing. I put it down to loneliness on my part and being away from my girlfriend and tried not to think more about it.

But reading Phillips’s short article on playing truant, I’m remembering an earlier piece he wrote on flirting. That it can be helpful, important even (at least in imagination), to ‘flirt’ with other people to realise what is important about your relationship. This can also be applied at other levels as well – flirting with ideas, or with another job, in order to explore what’s frustrating you about your current situation.

Now the counter arguments to flirting are legion, and I’m well aware with quite a few of them. I know, for example, that it’s hurtful and rude to look for too long at another woman in my girlfriend’s presence. Experience tells me that a quick look, followed by a reassuring comment (if one is required) that the women in question is pretty “but not as pretty as you are” is the way to avoid trouble. I think the issue is not whether one notices an attractive person of the opposite sex (or even the same sex for that matter) but whether or not one makes your partner feel secure in the relationship. Of course it’s also not entirely up to you whether or not your partner feels secure – but the watchword here is probably sensitivity.

I’d be interested to hear any thoughts on this one.