Why Therapy Made Me More Fucked Up (Thank God)
I’ve been going to therapy twice a week for the last 4 years.
I’ve tried many times to explain to my close friends and family what exactly happens in those sessions.
I’ve never tried explaining it in public. And I’ve certainly never talked about how therapy has made me more fucked up––for the better.
Plenty of people talk about going to therapy. Not enough people talk about what the therapeutic process looks like. The exact benefits. The challenges. And this sneaky aspect I never expected…
After 4 years, I think I’m finally ready.
Here’s how it goes down for me:
- I go to my therapist’s home. Or her Zoom link.
- I sit in a comfortable chair.
- She looks at me expectantly. Never says anything first.
- And I just start talking.
Sometimes I start with my dream the night before.
Sometimes I start with a general statement: “It’s been an odd few days.”
Sometimes I just shake my head and tell her I’m pissed off.
I present my own hypotheses about why I’m behaving the way I am. Why I feel the way I do. What’s happening in my unconscious mind.
I’m usually wrong. Sometimes dangerously so.
On the rare occasion I’m right, she’ll nod and give me this satisfying, smiling nonverbal affirmation.
But it’s not a space to vent — only.
It’s not a space to “have someone to talk to.”
That’s like 15% of the overall benefit. And that’s the #1 thing people think therapy is.
The major benefit is this:
Once I finish spewing whatever successes or frustrations I come in with, my therapist reverts my attention to the most salient parts, and we try to find connections.
Connections between my past and present.
Connections between my fantasies and my self-destructive behaviors.
Connections between my dreams and my unconscious mind.
It’s a strange kind of collaboration. It’s like I’m the main character of my life, and I get to have conversations with my own narrator.
The main character is on his way to get a cheeseburger one night. He crashes his scooter going 20 mph on a busy road.
The next day he hobbles, bloodied and bruised, into the narrator’s home.
The narrator smiles warmly and says, “Now why might you have ridden your bike on a dangerous road at night and then crashed it?”
The main character gives some hair-brained answer.
The narrator listens intently. Nods. Then says, “I have a different hypothesis.”
Says the main character was punishing himself. That there’s no such thing as an accident.
That maybe, to the main character, a cheeseburger is just a bit too much of a luxury. Better to hurt himself rather than enjoy it fully.
End cut scene
Oracular, but Not Omniscient
Sometimes I get flat out livid with my therapist.
Not the real her, mind you. But my projection of her. What I see of her in the transference process. My unconscious conflation between my therapist and my mom, for example.
This conflation is another overlooked benefit of the therapeutic process. By projecting my relationship with my mom onto my therapist, I get to run through those issues in real-time — like arguing with a ghost of my mother.
Rather than responding to The Thing I’m Angry at Her About, my therapist responds to the motivation.
“Why might my rescheduling our appointments have caused this reaction?”
It’s never coddling. Never condescending. Never smoothed with this blur of forced tranquility we see in therapy portrayals in pop culture.
It’s never butterfly-throated and disingenuous.
She sees my rage for what it is (or what it’s not), and responds to it with confident curiosity.
Everything is welcome there. Not just rage. All feelings.
At times, I follow a chaotic pattern in the conversations. Chasing random thoughts and images that enter my mind.
There’s something mystical about the whole thing. Yet she’s this university professor-type who is deeply rooted in old school psychoanalysis. She has zero online presence, and her home is consciously absent of clues about her inner world (At least the parts of her home she allows her patients to see.)
I Was One of *Those* Therapy People
For a long time I thought the therapy process was masturbatory.
I had that cringey streak when I started. You know the one. When someone just starts therapy, and it’s the first time they’ve ever opened up emotionally. They take self-revelation and vulnerability way too far in conversations.
I remember telling multiple first dates that my mom just died. That was reckless, uncomfortable, and indeed masturbatory…but perhaps necessary in this process.
Over time, this is what I’ve found:
My therapy isn’t only a self-serving means of understanding myself.
It’s a means of understanding The Self. It’s helped me understand what it means to be human. Which has helped me understand other people better.
It’s helped me predict people’s behavior. Understand their motivations. Understand where they’re coming from, both historically and psychologically. Because I’ve spent so much time trying to understand those things for myself.
This has made me understand the characters I write better. See patterns in their past and how they influence their present and future.
Not only that…
My work in therapy has helped me see the unhelpful biases and patterns around my writing.
The daily habits.
As a writer, work for me sometimes looks very different than most people.
Walking my dog means thinking about characters.
Staring at the water means brainstorming marketing techniques.
Whiteboarding wild midnight ideas. Rabbitholing on Wikipedia. It’s all collecting material.
It’s both play and work. Therapy has helped me see this.
Not only that…
I thought Therapy would turn me into some egg person. Perfectly smooth. Lobotomized. Faux Zen. Always smiling. No reactivity.
I thought this would make me a worse writer. I’d have no edges or rawness. No well of fucked-upness to bucket myself up from.
If anything, therapy has made me more fucked up.
Whatever it is that I am, therapy has made me More of It.
The quirks that I used to force-smooth below the surface have come up. Revealing my true self.
I can write from that place now.
When I look back at my old writing, I finally see it for what it is: a perfect analogy for my Old-Journey self.
Trying to smooth over the pain with objectivity. Hiding from the depth with humor. Scared what I might reveal to myself.
I have no idea how long my therapy journey will continue.
No idea how long I’ll stay with my therapist. Every two months I’m threatening to quit. This is how I know it’s working.
Everything around me is how I know it’s working.
Including my rage. My frustration. And my infinite progress toward becoming More of Myself.
Thank you for reading.
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