Here is Therapy Tales perfect, (and always silly) illustrated interpretation of the previous post: Demigods on Eggshells.
Here is Therapy Tales perfect, (and always silly) illustrated interpretation of the previous post: Demigods on Eggshells.
By whatashrinkthinks in Countertransference, How therapy works, Projection & Transference, psychoanalytic theory, psychotherapy, Uncategorized 40 Comments Tags: archetypes, C. G. Jung, clinical supervision, empathic failure, idealization and psychotherapy, Intimacy, private practice, projection
“Without in the least wishing it he (the therapist) draws upon himself an over-valuation that is almost incredible to the outsider, for to the patient, he seems like a savior or a god. This way of speaking is not altogether so laughable as it sounds…Nobody could stand up to it in the long run, precisely because it is too much of a good thing. One would have to be a demigod at least to sustain such a role without a break, for all the time one would have to be the giver….”
(C.G. Jung from The Personal and Collective Unconscious)
To be a therapist, is to spend a significant amount of time each work day being actively idealized, attempting to sustain a certain type of idealizability, and tolerating the responsibility and anxiety of the role you have been assigned: carrying the idealizing projections of others.
It is tricky and delicate business, to accept, and even enjoy the over-valuation of people who may need to see you, at least for a time, as Conscious, Wise and fully Self-actualized.
And it is essential never to actually believe a word of it.
In life, this is not so very difficult to imagine. We all know what it is to be looked up to by a young child, or through the eyes of a junior adult like a younger sibling or a new friend, a mentee, a student, or a protege.
We also know that with time, practice and age that they will end up essentially where we are. The road from there to here is not so mysterious or magical once you have walked it. Once you have developed some sufficient mastery in one area of your life, if you are healthy enough, you don’t think it gives you any magical powers or special qualities in any other area of your life, no matter how astounding it seems to others.
When my son was around five, he pulled up a stool to watch me, wide-eyed, as I made breakfast. As I whisked up some eggs in a glass bowl, turned the heat on under the pan, and poured in the scrambled goo he exclaimed:
“Mommy, you amaze me. You are amazing.”
(It was a delicious moment, one that I hang onto now that I have an eye-rolling 9 year old, who is just trying on his new shiny self-protective shell of snark-snot-and-sarcasm.)
Mommy, you amaze me.
I never for a moment believed that I had scrambled miraculous eggs. I never considered for a second that I actually had unique, magical cooking powers or that I was the most amazing cook in the world, in NYC, in my borough or even on my block.
But it was deeply pleasurable nonetheless. To see a simple act of minimal mastery through a child’s eyes: using my my mature fine and gross motor skills to crack open a perfectly packaged egg, directing its contents without spilling a drop, moving a whisk faster than the eye could see, watching the mixture whirlpool around at my command, summoning fire and flame without fear or hesitancy, prodding the spitting, sizzling eggy-glob with nothing to protect me other than a mere wooden spoon, transforming it all into comforting meal using a dangerously hot piece of metal.
Now that is something.
Maybe even the stuff of demigoddesses…
The pleasure grows from remembering when I thought it was a miracle too. From recalling my own mother’s miraculous ability to make the most delicious grilled american cheese on white bread sandwiches in the world while domesticating the threats and terrors of the wild and unpredictable electric skillet.
It is joyful to be reminded that the skills I take for granted were hard won over many over-cooked meals, burned fingers and inedible food tossed in the garbage – as I traveled from not knowing how to cook at all to competently scrambling an egg.
It was also absolutely lovely to recognize that my divine ability to scramble eggs out of thin air, made my son feel safe, and confident too – through his identification with me. If I can make eggs, tame fire, if I am able to use sharp knives safely -what can’t I do? I could certainly take down any lurking “bad guys” or monsters, with a flick of my magic whisk. He felt stronger, braver, special more capable through his secure alliance with me in all my egg-scrambling glory.
And another pleasure: knowing that very soon, all these amazing powers would be his. The pleasure comes from knowing how I developed this skill, that it can be conveyed over time and through maturity, that he would soon catch up, and probably quickly surpass me.
In fact, today I woke up, four short years later, to find him making a garlic scape (I had no idea what those were until this morning), sweet orange pepper, and cream cheese omelette for breakfast.
He amazes me. He is amazing.
Healthy idealization is ultimately, a mutually admiring experience.
In the early stages of therapy – when we are vulnerable and the healing crisis is fresh and disorienting – we often need to see therapists as intact, healthy, knowledgeable, experienced authorities. Competence, confidence, mastery are essential in making us feel safe, held, well-guided and incubated through the aftermath of the events that drove us into therapy to begin with.
Sometimes an idealized therapist serves us as a protective shell, guarding and concealing vulnerable, unformed and embryonic aspects of the Self as it consolidates.
“A successful phase-appropriate chip-off-the-old-block type merger with … the idealized father (parent/therapist) and the subsequent gradual or phase-appropriate disappointment in him might… enhance self-esteem. (Heinz Kohut, The Restoration of the Self)
If only it were as easy as it sounds.
Kohut spends a great deal of time discussing the importance of manageable empathic failures, tolerable mishaps, humanizing mistakes. These unavoidable errors and revelations disrupt our idealizing transferences, and remind us that the person who is holding all our eggs in a single basket, is human, flesh and blood, not a demi-god.
Idealizing transferences have a function and a cost. The gain is the sense of hope we get from feeling connected to someone bigger and more powerful than we. The shadow is that as clients we are smaller, diminished, and fearful that we will have to stay “smaller than” in order to stay connected.
For therapists, the danger is that we can become inflated, burst our shells, accept medals and approbations that we have not earned.
Other times sitting in the therapists chair can feel stiff, brittle, and anxiety provoking as we try to keep our disruptive, broken and wounded, aspects hidden from view, our humanity banished by the necessary admiring distortion.
There is often little room for failure, for error, for the therapist to be an equal partner or a fellow traveler, or even fallible in the early phases of engagement and therapeutic relationship building.
I walk on egg-shells, waiting: its just a matter of time before I stumble, show up late, misunderstand, forget a necessary detail, repeat myself, challenge a defense at the wrong moment, bump into a painful bruise. How bad will it be? The suspense is excruciating. How long until it cracks? How deep or disruptive or painful? Will I injure, trigger, re-activate an old wound too profoundly? Will it break open before we have developed the necessary language and trust to negotiate it? Will we survive it together? Will it evoke destructive rage? The timer ticks away. Will I be the one to shatter a self-protective but illusory hope? Will the client be contemptuous if I prove to be less than perfect? Will the trust we have worked so hard to earn together fall to pieces?
I squirm imperceptibly in my seat, releasing pressure with self-deprecating wise-cracks. Fear mounts – the more the client inflates me, the more steep the drop. The more that I represent the perfectly satisfying feed, the more likely I will be eaten up. Or spit out in pieces.
I try to inoculate everyone who comes in at the initial consultation:
“It is not a matter of if I disappoint you, but when and how I will. However it happens, however small the error or annoyance – you may not even notice it until you leave the session and some comment I made, or something I did or didn’t do suddenly rises up hours later and sticks in your craw – it is extremely important that we talk about it, find language around it, and make it a part of our work together.”
Probably few remember when the time comes and I do lay a big old egg. But I have at least told the truth. I have made no false promises and did not commit myself to a perfected stance I cannot sustain. The caveat gives me the space to sit in my seat, carrying the loneliness and responsibilities of the idealizing gaze, for as long as necessary, knowing that it will not last forever.
In the folklore of most of Europe, the strength or the life of supernatural beings could be destroyed only if an egg, usually hidden in some… inaccessible place, was broken.
(see Eggs: Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend)
Ultimately, it is extremely relieving when the illusion, the facade cracks at last, and it is time to descend inch by inch, climb, fall, or be squarely knocked down off the pedestal that I had to sit upon for a time.
This is true: A healthy therapist will not ever need you to stay small. They will be increasingly relieved by their incremental over-throw, happy to rescind the authority temporarily granted to them while old wounds healed. They will step down with dignity and acceptance of their own humanity and rejoice to see you claim your own authority when you are ready.
A profound moment in my treatment, more than twenty years ago: I was waiting tables and, along with the entire wait staff, had to attend some mandatory-bull-shit-motivational-team-building-brain-washing-success-cult seminar. At my next session I spoke of how enraged, disgusted and toxic I felt. I assumed I’d behaved badly in the forced forum: I’d folded my arms, stared at the floor, sat surly and glowering as I refused to let them force their simplistic cult-speak into my mouth. I was sure, that my pouty, sour behavior was an insufficient and immature way to express my opposition to this coerced programming and that my therapist would have had some much more effective way to maturely express his disagreement and set a healthy boundary that I, in my undeveloped state, couldn’t yet conceive of.
He said: “Me? Really? I probably would have gotten totally pissed off, and screamed at them stormed out and lost my job. That’s what I probably would have done.”
His admission of humanity, his discomfort with my defensive, self-negating uses of idealization, disrupted at the right moment made room for me to hatch further, aknowledge my growing powers of discernment, judgement, and impulse control.
The therapists I trust find ways to enjoy the inflating gaze of their clients and what it represents, accept it as developmental and transitional, without needing it, believing it, attaching to it, or feeding off of it. And they will release it with pleasure as you are ready and your own strength mounts.
One day, strengths will equalize, and a new relationship, one that makes room for two whole people with differentiated and individualized strengths and weaknesses will emerge.
And a new kind of intimate collaboration, between participants of equal powers, can begin.
It is sweet connection to be amazed and amazing.
It is a lovely thing to be surpassed.
It is sweeter still to work together, side by side, and to make a meal, more beautiful and inspired, than either of you could have cooked alone.
copyright © 2012
All rights reserved Martha Crawford
By whatashrinkthinks in How therapy works, psychoanalytic theory, psychotherapy, Therapeutic memory, Uncategorized 25 Comments Tags: archetypes, bereavement, clinical supervision, Divorce, long-term therapy, narrative burden, private practice, time in therapy, vicarious traumatization
The limbs of a starfish assist escape because they can be shed.
(Shuker, KPN. 2001. The Hidden Powers of Animals: Uncovering the Secrets of Nature. London: Marshall Editions Ltd. 240 p. http://www.asknature.org/strategy/7120557f65475a9a7d8656fd02946964)
Some people live their whole lives in one zip code. They remain near and close to their family of origin, and their extended family. They find their earliest attachments to be hospitable, enduring, and nurturing. There are people who still have their best friends from kindergarten, from high school, from college and from twenty years ago.
These lives have, for the most part, offered a kind of narrative continuity, consistency, a sense of going-on-being, where the people who know them now, knew them then, and can watch and mirror what has changed, and what hasn’t.
These are lives that unfold progressively, epigenetically, perhaps each chapter moves forward with a tidy security – or perhaps with a suffocating, repetitious, entrapping or even boring continuation of themes and relationships carried over from the chapter before. The joys, challenges, losses, and unavoidable abject sufferings of life take place in a more or less, consistent, continuous context.
And there are others, different – not better or worse – who have great, insurmountable, or repetitive breaks in their narrative. Life stories that start over again, and sometimes again and again, with little or nothing remaining from one chapter to the next. Life itself has offered minimal constancy.
Survival has required that limbs must be shed in order to carry on.
These life narratives unfold like a collection of short stories, episodic, mini-narratives which carry their own arc. A turn of the page and a new story begins with a new setting, new characters and events that make little reference, and hold little knowledge of the story that preceded it.
I think of them as starfish.
So many come to this city to get away from someplace else, to escape relationships and connections to those who could or would not follow them in. They have fled small towns and provincial, tradition bound communities for the expensive freedom and anonymous diversity of urban life.
Others ran for their lives, their freedom, and their sanity from families or communities or countries that would have done them in, annihilated, abused, repressed, devoured or destroyed something sacred in them had they not escaped over the bridges and tunnels into the great, teeming cement labyrinth. Others came, what-the-hell-do-I-have-to-lose, from homes that collapsed out from under them. Everyone essential died. Or abandoned them. Families fragmented, degenerated and blown to bits, like dandelion seeds, scattered around the world, every man woman and child for themselves.
Maybe there are more in New York City than in other places.
Or, maybe, there have just been more in my office.
The leavings-behind and losses of emigration, adoption, coming-out, addiction, abuse and recovery, divorce, deaths and die-offs, abandonments, disasters, severed family relationships, the sudden eruption of mental illness in ourselves or those we depend on, wars, epidemics, all of these, and more can create fissures in time, in our sense of unfolding Self, cause us to shed skins, sever limbs, and to start life over again.
Any form of severance or cut off, letting go, of giving up, of going away from a relational environment that we have been profoundly attached to, or stuck on, involves leaving some aspect of ourselves behind.
Sometimes we must cut-off toxic environments and unrepentant abusive family members to preserve ourselves. Sometimes we develop inflamed, excruciating emotional “allergies” to people we have loved but can no longer be near. Sometimes we are cut-off or cast out, or a life-structure simply collapses or disappears out from under us with out our having any say in the matter.
Attachments to those around us take pieces of us with them whether they are lost voluntarily or involuntarily.
Like our evolutionary relatives, slugs, starfish, sea stars, lizards, spiders that leave bits of themselves behind when survival mandates it, we human beings, perhaps further along in the evolutionary chain, nevertheless rely on atotomic functions to preserve ourselves too.
Autotomy (not to be confused with autonomy, but sometimes utilized in service of preserving it) from the Greek auto = “self-” and tomy = “severing.”
In “Awakening the Dreamer” Phillip M. Bromberg discusses Nobel prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska’s poem titled “Autotomy” which relies on the image of a sea creature called a holothurian as it splits itself in two – half dying, half alive, in order to grow again another day.
Bromberg uses a Latin phrase borrowed from the poem “Non Omnis Moriar” – “I shall not wholly die!” – as the reflexive motto of dissociation in the face of repetitive or traumatic loss:
Others may validly discuss such severances in terms of post traumatic dissociation, or attachment theory and disorder. I am less interested in diagnostics, pathology or prognosis, but more an experiential Winicottian construct: exploring the disruptions in the fragile sense of “going-on-being” through time, as a self that is at least partially recognizable and somewhat knowable to those around, and to oneself.
My grandmother-in-law, a holocaust survivor who by 102 had lost and reconstructed several lives, used her own language to describe people without such consistency:
“They are like ‘this’ in the world” she would say, showing us the back of her hand, a bent, arthritic index finger standing up as straight as it could, the other three fingers and thumb curled in a knotted ball in her tiny palm.
One finger standing alone, in a solitude which carries its own burden, but also still in historical and enfleshed connection to the other digits, now unreachable, cut off and out of sight.
Those “like this” in the world carry stigma in our culture, just for surviving their losses.
Kohut might talk about the loss of “self-objects”: people who help us to see and feel ourselves and give us a contextual, reliable, accurate sense of our selves, through time, across developmental stages. When specific “self-objects” are lost, shattered or eliminated, access to specific internal representations of ourselves are lost as well.
How full, how complete, how round, and how thread-bare can our memories be when there is no one there to participate in the act of remembering with us?
After grad school, I worked in a long-term day treatment for adults with severe and persistent mental illness, and was shocked by how little the treatment team knew, (or had bothered to find out) about the histories of the clients we served. Most lived in mental health residences. Many had lived their entire lives in state institutions like Willowbrook until Geraldo Rivera stormed the gates. Few had any involved family members. Many of the clients were unable to articulate anything understandable about their lives, scrambled thought process and daily dream-time disrupting any ability to sort historical memory fragments from the archetypal images produced by hallucinations, internal stimuli, delusions, and projections.
Their charts and psychosocial histories were barren: family history “Client says he has a sister, no longer in contact” or “Unknown”. Some clients had been served by the same agency for over ten, fifteen even twenty years, with their treatment providers passing through and being replaced every three or four years. Not only were their historical narratives lost, but when each new clinician updated the “expired” paperwork, huge chunks of their recent, therapeutic histories would be lost too.
I found myself writing voluminous progress notes and enormous histories in longhand fountain pen, stapling stacks of extra pages into the standardized forms. I would hunt down every piece of data I could find on their behalf pulling old charts from the archives, requesting ancient medical records from hospitals. I would find clues, 10-year-old phone numbers, a mention of an aunt with an unusual name who may be more easily located by 411. I spent hours and hours when the whole building was emptied, making phone calls, pouring through records, finding pieces of the past to help the clients I was serving remember who they are. When I could find something they were thrilled – “I remember her!!” or “Yes! That was the phone number of my old counselor he was nice” or even “That was where the bad things first happened…” a piece of themselves, a lost bit re-collected, re-contexutalized.
One (fictionalized) small, smelly client with poor hygiene wore many coats, and had been mute at the agency and at his residence for over 5 years. His peers called him “The Smell” as he never spoke a word or made a sound. He came to my office to draw pictures with me regularly, to play Winnicott’s squiggle game together. One day, after many months, he wrote out a phone number.
Which I called.
The woman on the other end was a relative who hadn’t heard from him in years. I told her he was silent and we knew nothing about him. “Oh, he gets like that when he smokes crack” she said instantly. “He’ll talk his damn head of when he isn’t getting high.”
He met my request for a urine test with a drawing of a big, piss-yellow dragon guarding a castle in the distance – an initial refusal – which eventually led to a nod, a signed consent, pee in a cup, detox, and several years ahead of amazing art work, joyful, loud effusive wise cracking and talking his damn head off.
It was even annoying sometimes, but in a good way.
The subsequent regeneration, however, can be particularly dramatic. As long as the shed limb is not devoured by the predator and still contains a section of the central body disc of the starfish that shed it, this limb has the ability to regenerate into a complete starfish.”
(Shuker, KPN, The Hidden Powers of Animals: Uncovering the Secrets of Nature)
I knew, and know, that those big fat long-hand documents I had written would only live in their charts for a time, that they would end up culled, archived, updated by other clinicians who would understandably and wisely, leave the office at the end of the work day. In 5 or 8 years time much of the detective work, and re-assembly would be forgotten by the institution and maybe the clients too. If, and when clients lost gains we had made together, if “The Smell” ever fell silent again, there may be no remaining documentation of what we had regenerated. And I would not be able to stay there long-term and help him, or any of them, remember.
But I do still remember.
And I will remember for the rest of my life. Ridiculously perhaps, on some mystical,non-sensical plane, I believe it matters that I do. Clients I haven’t seen or heard from for decades do come back, call, leave messages, send notes, or check in to be sure that I am still able to remember them.
Being re-membered, over the course of our lives, lets us experience ourselves as whole.
We need to be in relationship that re-members us in order to re-member ourselves. Therapists are people who have committed themselves to re-membering.
Ideally, therapists commit to remember, long after the appointments have stopped. This therapeutic promise outlasts the treatment. Maybe even for our whole lifetimes, or as long as our capacities permit.
There are healthy and broken people living lives of constancy.
There are well and wounded people living through intermittence and discontinuity. Any one can be dis-membered.
Yet, even if only one limb remains, if even a piece of the central body remains, we can re-establish cohesion, wholeness.
The therapist has a special function in relationship to people living in the throes of discontinuity. It is this: To create a continuous environment, that exists over time, and may need to endure over a lifetime, that allows the core, the central body, to identify itself again, to resume its task of re-generation, to find its inherent capacity for “going on being.”
The therapeutic relationship becomes the seat of consistency, the embodiment of abidingness – continuing on, persisting, enduring in order to honor and assemble the tales of all the lost bits and pieces as they emerge.
To regenerate, we re-member, together, over time.
copyright © 2012
All rights reserved Martha Crawford
By whatashrinkthinks in About Me, Creative process, psychoanalytic theory, Psychotherapy Fees, Scape goating, Shadow, Uncategorized 29 Comments Tags: Actors & artists, archetypes, long-term therapy, Money, psychotherapy, specialization, treating the creative patient
Someone just asked me how I decided to become a therapist.
It’s a question I am asked from time to time. I’ve answered different ways at different times of my life, and understood my trajectory toward this point in different ways.
This is my answer for the moment.
There is of course, a longer, far more complex narrative, of which I am only partially aware. I suspect the unconscious processes, both personal and collective, that set me on this path began the day I was born, or maybe even before.
But there was, in fact, a moment when I actually decided, or perhaps realized, that this was the path I intended to pursue.
I had majored in Theater and Philosophy in undergraduate – and had dropped out, smack in the middle of my senior year – giving my parents a total heart-attack (and completely in keeping with their own history of totally impulsive shenanigans) and certainly disappointing many of my professors in both majors who believed in and supported me.
Why? I only knew that I couldn’t do it any longer – continuing to work to finish my undergraduate degree felt “wrong” and utterly intolerable. In fact, I felt that I somehow needed to “save” my final semester, and any graduate schooling for “later.”
That was the best explanation I could muster.
I could not invest any more energy consolidating the identity I had cobbled together out of scraps and left overs. I could not would not stack one more brick in the construction of a jerry-rigged persona. It would either work or it wouldn’t based on whatever effort I had already put in. “I” was held together with spit and duct tape but I was either “good enough” as is, or I wasn’t. It was time to find out.
I had started therapy the year before dropping out – and was certainly the most annoying, defended, overtly resistant patient that had ever presented voluntarily in a therapists office. Her obvious empathy annoyed me. I didn’t want someone to empathize with my “troubles.” I wanted someone to say I was going to be just fine, I was following my heart and that these instincts certainly meant something important. I wanted her to assure me that there were many roads to happiness, and that I was sure to have a bright future ahead of me if I stubbornly followed my intuition, and so to not be afraid. She said none of those things. She looked concerned. I hated her more than half the time. The rest of the time she scared the shit out of me.
I got a mindless gig in a nearby restaurant, relieved and happier in obedience to the pressing internal mandate. I gazed down on the ceremony from high up in the amphitheater the day my dearest friends and my class graduated without me – without a drop of regret. I had no desire to flip my tassel.
I left that state and that therapist the first chance I had, and never looked back.
The next seven or so years are a blur. I did a brief stint in a regional theater and eventually moved to New York with hundreds of thousands of other 20 year olds to act and act out.
Here is what I remember: the East Village & Alphabet City, waiting tables, various very bad boyfriends, auditions, panic-attacks, bar tending, head-shots, grief, acting gigs, mourning, the Equity Actors union waiting room, flash-backs, and scraping by.
I found my second and final therapist – and used all of my personal resources just to show up regularly. I offered up my cash tips from my black half-apron pockets for what seemed to have become my central task in life: Therapy. Twice a week. I didn’t know why it felt like I was living life in a giant pin-ball machine – buffeted from one misery to the next – and worse: I had the terrible, unshakable sensation that whatever the crap was playing out – it had all happened before.
And I wanted it to stop.
Of course it had all happened before – but I had no idea what a “repetition compulsion” was – I just knew I hadn’t liked it the first round either.
I was pursuing acting as a career. I worked in the restaurant industry. But, it was clear as crystal that showing up for therapy was my real job.
Somewhere in there I met a boy, a stable and kind boy, and would eventually move in with him. His parents had been holocaust survivors, and he seemed completely undaunted by my little shit-show. He remains undaunted and steadfast to this day.
This next part is aesthetically humiliating but true. I paid what must have been seven bucks at the time to see a matinée of the Prince of Tides. I went alone. I remember very little of it. The therapist, played by Barbara Streisand is bad – probably as terrible as the movie, and also bad as in naughty. Does she sleep with a patient? Or just the sibling of a patient? Not that that is okay either. She is categorically a bad therapist in a bad movie – but, I experienced a strange overwhelming confluence:
Here was an actress, playing a therapist. Something shook loose in my head. An actress, one known to have had a lot of psychotherapy, was acting as if she was actually a therapist.
When the movie finished, I spent another seven bucks and saw it again. I next went straight to Samuel French theatrical publishers and bought every little paperback copy of every play I could find with a therapist in it.
It was in the early nineties that I purchased my own first book on psychodynamic theory. The title caught my attention as I had been reading Joyce: “The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Patient” by Gerald Alper.
The first paragraphs of the preface sent me straight to the cashier to smooth out a stack of crumpled bills from the bottom of my backpack:
“The artist who appears here belongs to a special population of struggling, non-commercial, artist-patients rarely seen in the private office of a psychoanalytic psychotherapist (as is the case here) for the compelling reason that they cannot afford a normal fee”
and further down the page:
“Here is the common, recurring profile of the artist as patient: someone in their mid to late twenties, more likely female than male…. generally not indigenous to New York City, but arriving and settling in from the Midwest and even California, an aspiring actor, actress, dancer, musician, painter, singer or writer; generally unemployed in his craft and having to fall back on part-time survival work such as waiting tables in restaurants (almost unanimously despised) predominant presenting problem of depression (often narcissistic) work inhibition, creative block, paralysis of initiative, and day to day functioning accompanied by frequent feelings of inner deadness”
Yikes. Was he supervising my therapist?
In it, he discusses his caseload of young artists, in the 80’s, surviving and suffering and acting out in the East Village, in the ten block radius around my fifth floor walk-up.
I had no idea at the time if it was a “good” piece of clinical writing or not – and had never heard of any of the theorists he referred to – Kernberg, Kohut, Winnicott, and Bateson’s’ “double bind.” The book felt like a cold slap: pathologizing, harsh, objectifying. But, absolutely no less objectifying than the restaurant managers or casting directors that dismissed, criticized or hollered at me every single day. The case examples seemed off-point, and unlike any peers I could identify with. Little was discussed about the complexities of creative processes, or career building. No stories of hope or big breaks.
Just stories of symptoms and dreams of loyalty to a creative process going no-where. No Where.
Yet, Alper was clearly familiar and compassionate toward my tribe of misfits when he discussed us in aggregate. All of us thin-skinned folk, hoping to make a creative living off of the utter sensitivity of our exposed, raw nerve endings, bruised and battered by brute contact with the pointed corners of unyielding reality.
Many of us trapped, feeding the insatiable appetites of demanding patrons during the day, while unable to satisfy our own deepest hungers.
He even describes the “waiter’s nightmare” which haunted me for many years:
“gigantic outdoor cafes, peopled by hundreds of clamoring patrons, situated thousands of feet apart”
Re-reading it now for the first time twenty years later, clinically, it’s not my professional language, or model, and doesn’t speak to my practice or approach. The book is too focused on psychoanalytic diagnostics for my taste – all artistic processes redefined as a cocktail of healthy and pathological narcissistic processes – artist’s relationship to his talent/creativity: narcissistic, to the audience: narcissistic, and all artists and participants in the creative act: narcissistic. Kohutian, Kerbergian, or Winnicottian – it seems unnecessarily reductive of what, in my view, are essentially numinous, spiritual, unconscious processes of the psyche.
Of course, there is always danger of inflation and deflation when wrestling with archetypal content and the Unconscious. But in my work over the past 15 years with the same struggling creative population – too many writers, actors, musicians, playwrights, dancers to count – I have come to think of the suffering artist much more as an “identified patient” in a disordered environment. They are the Cassandras, the too willing scapegoats, the canaries in our coal mine. They feel the toxicity in any system first – and often respond before they know what they are reacting to. Artists struggle to give it voice, shape, movement, and symbol so the rest of the community can confront the shadow content that would otherwise be ignored, repressed, disavowed. The artists I have seen, seem to me, not narcissistic enough. Too willing to be dismissed as flakey, as failures, too willing to absorb the collective toxins, take them into their own systems to metabolize, and transform them into something beautiful or communicative or confrontative. Eternally, masochistically hopeful that they can make the deaf hear, the blind see, artists do so at costs to themselves they don’t always recognize.
A little like therapists.
Yet, Alper was clearly a caring and compassionate therapist, and the parallels between creative and clinical inspiration and artistry are not lost on him. Alper mentions that he was a novelist before becoming a therapist, and describes the pursuit of a career in psychoanalytic psychotherapy as a “decision to try and earn a living doing the thing we most love.”
Twenty years ago this was perhaps the first time I had the notion that 1) I had a not-so-common sensitivity, receptivity, and a relationship to my own unconscious processes, and 2) It was actually a skill set I had developed – as well as a deficit. Also, 3) that this skill set was maybe even directly transferrable to work as a therapist.
The same year, I was working on a piece of experimental theater – “workshopping” some obscure German Expressionist piece, with a group of other wounded waiters I knew. The two “producers” had hired a “director” with some family funds – and we were using psychodramatic exercises, along with our own significant trauma histories to “flesh out” the sparse, strangely translated text. Putting all our horrors “on their feet” and improving our way through our worst and cruelest “high-stakes” memories. Beatings. Abuse. Discovering suicided family members. Psychotic breaks and involuntary commitments. Drug overdoses.
We thought we were being brave and creative. Now, I can see that it was just so obviously, and on every level: A Very Bad Idea.
When the final actor had exposed his own darkest living nightmare for others to enact, I heard the director whisper to himself:
“This is good…. we can use this….”
That night, I called an old dear friend: She had walked through her own house of horrors – and wasn’t all the way out yet, but she had managed to get her MSW a year or two before and was, as a result, way more gainfully employed than I was.
“Use this??!!” I hollered into the phone, back when people talked on phones. “Use this?! Is this what all actors are doing all of the time!? Use this!! This SHOULD NOT BE USED! This shit is SACRED unto ITSELF! We should only respect it and sit near it and bear witness!”
The first eight words of her response changed my whole life:
“You don’t have to be an actor, you know. There are lots of actors who would kill to be getting the work you complain about.”
“Wait?! What did you say?!!?!? Excuse me did you say: “I DON’T have to be an actor?! I don’t have to be an actor..… ”
I thanked her and hung up. Called someone and quit the hot German-Expressionist mess. The next day I ordered catalogues from every social work program in the city. And called my would-be alma mater to figure out how the hell I was going to finish my degree seven years after dropping out.
Interestingly enough, I found out that my credits were on the brink of expiration, and if I had waited even a few more months, I would have had to start my Bachelor’s degree over. As it was, I transferred some credits back – and completed some research projects for independent study credits: One on the history of the Yiddish theater on the Lower East Side, and another on the Psychology of Creativity, extensively citing my favorite book du jour: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Patient.
One year later: I had tied up my loose ends, and enrolled in a clinical social work program.
So it is with deep gratitude and thanks to my chaotic inheritance, my first half-detested therapist, my disappointed professors, several bad boyfriends, every restaurant manager I ever was oppressed by, my husband, my final and current therapist, a sadistic director, Gerald Alper, my dear friend Julie, a Very Bad Idea, and of course ladies and gentleman, the Incomparable Barbara Streisand, that I exist as I am now:
A psychotherapist, no longer young,
but in many ways walking the same path,
practicing the art of psychotherapy,
with some success and some failures,
still struggling to remain loyal to the inner guidance of my own psyche and the creative process.
copyright © 2012
All rights reserved Martha Crawford
By whatashrinkthinks in psychotherapy, Self Care, Uncategorized, Wellness, What to talk about in therapy 28 Comments Tags: activities of daily living, boredom in therapy, directive advice, Dreams, excercise, Intimacy, meditation, private practice
There are things that most therapists say, wish they could say, or have given up saying, that no one ever listens to anyway.
You probably won’t listen either:
But what the hell – I’ll give it another shot:
Please get your thyroid checked, your blood sugar, make sure you aren’t anemic. Get a blood test and a physical. If you are an older man, check your testosterone levels. (I see your eyes glazing over already) Let us make sure before we spend hours and hours and you make a significant financial investment in psychotherapy that we aren’t trying to talk your glands or your pancreas into functioning more consistently.
Your symptoms don’t just live in your mind. Your mind is housed in your body. You have to treat your most pernicious anxious/depressive symptoms in your body too.
And, sure, yes, I am also talking about exercise (recent, flawed studies aside) If you’ve had your exam and your physical health permits: Get some air, some sunshine. Or get rained on. Go to a gym. Find some exercise that you find pleasurable, and do it whenever you can find time and push yourself out the door. Work up a sweat. Salsa dance. Rock climb. Or just walk. Especially when you don’t feel like it. Just around the block a few times, or to the corner and back. Spend a little time in the company of your own body – pay attention to it. We just feel and function better when we treat our bodies with self-respect.
If exercise offers no gain at all – or your energy and motivation is too too low to even consider it – then we need to intervene with your body in some other way: Medical intervention and medication may be a possibility for those who feel committed to the medical model. There are other routes as well: Acupuncture, yoga, a nutritional consult. Therapeutic massage, qi-gong, tai chi, Some believe that a ‘cleanse’ can reboot their bodies response. Some consult an herbalist. Eat aruvedically if that is your thing.
Any gesture that will get you respectfully engaged with your body’s needs again.
The futility of directiveness, I suppose, is why I allied with psychoanalytic, existential, and depth psychology models – as I’ve surrendered to the notion that there is no such thing as effective, directive advice, and that our cognition is rarely changed with out understanding our deeper fears, inheritances, habits, survival mechanisms and resistances.
But I’ll admit, sometimes I still try to slip it in, sandwiched in between moments of exploration and mirroring, amplification, and empathy.
Sometimes I am just itching to tell you what to do.
Especially when you are asking me to.
Actually, its when you ask me to that you seem to listen least of all.
I would prefer, if you are considering taking, or feel that you will benefit from psychiatric medication that it be prescribed by a board certified psychiatrist, and please please please, if you won’t or can’t use someone that I refer you to, please find someone who will collaborate, or at least return my call. Please ask them at the first consultation.
Say words like these:
“Will you feel comfortable collaborating as part of a treatment team with my psychotherapist? How do you prefer to be contacted? I would like to be sure to sign a consent for the two of you to communicate before I leave today. Are there times when you might want to know what is happening in my therapy, or would want feedback, or have questions for my therapist?”
I would prefer that you see someone who truly believes in the construct of the lowest therapeutic dose as an guiding ethical value. I would prefer that you consider it as a last resort rather than a simple quick fix. No matter what medication you may utilize for whatever emotional symptoms trouble you, please bear in mind that medication will not change anything enough in and of, or all by itself. In the very best case scenario, it is a single, potentially effective tool to apply to a multi-pronged problem. Tools can be necessary and make things easier. And tools can be dangerous and injurious.
And you will still need to talk things through, look at your choices, heed your intuition, change your life-style, confront changes that you would rather avoid.
If you are single:
That is fine. Single is not pathology. Life as a single person can be an excellent and healthy choice, and far far preferable to life in a toxic destructive relationship. You are not less than because you are not in a relationship. You are not more unhappy than many many people who have partners. You may have different kinds of unhappiness then they do. Committed partnerships do not inherently make people happier. There are miserable people single, and partnered. There are joyful single folk, and joyful married folk.
No one ever listens to this at all.
If you are dating:
You can have no idea if someone is “perfect for you” after three dates, or a couple of hook ups. Truly. You, and everyone who loves you will be spared a great deal of agony if you can tolerate that fact that we human beings can be extremely attracted to someone who we don’t know at all, probably exactly because we don’t really know them at all.
Enjoy the pheromones. Try to guard your attachments until trust is earned.
And the second prescription for dating singles is like unto it:
Just because you have a somewhat icky feeling after the third week of seeing someone doesn’t in and of itself mean that you should dump them. That icky feeling may very well be a signal that this is a relationship that has the capacity for intimacy. Intimacy is scary, and dangerous. It could hurt you. But, it is what most people are seeking when they look for love. When intimacy begins to emerge – it can scare the shit out of you. Wait a few more weeks before bolting. Get more experiential data. Maybe it is a signal that something is wrong or not working between the two of you.
Or maybe its a signal that you could change each others lives.
In someways, being consistently ignored in my more advice-y moments has been relieving from the inflated illusion that I may have substantial power in my clients lives.
Its proven to me that none of of us take in anything that we do not want to, or are not ready to hear.
And none of us can take any action, or change our thinking until we are ready.
But, lets keep going shall we?
For parents of young children:
I know it is expensive, I know its a hassle. I know you are so exhausted you are done for by nine o’clock. But for god-sakes you need to get away from that baby sometimes. If you are in a couple, you need a date night. Single parents also need nights out with other grown ups: Ideally once a week but for many that is a tall order- but at least twice a month – once a month? Your child truly, ultimately doesn’t want to eat you alive, but they will if you let them.
For the chronically overworked:
You need to leave work at a reasonable time at least once a week. If it were up to me it would be more. I know there are deadlines, and this is a big ambitious city. But you need to have some sacrosanct activity – in addition to therapy – that you leave work for and show up to regularly. A book club. A painting class. Any of the activities that I already mentioned that you don’t remember because you were just yes-ing me and not really paying attention. You need to leave work sometimes. Your employer, may, in fact be happy to eat you alive, but if you let them, you will be even more miserable.
My words wash out into a wave of white-noise: just as any adult in Charlie-Brown’s universe: Wah-wah-wahwahwah-wah.
For those who complain about boredom and isolation:
Volunteer somewhere, or get connected to a community organization. We feel better when we are connected to a community of others who share similar goals and values.
A church, a temple a mosque, a political campaign, a charitable organization, and animal shelter. Habitat for Humanity, an urban garden. Its easier to feel connected to people when we are working side by side. Its easier to chat and get to see something about another’s character when you are pulling up weeds, or serving soup, or doing something meaningful together.
There is a vague and anxious guilt that accumulates when we stockpile all of our personal energy for ourselves – and don’t generate something for others. Do something that makes you feel clean and aligned with your own values and proud of yourself.
Certainly by now I have lost you.
But shall I continue to proffer and assemble my beautiful bouquet of all things ignored?
If you are “stuck”:
Keep a pen and pad by your bed and write down whatever you can remember about your dreams. I know, I know, you don’t dream, you never remember your dreams, your dreams are “just weird”, about nothing, are just little bits here and there, mostly about your job. Please. Pretty please? Just indulge me?
When you complain of feeling stuck, and spend hours and hours polling your friends and family and neighbors, and me about “what you should do” to get out of your circumstance – the problem is that you haven’t forged a sufficient, or patient relationship with your own intuition.
You don’t know what you are hungry for and you are asking other people what you want to eat for dinner. The answer will only come from the outside in that your internal hunger will recognize it or reject it.
You can eliminate the middle-men and learn to listen to yourself directly. Your dreams, your unconscious, your psyche is chewing on all of this stuff day and night. When you sleep – you produce little mind-movies about the dilemmas that are most central to you. When you have failed to solve the problem with your consciousness, why not try letting your unconscious have a crack at it? What do you have to lose?
Turn off the morning talk radio ( you only have about 30 seconds to a minute to remember your dream upon waking) set your alarm 7 minutes earlier and hit snooze. Use the 7 minute interim to think about where you just were, and write it down. Even a few key words may help. It might be boring at first. Detritus from the day – nothing exciting – but these are symbols produced by you – and if you keep paying attention – we will certainly find some content to riff on, some grist for the mill, that may lead us right where you need to go.
A drip, drip drip at a time, water built the Grand Canyon, and its part of my work to chip, chip chip away at people’s resistances to the activities of daily living that will at least make our work in the room flow more smoothly, and best put you in more contact with yourself, your core needs and a sense of well being.
But, certainly, you can feel free to ignore me about this too.
I’m resigned. I’m used to it.
For those who “do not know what they want:”
You will likely need some space in your life for some kind of conscious, waking contemplative activity. Learn to mediate, or write in a journal, or draw or create something. You need to spend some time listening to your inner world. Even if its boring or hard. You need to grab your fishing pole, cast the line, and wait for a nibble. Day dream. Paint. Garden. Hike. Buy some charcoals and one of those squishy erasers.
I know its embarrassing. Its not about creating a masterpiece, its about exercising your creative imaginal capacities so that your creative self is more engaged with the process of figuring out how to live a fulfilling live. Something quiet, and a little bit alone. 5 minutes! Thats all I’m asking! Fine, then just 3 minutes doodling and fantasizing and exercising your imagination?
Your imaginal world is going to give you far better advice than I can if you will just spend a couple of minutes listening. How will you be able to surprise yourself if you fill up every moment with email and texting eating and fretting, and TV and live-streaming, and errands, and work?
But I still I sit in my chair, week after week, year after year, trying to restrain myself but, of course, I crack, and indulge in re-re-re-reciting the most basic life prescriptions.
My words blow back to me like spit in the wind…
But random reinforcement is the most enticing: Every once in a while, one pushes through the icky feeling and finds the love of her life. Another, who had become hardened and frozen and cynical discovers his yearning for meaningful engagement with the world by listening to his dreams. Someone treats their thyroid and finds they have more energy for life. Two or three date nights reanimate an unhappy couples dormant sex life. A regular mediation practice slowly relieves life-long anxiety.
Just enough to keep me hooked.
I try not to. I know its dangers.
It almost never leads to anything good.
Except for when someone actually listens.
copyright © 2012
All rights reserved Martha Crawford
By whatashrinkthinks in Laughing in psychotherapy, Self Care, Uncategorized, Wellness 21 Comments Tags: activities of daily living, Dreams, meditation, private practice, psychotherapy, self care, Shrink humor
Been sort of HEAVY around here lately, so it seemed like a good time to LIGHTEN UP.
It is a total gas, and honor to collaborate as a guest blogger with the brilliant WG at Therapy Tales!
Thanks to WG for this beautiful piece of silliness and to everyone else:
This one is just for me.
No great idea, no over-arching theme revealed. No burst of poetic inspiration.
No gift from me here.
This is the dark-side of the moon – the cost of the work – the damage it does to those of us who practice.
Damage is not all that it does, but make no mistake: damage is done.
There are seasons that cycle through your practice:
Cycles of joy, pride and celebration.
Cycles of sorrow, pain and loss.
And there is darker more disorienting stuff than that.
Cycles of hate, paranoia, terror, nausea, horror, and cruelty that set your world on edge and claw at your sense of reality.
Sometimes all the birds are flying in the wrong direction.
Days and weeks when you hear things that you can never un-hear. Impossible and unjust traps of fate as destructive as the one that Oedipus encountered. As intolerable as the torture of Job.
When the stories you hear overwhelm and contradict, and undermine your ability to believe easily in anything simple, or reliable, or good.
When your head swims with the horror of how cruel and destructive we can be to one another, and nothing makes sense at all.
Certainly this was true of the months and months of crisis work in NYC after 9/11.
Each day, a round of fresh horror.
But, even without mass tragedies – be warned that when you approach this field there will be weeks when you will sit in one Kobayashi Maru after another – un-winnable scenarios, from which there is no escape.
There are days, where the darkness you bear witness compounds thicker and heavier with each narrative that spills forth in your office.
Days when the road to hope becomes so steep, it rises up ninety degrees into a sheer, impassable wall blocking your path. No way to move forward. No place to run.
Tragedies so entrapping that they can tear clean through the fabric of living.
I will tell you one such story – disguised beyond recognition – but exactly as impossible and intolerable as one I encountered my first year in the field – many many years ago.
The client had her first psychotic break at age twelve, following a violent rape by a stranger. She has spent a life time in and out of hospital, day treatment programs, residential treatment facilities. In her early 20’s she had a child, which she knew she could not raise, who her sisters and mother raise and care for on her behalf. The woman remains close and connected to her child and family. Shortly after her daughter turns twelve the family stops returning the woman’s calls and refuse to let her come to the house, causing her great distress. Eventually, many many months later a sister calls to tell me that the twelve year old daughter has survived a violent rape by a stranger who broke into their apartment and was arrested. She was hospitalized medically to recover from her injuries for over a month. She seems to have also had a psychotic break as a result, is hearing voices, pre-occupied with internal stimuli, and has now been admitted to the same adolescent psychiatric unit that her mother was after her assault and decompensation. They could not bring themselves to tell the child’s mother, and asked that I do it, as they are hoping that a visit from her may help her daughter.
On the street, in the news papers, at the coffee shop – we find ways to distance ourselves from stories like these: My neighborhood isn’t like that, we don’t have mental illness in the family, such things could never happen to me.
Just like those of us who have never had cancer can hang onto our magical thinking that cancer will never happen to us either.
But that kind of distancing is an abandonment in a therapists office.
And remember: tragedy, like mercy, rains down evenly on the just and the unjust.
Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, a (fictionalized) day or a week can look like this:
10:00am – A woman’s child has disappeared. The police search.
11:00am – A husband mourns his wife’s recent suicide and cares for their child who found her body.
Your capacity for hope, for faith, for belief in humanity, shaken into crumbs and dust.
You may be dangling by your fingertips but you know that you are needed.
12:00pm – A fresh, out of the blue stage four cancer diagnosis.
1:00pm – Lunch and email. No good news. An email from your son’s teacher concerned about his talking in class. An urgent and contentious co-op meeting called that evening to discuss a potential high-stakes lawsuit.
Reeling, unable to process it all. Lost, bewildered.
None of these are new cases. All of these people you have been working with for years and years on other things – finding more job satisfaction, improving their marriages, resolving their conflicted relationship with their parents.
All are blind-sided.
You are half-way through your day.
2:00pm – A man with chronic debilitating physical pain losing hope.
3:00pm – A survivor of long ago child sexual abuse abuse forcibly subpoenaed to testify as more recent victims seek to prosecute the perpetrator.
You stop looking at your schedule. You don’t want to know what is going to come next. You close your eyes between sessions and hope that the next person is the actor who may have just landed a long sought after role, or someone who has just met the love of their life.
4:00pm – A woman, recently moved in with a man she has trusted for many years has been hit by him.
5:00 – A man finds out that his romantic partner of 20 years has emptied their mutual bank account, has had a secret life, and left him with nothing.
6:00 – Dinner. You can’t think straight.
You have no advice to offer, you know no way out but through it all.
You are afraid to even check your email, your voice messages, your text messages.
There is nothing you can do in the face of such broken-ness but to break as well.
It is the only sane response. The only place to connect. To be broken together.
If you care for these people, and you do, deeply, you must let it break you too.
You struggle with your personal responsibility. Should you have seen it coming? Is that what that dream they had was about? How could you, should you have protected them from this? Could you have stopped something, diverted something, prepared everyone for the shock?
Darkness wins sometimes. Or can at least, successfully dominate for a long season.
And by this point in my career, I am exhausted by the naiveté of those who insist that everything is meaningful and simple, that our choices cause our fates, that Love is always stronger than hate.
I am just as exhausted by my own naive wish that life be always sensible, causality clear and obvious, and controllable. How, after all these years, after all I have seen, can I still be stunned by senslessness? How can I still be loyal to a split off archetype of how things “should” be? How do I manage to still feel violated, and disrupted by the darkness in the world?
Some bears are too big to eat.
Some stories, especially when told by those you have invested in and cared for and nurtured, leave scars on your brain, and break your heart in too many different ways at once.
Later, maybe, they can be wrestled with. Meaning can be forcibly extracted, or shoved down the throat of senselessness. We cannot choose what happens to us, or to others. But many learn how to make tragedy meaningful in the aftermath.
But only in the aftermath.
For now, you can’t look away.
The job is to look. To hear.
To sometimes let love break you.
7:00- a man whose beloved but unstable twin brother has relapsed again and committed a violent offense while high.
8:00 – A woman whose partner has delivered a still born child
9:00 Home. To curl briefly in the bed with your sleeping child and smell their breath and hair before watching some stupid, mindless anesthesizing TV with a glass of wine.
And you feel guilty/thankful, that this time, for this round, it isn’t you.
And you know it has been before. And it will be again.
You remember how much it meant – when it was you – to tell the story to someone who wouldn’t look away.
You fall asleep, and dream compensatory, consoling dreams.
In the morning, you spend time with your family, work-out, feed yourself a healthy breakfast. Put on your lipstick, and head back in.
And hope today you will eat the bear.
copyright © 2012
All rights reserved Martha Crawford
By whatashrinkthinks in About Me, branches of psychotherapy, New therapists, psychoanalytic theory, psychotherapy, Self Care, Supervision, Uncategorized 18 Comments Tags: Books, C. G. Jung, clinical supervision, Freud, generalist practice, Joseph Campbell, Jung, New York City, Ormont, private practice, Psychoanalysis, reading, self care, social work, specialization
Commonly, at the beach, at the playground, in waiting rooms, on the subway people notice whatever paperback I have my nose stuck in. “A little light reading?” they say, with just a little Seinfeldian snark in their tone. Or “Catchy title!”
I never know how I am supposed to respond.
I think the satisfying answer would be to say that I am being forced to read whatever theoretical, psychoanalytic, philosophical or mythological esoterica I am currently dog-earing the corners of – as required reading for something or other. I suspect that the friendly commenter is actually asking me to betray the theory that I am devouring, (that I in fact find more delicious than any small talk or chit chat with a distant, if pleasant, acquaintance) by saying something derogatory about it. Maybe they want me to confess that I find it dry, or incomprehensible, or a bunch of nonsense and that I would prefer to read a detective novel. They want me to tell them that its not for pleasure. Its for work.
I just can’t ever bring myself do it.
In this I am loyal.
“Heh, heh, yeah, well… This is just the stuff I always read. I’m guess I’m weird that way”
It always seems to put them off, although I don’t mean to.
Its as if I’d just insisted that I think myself very fancy for reading it.
Listen, I have plenty of room in my heart and mind for both you and the book. I’ll happily close it to chit-chat if I sense that you have a strong need, and I think it would be relieving or occupying for you in someway.
But, please don’t make me choose between you and the book.
Or I will choose the book.
Although I might refuse to break faith with the book on my lap for a chatty interloper, I will show the theorist who wrote it little fidelity. I’ve admitted to myself that I am incapable of theoretical monogamy – and have never been able to bring myself to accept one body of thought as enough to keep me interested for life.
Commitment issues? Problems with authority? Introversion? Self-sabotage? Fear of engulfment?
I’ve committed to many many people for the long term, but I remain steadfastly polyamorous when it comes to those I study. Any attempt I’ve made, and I’ve made several, to approach one therapeutic path always seems to reach a crossroad, where I am asked to promise my whole brain, to forswear, at least for a significant amount of time, all other contradictory theories. The thought of it makes my breathing constrict. The freedom to follow my nose from book to bibliography to book, to wander the spaces between the tribes is like oxygen to me.
Many years ago, after I’d completed a post-graduate advanced certificate program in clinical social work at NYU, it seemed natural that I would apply to psychoanalytic institute. I was flooded with a low-grade panic as I looked around the room and listened to the aspirations of other candidates during the group interview. They all seemed to be so hungry for things that I wasn’t: They were excited about taking on identities as analysts, and being initiated as devotees to specific psychoanalytic camps. They looked forward to building networks and study groups, belonging to a professional community, doing committee work together, committing to a set of beliefs and a process. They were apparently gung-ho to give class and group presentations, expose and defend their treatments choices among competitive peers, and earn certificates and titles that had little or no appeal to me.
I’d had a long-term analytically informed, therapeutic process that was rich and satisfying to me and that I had no wish to disrupt. Access to supervisors, and peer supervision that I trusted and admired. A private practice that was building nicely. What was it that had motivated my application to post-graduate analytic institute?
I realized that I really just wanted to get my hands on the bibliographies to every single seminar. And the designated time and quiet to read through it all.
I respectfully declined my acceptance to the institute.
And just kept reading.
When my son was in second grade he said to me: “I like reading non-fiction better than fiction- because who wants to think about other peoples Central Problems all of the time?”
I almost never read fiction. I hear enough stories. I don’t need any more direct exposure to central problems in my off-hours.
I’d much rather read the words of someone else who also spends all day immersed in other people’s central problems and see how they make sense of it all. Preferably someone really smart, who can tell me something new, inspiring and useful.
Freud, Klein, Winnicott, Fairbairn, Rogers, Mahler, Kohut, Bion, Lacan, Sullivan, Searles and their interpreters and followers and apostates. Ego psychology, object-relations, self-psychology. The modern group analysis theorists (ie: Ormont and Rosenthal) the existentialists and logotherapists, the contemporary relational analysts, the inter-subjectivists. Buddhist psychotherapists, and depth theorists, Jung and the Jungians. Narrative therapy, feminist therapy and queer theory.
(I won’t bother to list the moral, existential, spiritual and religious philosophers and theologians. That would just get ridiculous.)
When my kids were babies, until my youngest about 6 or so, I was too exhausted to digest such a fibrous literary diet – and lived instead on a daily intake of myth, fairy tale, and sacred literature. (I lapped-up the hidden parental guidance I found there too, from the parents and defacto adoptive parents that support heroic journeys, and the angry, competitive, devouring, oblivious and narcissistic evil “step” parents who thwart the hero’s way.) Adding a little Von Franz, or Bettelheim, or Joseph Campbell on the side when I needed to think a little more, and my intuition was occupied elsewhere.
As the children became more independent – and I got more of myself back – Jung became the main course in my private studies.
Though I am certain no true Jungian would claim me as one of their own.
And in New York City, the psychoanalysts I encounter just want to know what institute I am affiliated with.
The social workers usually think I’m too psychoanalytic to represent my profession.
And frankly, when I am sitting, off to the side, listening to a bunch of analysts discussing the hostility expressed by the strong, unpleasant odor of a newly paraplegic, depressed, post-traumatic client my unexpressed impatience mounts: Do you even know if his shower is accessible yet? But I don’t throw my impatient wrench into the conversation because I know that when I am sitting with a group of social workers who are over-focusing on getting the necessary accommodations and accessibility in place – I am just as likely to squirm in my seat and groan internally : Do you think perhaps he smells of urine to tell you how pissed off he is?
And certainly both camps are entering into the same empathic contact through different doorways.
I am particularly drawn to those who write from in-between the therapeutic tribes, the disloyalists, the contrarians, the ecumenicists, the synthesizers: Mitchell, Eigen, Barbara Stevens Sullivan, Guggenbuhl-Craig, Bromberg and many others – those who have let their clients lead them off the grid to attempt find the threads between theorists who may have even explicitly rejected each other.
With a long a personal self-psycholgical/intersubjective analysis, individual and peer supervision drawing from modern/group psychoanalytical models, a belly full of mythology, a contrarian and introverted nature, and my hunger for undisturbed reading I claim identifications with many therapeutic tribes and belong to none.
I feel real love and gratitude toward my favorite theorists, although that doesn’t mean I will be faithful to them, or agree with them categorically. Reading their works feels extremely personal: I hear their words and their tone, I sense when they are defending themselves against anticipated or real criticism, I follow them as they take great intellectual leaps, and sometimes crash before they reach solid ground. I’ll flip quickly through the paragraphs where they have buried their thoughts alive with professional jargon until they return to straight-talk.
But I do love them all. And I hate them too. I wrestle with all of them – and pit them against each other. I disrespect their words with snotty, snarky marginalia: shocked and rejecting exclamation points, (really!) multiple question-marks (but how do you account for ?????) and scribble out the ways their enemies would counter their arguments – especially the passages I disagree with.
Their ideas and schemas negate, debate, enhance, expand and argue with each other: many of my dearest theoretical guides would loathe each other. (Anyone else want to see a Klein – Kohut cage match? Melanie might take him down in the first round with all that biting, and poisoning and destructive aggression but Heinz could still win on sheer endurance…)
And I ruthlessly batter every book, with dog-eared pages – random dreams and tangents scrawled on the inside covers. I underline and asterisk everything that speaks to me. Everything. Paperbacks in pen. Hardbacks in pencil, if one is handy, pen if not. Kindle? Highlights everywhere – but a tablet can’t offer as much opportunity for spontaneous insubordinate back-talk. Theory is my football. Half the fun is yelling at the screen.
Their words and word-paintings float through my mind in session: bad breasts, tantalizing-bad-objects, oedipal triangles, unconditional positive regard, distorted mirroring, split archetypes, alchemy, O, therapeutic play, joining the resistance, hatching, security operations, enactment, empathy. Different clients call us to different self-states, and each aspect of my professional identity wants its own mentor. I can’t imagine practicing without every one them
In Quaker process – the Truth is not seen as something that one person can posses. We must struggle together, with our little crystal clear partial truths – committed to the sliver of clarity that we posses, and search for ways to incorporate it with the truth that others hold.
And although I deeply respect those who have found one teacher to follow –
I know that I need all these voices whispering in my ear, to supervise and guide me.
copyright © 2012
All rights reserved Martha Crawford
By whatashrinkthinks in Motherhood, Parenting, Projection & Transference, Shadow, Uncategorized 19 Comments Tags: archetypes, C. G. Jung, Childhood, clinical supervision, Dreams, Guggenbuhl-Craig, Myth, psychotherapy
“Every Mother contains her daughter in herself and every daughter her mother and every mother extends backwards into her mother and forwards into her daughter.”
― C.G. Jung
A “big” dream, recalled vividly, from well over a decade ago, from a time when my professional identity was central to me, and I considered myself happily child-free.
The dream has served as a herald, a warning, a reminder, a road sign, a comfort and a counterweight.
My eyes are following a sea bird as it circles strangely in the sky over the city streets. Directly beneath is a young woman, in a old coat, tightly buttoned over a large pregnant belly. She is walking away from me, and I decide to follow her.
She slips into a church yard.
I follow her inside, but she has disappeared.
A tunnel. A man (a priest?) gestures for me to enter. I must crawl on my knees to pass through. I feel a claustrophobic panic begin to swell:
I have fear. Fear has me.
And I break free into a small chapel.
In the center of the room is a large fountain which rests on top of a sacred, ancient spring. A circle of women move around it, in a slow, methodical ritualized dance. They have cut crystal pitchers in each hand, and are pouring the waters back and forth, from the fountain, into their own and each other’s pitchers and back again.
I know this is the dance of the Mothers Who Mourn. And I am soon to be initiated into this dance.
and that although this is a dance filled with sorrow, it is also a dance of beauty and power.
This is the dance that keeps the entire world in balance.
Therapists spend an extraordinary amount of time each day talking to clients about motherhood, their mothers and their own motherhood.
Surely my sample is skewed. Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Those mommies. In this era. In this place.
Mothers in my community who know what I do approach me at school, at the park, on the corner, confessing their failures and their fears, seeking reassurance or direction – assuming I have the power to absolve and point them toward the right path over a quick cup of coffee.
And in my office the mommies tell me their secrets. These other mothers take off their protective armor of seeming perfection when they talk to me.
They confess their darkest mommy moments: they scream at their children, lose their shit, they are exhausted beyond comprehension. They admit that they have had it, are up to here. They are drained, feel ill used, disrespected, reduced. They are riddled with guilt, regret, and inadequacy. They whisper their fears that that their son or daughter is explosive, defiant, passive, obsessive, distractible, depressed, diagnosable, has a learning difference or neurological disability.
They are fearful that they have already failed, or soon will fail at their chosen calling.
Overwhelmed by the perceived power that they wield with every choice they make about the physical and emotional well being of their child. The power to create, to contaminate, to shame, to mold, to shape, to instruct, to guide, to damage.
Every one of them desperate, frantic to do “what is right” whatever the hell that is.
Wincing, braced for cold shock of shame, of blame and judgement by their extended family, the therapeutic community, their neighbors, their spouses, and above all: by Other Mothers.
Fretful that they have not done enough, cannot do enough, have overlooked something essential, that any and every decision they make, or fail to make, will have destructive life long consequences.
All anxiously grieving their failures, or their perceived failures, or straining to defend against failures they cannot acknowledge.
Everyone in need of forgiveness and reassurance whether they know it or not. Struggling to forgive themselves, or unable to acknowledge that they need to be forgiven.
Scared to death that their children will not love them, do not love them, or will know better than to love them by the time they reach adulthood.
All desperate to hear they are “doing a good job” at the central task of their lifetimes.
An old myth of motherhood, ascendant a generation or two ago, now fading still persists for many in our culture:
In order to become adults, women must become mothers. Motherhood as a culturally mandatory initiation rite. Imposed. Not chosen. Expected. Normal.
“It was Just What You Did” all the mothers a generation before us say.
Not a decision to make or agonize over. Think about whether or not you might be good at it or if you want it? Why? It is just the labor, the task, the only opportunity for real mastery assigned to you. Have feelings about it if you like, and powerful attachments, resentments losses and burdens, but its no use thinking about it too much because there isn’t a choice. Like it or not, you are expected do it. A cultural, mythological mandate.
“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically and on their environment and on their children than the unlived lives of the parents.” – C.G. Jung
Their unlived lives: Who would any of our mothers have been without us to distract, and devour and divert their energies? If they had chosen, would they have chosen us? Who would my mother have been if I had not been born? What parts of herself did she foreclose on to take on this role? What parts of her motherhood did she not live out, did she resent or reject in order to preserve her own identity in the face of an unchosen maternal assignment?
We have surely made some of our mothers better people, stronger than they knew, braver. Some of our mothers were embittered, resentful, rebelling against the maternal mandate by withholding their authentic selves or by venting their rage at their assigned charges. Some of our mothers carried and bore us, but could not or chose not to raise us or both. Some of us taught our mothers to love, others of us had to head for the hills to escape a mother who, starved of any other means of satisfaction, threatened to devour us whole. Even if they made the best of it, even if motherhood is exactly what they would have chosen anyway – if with hindsight they know they would have chosen to have us, or know that they might never had us at all…
We feel their lack of choosing in our bones.
We smell it like the weather.
Their unlived life lurks there. What would it have been?
If Jung has named a psychological truth, then we all live out the previous era’s unlived lives. We are all exploring the identities our mothers lost, had taken away, rejected, or foreclosed upon themselves.
In this era, we have defined ourselves by the very choices that mothers before us did not have.
The present day rising myth of motherhood as discussed on blogs and chat rooms, splattered provocatively on magazine covers and style sections: Chosen Motherhood.
We believe that we are empowered by our choosing and that choice is freedom. We believe in the myth that our children will be happier and will love us better as a result of all of our choices. We believe that we, since we have chosen our maternal role, will be better, less conflicted, more fulfilled, more conscious mommies. After all, it was our choice! The Mothers of Full Intention will compensate for the shadow of the earlier era’s Unchosen Mothers.
Jungian theorist Guggenbuhl-Craig would say that all of us are led or at least influenced by the collective myths of our era. He would also warn us that one-sided, incomplete myths have pathological and damaging consequences.
Motherhood of Choice and Unchosen Motherhood are both incomplete myths. They are different myths, with different omissions, with different unintegrated shadows, and each half-myth does its own damage:
The myth of Unchosen Motherhood acknowledges that women’s choices are significantly restricted by lack of opportunity, by economic reality, by poverty, by hardship, by oppression, racism, by imperialism. Yet, it minimizes the responsibility within the constricted range of choices that mothers did and do have.
Existential therapists, such as Viktor Frankl might speak at this point of attitudinal values. Jung might insist on the autonomy of the soul. They would do so to remind us that under even the most oppressive circumstances, we can maintain a choice about how to internally respond to external realities, to organize a consciously chosen attitude of submission, acceptance, or resistance, to the realities that may externally oppress or restrict us. The myth of Unchosen Motherhood casts a shadow of fatalism, victimization, passivity, abdication, thoughtlessness, resentment, and ambivalence.
The present day myth of Chosen Motherhood has its own destructive aspect – We have chosen it, so we must find it completely fulfilling and we must do it to perfection. We have accepted it after lengthy deliberation and as a sacred calling, and therefore we must pursue it and hone our skills to make sure we are good at it. Why on earth would you ever choose to do something that you didn’t think you could succeed at?
The everyday, constant, inevitable, unavoidable failures of motherhood take on a crushing weight for the Mothers of Choice. The shadow of this myth is control, inflation, perfectionism, anxiety, magical thinking, and over-protection.
A complete myth includes, incorporates its own shadow. There are many complete myths of motherhood, this is one:
A woman finds herself unexpectedly pregnant before marriage. The father of her child is not her intended husband. She and her husband are homeless at the time of her son’s birth.
Although his childhood seems in general too normal and unremarkable to bother commenting on, there were some red flags. On one memorable occasion, the boy snuck away from the family on a trip to the city defying his mother’s instructions to stay nearby – After frantic city-wide search she finally found him. He showed little empathy for her fright or understanding of what he had put her through. She thought it was normal testing at the time, but perhaps this was an early sign of what was to come.
In adulthood, he grew increasingly distant from her. He began consorting with religious and political extremists. She approached him once during a large wedding party where everyone had clearly been drinking a great deal, he shunned and shamed her: “Woman! What have you to do with me?”
He was completely uninterested in marriage, his mother would never see grandchildren if he were her only child. Over the next few years his behavior became increasingly erratic. He was homeless, wandered through the cities and country side. He didn’t work, didn’t seem to have a penny to his name, and apparently begged for food and lived off of the charity of others. He kept company with a troubled crowd of vagrants, drifters, criminals, revolutionaries and prostitutes.
When she sent his brother one last time to try to bring him home – he rejected her yet again saying: “I have no brother. I have no mother.”
Eventually, her son was arrested, tried and executed in front of her for crimes against the state. Some witnesses say that just before he died, he asked a close friend to take care of her. Other accounts indicate that he did not mention her at all.
Do you think if she’d made different choices, it might have turned out differently?
I have sat with, and listened to and heard tell of thousands of mothers over the years:
Mother’s of wealth and privilege, mothers of limited means, mothers by choice and by accident, single moms, widowed moms, gay mommies, queer mommies and male mothers. Divorced and divorcing mothers, adoptive moms, and adoptees who are mothers. Mothers of kids with special needs, of gifted children, of children with severe disabilities. Mother’s of infertility, mothers of miscarriages and still births. Women who yearn for motherhood and those who are repulsed, fear, or simply reject it. Motherless mothers. Non-custodial mothers, mothers of children born to them but being raised by others. Full time at home mommies, working mommies, free-lance mommies setting their own schedules. Mothers on public assistance, mothers with live in nannies. Mothers alienated, cut off, or rejected by their adult children. Mothers of children incarcerated, institutionalized. Mothers with emptied nests. Unknown mothers, mothers never met.
Dead and dying mothers. Bereaved mothers of deceased children. Masochistic mothers, pathological mothers, devouring mothers, enraged and indifferent mothers. Addicted and alcoholic mothers. Mothers with dementia who no longer recognize their offspring. Abusive mothers, abused mothers. Mothers who spank. Mothers who negotiate. Mothers who hold hard lines and soft mommies who cave. Organics only mommies, fast-food mommies. Mommies who are too angry. Mommies who are too nice. Mothers who do too much, and those who do too little. Those who would give “everything” and those who feel they have given “enough.” Moms who co-sleep who Ferber-ize, who breast feed, who pump at work, bottle and formula mommies, sling and stroller mommies.
Mothers reluctant, begrudging, regretful, neglectful, exhausted, blissed-out, competitive, smug and superior. Lost mothers. Terrified mothers. Defensive mothers. Mothers who have fled, and those who dream of escaping out from under the burdens of motherhood. Mothers utterly fulfilled.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
There are probably some very wrong ways to mother, but there is no right way.
None of our choices will protect us, or our children from loss, from suffering, from life, or from death.
We choose, and we can’t choose.
We all have fear of what we cannot control or prevent.
Like Demeter, Isis and Mary of the Pieta, a mother’s capacity to mourn is also a source of great power, a central function of her love, and her only salvation in the face of all that she can and cannot choose.
And it is this maternal dance of mourning that keeps the whole world in balance.
copyright © 2012
All rights reserved Martha Crawford
By whatashrinkthinks in Countertransference, How therapy works, Projection & Transference, psychotherapy, Uncategorized, What to talk about in therapy 52 Comments Tags: clinical supervision, countertransference, Intimacy, Love in psychotherapy, private practice, projection, subjectivity, Trauma
I curse in session too regularly, and should probably be more ashamed of my potty mouth than I am.
I can talk frankly about anything from money to masturbation without blinking an eye.
I can discuss the darkest sins, the deepest shames, give words to feeling states that are subtle, terrifying, violent, kinky, mystical and murderous. I can use and parse my counter-transferential, intersubjective, empathic and projectively identified responses through some pretty tricky co-created therapeutic enactments.
But there is a word that I have almost never used
Even, (actually, especially) when I am near bursting with it.
I’ll speak all around it. I will, when the time is right and the relational necessity emerges, talk about feeling protective, allude to our connection our history, our alliance and hard work together, admit that I am touched, or deeply moved. I will share about the ways that I trust our relationship, or have confidence in our partnership. I will on occasion, admit to feeling proud or impressed. I will offer up my experiences of admiration, and perhaps, in specific circumstances, confess to the obvious affection or highlight experiences of closeness my therapeutic partners have evoked in me.
I know as a patient, my attachment to my own therapist took many forms. Just twenty-one, lost in a huge city with an overwhelming and toxic emotional inheritance to sort through, he, (25 years old and just out of grad school) was the first still, consistent and stable entity I had stumbled upon. For the first several years, I needed him like I needed gravity to keep me oriented, like I needed oxygen to breathe (god bless him and his supervisors).
I didn’t need to think much about how he felt about me – because he was kind and patient, He was honest. He displayed consistent interest in understanding me. He didn’t recoil as my barely restrained mess poured out all over his office.
I didn’t think much about his subjective experience of connection to me, because I assumed that his behavior revealed how he felt for me. I could see that sometimes I annoyed the shit out of him, or could make him laugh, or unsettle him, or corner him into a tight spot when I demanded that he understand me exactly, leaving him little room for error. But, for me, the proof was in the pudding – I assumed that anyone putting up with all my crap must have some basic positive regard for me.
I had no need for him to say it or feel it.
He behaved it. He gave it.
To call further attention to it would detract from the giving of the gift.
In my own practice I know that big, silly, burps of affection rise in my heart at the most ridiculous and inopportune times. Right when some one is in the middle of an animated flip-out about their abrasive roommate, or while some complicated exposition about details at work unfurls. A turn of the head, their hands moving in the air, a creative, emphatic choice of words, a moment of courage, the track of a tear down their cheek, a scar, a freckle, a gesture I had never noticed before – some small bittersweet detail of a soul and a life completely unique, unlike any other human on the planet – fills me with awe, and adoration.
If I’m not careful, my appreciation can be disruptive:
“What? What did I say? Why are you smiling?”
“Hmm? I was just listening… I guess something about the way you said that just made me very glad you found my office – just made me feel happy to know you, – I didn’t mean to smile or interrupt, please go on…”
I sit, sometimes for years at a time, hiding unrequited affections, holding myself as still as possible. Any behavioral indication of the softer-spots in my heart could terrorize and
flood those who have been wounded in the minefield of distorted attachments.
For some, interpersonal emotional connection is completely entangled with abuse or abandonment. Closeness is only an opportunity for pain.
Some have used adoring words as a ruse to establish a claim to another’s soul and to take ownership of the beloved. Other times, heart-talk has disguised an empty belly: The beloved as a perfect meal about to be devoured.
Sexual arousal, attraction, infatuation, and lust are often and easily confused with emotional intimacy. All the more so when bodily and sexual boundaries have been violated in the client’s past.
No matter the form, charitable, universal empathic agape, friendly and familiar philia, or emotionally intimate eros, such powerful energies are not only the source of All that is Good: in the wrong hands, at the wrong time for the wrong reasons they can be a powerfully destructive force.
A force that can damage and burn.
For the most wounded, it take years to metabolize even the most generalized good-will.
The vaguest impersonalized empathy is sometimes all that can be withstood. Anything more personal would be too much to bear.
In my home life I don’t stop yammering about it. My family and my kids groan “I know, I know…” when I feel the impulse, to tell them, yet again, what I feel for them. It’s been ten whole minutes since I last said it, and my heart is near to bursting again.
We all mean something specific, something unique to ourselves when we speak of it.
This is what the word, when I use it in my personal life, means to me:
It means thank you. For putting up with me. For accepting me anyway. For forgiving and seeing more in me than my most incompetent, limited, wounded, hysterical, annoying, fallible bits. Thank you for surviving me.
It means I promise to do the same for you no matter what. It means I think you are amazing. It means you make me feel better. It means my life would feel shattered without you. It means I know you need me, and I need you too. It means we are connected to each other in such primal ways that we owe each other the truth and can demand very hard things from each other for the relationship’s sake. It means that I know that you see as deeply into and through me, as I can see into you. It means being in your presence feeds and sustains me, and I will do my best to feed and sustain you as well.
It means there is room in our relationship to be my whole self – sometimes powerful, sometimes smart, sometimes nurturing, sometimes hungry, sometimes broken, sometimes failed, sometimes sick, sometimes distractible, sometimes selfish, sometimes generous. And there is room for your whole self as well.
It means whatever shit hits the fan – we are safe with each other whether it feels safe or not.
But those are my hungers, my dependencies, my personal life. No one else on the planet may have the same definition.
Which is another reason why, even when I feel a giant pink wave swelling in my heart, that I don’t say it in the office.
For me, the personal use of the word invites all of my deepest needs into the room.
And the therapy office is simply not the place for a therapist to do that.
Theologian Thomas Jay Oord has defined agape as “an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being.” I certainly carry at least that, and usually much more on my heart with every client every single day.
But who on earth says “I feel agape for you?”
(“The Love Racket: Defining Love and Agape for the Love-And-Science Research Program” http://www.calvin.edu/~jks4/city/Oord~Defining%20Love.pdf)
That doesn’t mean that deep affection, empathy, attachment, appreciation, fondness, caring, closeness, connection, heart-break, pride, intimacy, adoration, attraction, gratitude, familiarity, warmth, tenderness, admiration, philia, and even eros are not part of the work.
Even these are words too diffuse, subjective and imprecise to cure, transform, or change anything at all, in and of themselves, no matter how we may yearn to hear or say them.
Althought It may not be enough, its presence is essential.
For me, it is usually (but not always) pointless, ineffective, selfish and unnecessary to speak of it.
Yet, without it, everything grinds to a halt.
Love, in all its forms, ineffable and undefinable, is the oil that suspends the wheels and surrounds the entire mechanism so that therapeutic work can take place at all.
copyright © 2012
All rights reserved Martha Crawford