From Both Sides of the Couch

A therapist reflects on her time with patients, and her time as a patient.

Living Heavy: I Spent a lot of Time Keeping Secrets

We should regret the time we waste in therapy when we don't tell the truth.

I was sitting in my psychiatrist’s office yesterday morning and I kept stumbling over whether I would turn 52 or 53 next week. I think it’s because the last 25 years, the years since my first hospitalization are running together. I have wasted so much time being ill; I have been called a “professional patient” by more clinicians than inches of snow than fell on the Northeast yesterday.

I regret all the deceit, the secrets, and the manipulation. The blatant lies, the lies of omission have come back to hurt me in the form of the hands of the clock making endless rounds. I alienated psychiatrists, therapists and nurses with my calculating actions designed to mislead.

If I had been forthright, as difficult as that would have been, if I had simply told the truth, my treatment would have progressed much faster and perhaps I would not still need to be in therapy.

I am reminded of an article I read in The New York Times Magazine in 2010, “My Life in Therapy” by Daphne Merkin in which she relates her four decades in psychotherapy. I thought Forty years, I hope I don’t end up like her. But sometimes I feel I am on my way and that scares me.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/magazine/08Psychoanalysis-t.htm...

It’s a healthy reaction that I am fearful of spending another fifteen years in therapy. I have no intention of devoting that much money or time to a process to which I have already invested 25 years. But how will I know when I am finished?

I know I am close to the finish line of the marathon. I don’t keep secrets any longer, the manipulative behavior is a thing of the past. As my psychiatrist pointed out, I am doing a great deal of the work myself, during the week, in-between sessions and bringing the material into our session to analyze it.

 

It is my fervent wish that I could impart to my patients the importance of not wasting time. Many of them have their therapy paid for with entitlements which have to be re-certified every year and in this perilous economy, we don’t know when they may lose those precious benefits.

They often break (don’t show up/don’t call) or cancel sessions and unlike patients in private therapy, they don’t pay for missed sessions, so they tend to give absenteeism little thought.

I often assign homework with the purpose of furthering their goals. When they come in for the next session and I ask them about it, most of the time it’s not completed.

When we have a productive session, I praise them with a “Good work today” and point out to them what made the time constructive as a model for future meetings. Giving them credit for their hard work, I tell them to pat themselves on their back.

These are the times I wish I could disclose my history and tell them how much time I wasted and the way in which I squandered it. My fantasy is that my story would motivate them to work a little harder and value their therapy that much more.

I don’t want my patients to live with the same regret that I am living with. To have that horse on my back — one whose weight I will always bear — is not a satisfying way to live. I have to accept the consequences of the choices I made and opt for wiser choices in the future.

To my patients: May you always ride the horse sitting tall in the saddle, and not feel encumbered by the mass of the horse on your back.

 

 

 

 

 

Gerri Luce is a licensed clinical social worker who publishes under a pseudonym.

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