Our first meeting went the way most meetings with most therapists (I’ve had a few) go. She went through the usual series of questions that meant an awkward unfolding of trauma after trauma. I would much prefer it if I were allowed to simply pop into the chair, get everything out in one concise burst, highlighting the clinically relevant bits I know, by now, therapists are looking for, and dive into a hearty first session with the remaining 30 minutes.
However, I know they have a set order of questions meant to make sure they cover every nook and cranny. I’m an old hat, so the first visit always feels slow, repetitive, the information given inconsequential, though of course it isn’t.
I’ve given up on exploring and dealing with most of the things that any therapist would assume I’d want to work on in therapy. I’ve come to realize, at 36 years of age, which wounds are scabbed over and don’t need to be picked at. This isn’t repression or minimizing. It’s simply acknowledging that I can’t make it so the trauma never happened, I can’t get that clean of a slate, so I best take my marked, scratched slate and get on with life the best that I can. So when the therapist asks about my childhood, I hesitate, then take a deep breath, and rush through the mess. I’m sure that probably looks like discomfort with talking about my trauma, but really, it’s just that I’ve given the information so much, it feels like giving a customer service representative my account number over the phone.
My goal is to deal with my life, as it is now, and with myself, as I am now, a person affected by all the small and large traumas I’ve experienced. I understand that the therapist needs my account number, and I’ll give it because that’s the way this works and I can’t get any further until I give them my account number, but I’m here to talk about my whole account as it stands today, not just my account number.
In any case, my new therapist is tiny, with a way of carrying herself that begs pliés, but she has a look about her, something in the set of the jaw and the eyebrows, that lets you know she can mean business, if she has to.
She has a background in movement therapy, she’s studied and still performs as a dancer, so the pliés weren’t exactly a wild guess. I imagine her only trouble with ballet might’ve been flying too high into the air at the slightest toss. She really is tiny.
The last couple of sessions, she’s gone through some breathing, posture and movement exercises meant to calm me down. Of course, going through the exercises with her in her office makes me nervous, which is the opposite of calm.
Always with these calming exercises, the first thing is to close your eyes. (I take this as a validation that, if you have your eyes open, you have good reason to be anxious.) But closing my eyes with someone else in the room makes me nervous.
Then there are further instructions, which I’m nervous about completing because I don’t have my eyes open to see her modeling the instructions (she does the exercises along with me – maybe she needs to calm down? maybe I make therapists nervous?), so I don’t know if I’m doing it right.
Are my hands resting properly on my knees? Am I holding my arms up the right way now? Does she want me to say “I am calm” five times out loud along with her, or just in my head?
Of course, I’m also nervous about breaking the exercise flow to ask her.
Last time, I did ask, opening my eyes just slightly and looking sideways toward her, and she said either way – out loud or to myself – was fine, which made me even more nervous, because now I’m definitely making a choice, not just correctly (or incorrectly) following directions, and what does my choice say about me? Or what does my choice say I am saying about her? And what does she say to herself about what I’m saying about myself or saying about her by saying or not saying the say out loud?
Also, last time, I was exhaling when she did a very audible inhale, and I had a whole identity crisis about my breathing as a metaphor for my inability to be in sync with others.
The first time she led me through the exercise I repeated “I am calm” out loud along with her and I definitely wasn’t calm doing that, and the last time I said it to myself along with a zillion other things and I wasn’t calm doing it that way either, but maybe a little calmer than when we were chanting it out loud together.
Chanting with your therapist is a little weird.
Chanting is weird.
I like monks chanting, though. Here are some monks chanting:
Anyway, my new therapist is tiny and I like her, though money is tight (always) so I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep seeing her. After our first couple of visits, she recommended that I see her weekly (ever want to know how big your pile of shit is? ask a therapist how often they want to see you.), but I was only able to see her every other week, and that was a stretch.
Honestly, liking my therapist aside, I’m starting to wonder if therapy really does me any good at all beyond what exercise, keeping busy, or talking with a friend could do. Having a therapist is a lot like having a wise, educated friend that you pay to talk to.
Actually, it’s exactly like that.
And I have friends that are wise and educated (maybe not in psychology or movement therapy), but that don’t charge me to talk to them.
For now, back to chanting. Here’s some more:
I learned why they ask us to breathe out through our mouth when we do breathing exercises, by the way. Expels more air, empties the lungs better.
Breathing out through my mouth in front of people makes me nervous.