Per aspera ad astra?
January 19, 2018 11:32 AM   Subscribe

My last two therapy sessions have left me reeling and feeling more dejected and despairing than ever. Do I go back?

Sorry in advance for the length; I will try to be concise. Please be gentle with me.

In my fourth therapy session, my therapist mentioned that she had come to "like me too much to send me away just like that" (this was in reply to a specific fear I voiced). The entire week afterwards, I felt intense fear, happiness, pleasure, distress, sadness regarding this statement. From some reading I had been doing and past experience I determined that I have been starved of attachment my entire life (shitty parents, no friends, etc), and I have been looking & longing for someone to attach to. I also feel immense shame about this. The feeling of need (and hope!) is intense, and after the session, it grew stronger, and of course focused on her.

I went into the fifth session intent on telling my therapist this. I wanted to know if - in her opinion - this was a feeling that I ought to push away (I thought yes, because I feel awful bothering anyone with these overwhelming needs just because my mother failed me) or not (because it would be therapeutic maybe - but mainly, that was hope talking, not sense). I also felt it fair to let her know, and pointless to lie to my therapist.

In the session I found it very hard to talk about this (see: intense shame) so I wasn't very clear, probably. I did say that I felt very shaken by her statement, and that I thought it inappropriate to inflict my longings on other people. She said that it was nice I had been so honest (nice...), and that she agreed with me, that intense feelings were in fact inappropriate to expect others to deal with.

And - it kinda crushed me. I haven't been this close to despair in a long time. I feel utterly rejected, even though I invited it. I feel so, so hurt. I've been crying, a lot, and while not actively suicidal, pretty apathetic about my life and its continuation. I keep falling into intense sadness. I'm honestly not sure if I can take another session like that.

Then, I sent an email asking if it was okay to send her an email occasionally with a few thoughts between sessions, just so I'm not tempted to erase them again. I said I would need no response. In the moment, I thought it would be helpful, but yes - that was a mistake, and looking back it seems embarrassingly needy. She replied, that I could do that, but depending on the volume, she couldn't do it free of charge. That again felt like a rejection, like I was bound to be a bother her. Rationally, I understand completely. Emotionally, I'm hearing that I'm so repulsive that people need to be paid to read my emails.

I desperately want to bring my cover back up, and just present her with a lighthearted facade. However, I'm rational enough to realise that there are cheaper ways to lie to someone, that don't require a bike ride across town. So, lies are out. But, I'm really scared of being rejected again, and also a little worried about my mental stability if that happens.

So, do I go back? If yes, what do I say?
Thank you, Mefites.
posted by any_name_in_a_storm to Human Relations (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don't see this quite as rejection - I see this as her putting up very healthy professional boundaries... boundaries that will help YOU! Look at it this way: you're afraid of rejection. You felt rejected twice. You're sad, but you will be okay. You will see her again. Things aren't going to fall apart.

Your therapist cares about you as a patient and a person worthy and deserving of treatment and support - but she is right to protect and charge for her time, and this has nothing to do with how much she may like you as a person.

All therapy comes with a little bit of confrontation with discomfort (in this case, you fears of rejection, maybe other fears). It should be done in a therapeutic setting. Stay open and honest with your therapist, and I say, unless she is UNprofessional, give her a chance to let you get comfortable with boundaries, healthy boundaries.

Good luck. You're going to be okay. You sound very thoughtful, compassionate and sensitive. I wish you wellness <3
posted by Dressed to Kill at 11:51 AM on January 19, 2018 [32 favorites]

I think yes you should go back and try to explain that you're having intense feelings and need help processing them and regulating them outside of therapy.

Reading this article might help? It's not at all uncommon for patients to develop really intense feelings for their therapists and it's the therapist's role to help you process your unmet needs, but not to meet those needs.
posted by vunder at 11:53 AM on January 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

It sounds like you're getting something really valuable out of this — the chance to practice reaching out in small ways, and sometimes get validated, and sometimes get rejected, and feel whatever feelings you're going to feel around that.

If you're worried about your stability, you can bring that up with her and talk about strategies for staying safe when you've been through something that feels like rejection.

But... yeah, no, this is what therapy is for, or one of the things it can be for. Unless she's done something inappropriate or violated your trust in some way, that feeling of discomfort kinda means it's working. You can get through this.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:54 AM on January 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you are looking for a friend - someone to like you, to not send you away, to listen to your idle thoughts - and you hope to get that sense of friendship through your relationship with your therapist. That is perfectly understandable, but I think misguided. You shouldn't be friends with your therapist, for your own health, and they shouldn't be friends with you, because of their professional ethics and need for healthy work-life balance.

Perhaps it would be helpful to ask her if you can go over what your relationship should look like from her professional perspective, to give you a sense of what kinds of things are and are not appropriate for you to expect. She might also be able to talk to you about ways you can work on meeting your other needs through making friends and having other sorts of interpersonal relationships.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:54 AM on January 19, 2018 [20 favorites]

Best answer: This is an extremely, extremely common kind of feeling to have in therapy - the desire for the actual friendship of the therapist, romantic feelings toward the therapist,etc. Like, sooooooo many people respond to therapy this way. In fact, people often consider it part of the therapeutic process - you get these strong feelings about your therapist and resolving them helps you do the work of therapy. (I totally had strong feelings of friendship and desire for approval from my excellent therapist, and it ended up being part of the reason the therapeutic relationship worked for me - I sort of internalized a tiny imaginary Frowner's Therapist, and now when I feel super down on myself, it's like Tiny Imaginary Therapist can sort of friend/parent me as if he were really there...and I don't think I would have internalized this figure of the therapist if I hadn't had such positive feelings toward him.)

I think it's helpful to folks to know that strong feelings toward the therapist are normal, but also not real in the way that they would be toward a friend or a date. You feel this attachment to the therapist partly because many therapists are kind, smart people who are fun to interact with but substantially because you're doing intense emotional work together, your therapist is paying lots of high-quality attention to you and your therapist has a sorta-unconditional relationship with you. Your therapist isn't going to find out that you [have ridiculous failing] and laugh while ending the therapeutic relationship.

You're also sharing a lot of very personal stuff with the therapist and getting their approval feels extra important in this context. And you don't see your therapist when they are grumpy, distracted, needy, acting like a buffoon, having the flu, etc. Your therapist is always presenting their best self and totally focusing on you - you never have to deal with their problems.

I think it would be healthy to work on reframing these feelings not as the kind of "natural" feelings you'd have toward a friend but as a kind of...I don't know, healing process? Medical event? Like if you had a surgical procedure which fixed a lifelong disabling condition, that would cause you to have a lot of new feelings as part of the adjustment process, and those feelings might be really intense and unexpected. If you suddenly started feeling weirdly angry at your perfectly nice partner, or freaked out by positive interactions with strangers or whatever, you would not assume that something was wrong with your partner or that strangers were terrible - you would assume that working through these feelings was part of your healing process.

Again, it's not something to be embarrassed by, or something the therapist hasn't encountered or been trained for, it's just that you need to deal with it differently than if you met a random person and really wanted their friendship/approval.
posted by Frowner at 12:07 PM on January 19, 2018 [34 favorites]

So my point is, going back to therapy and working on working through/reframing these feelings - talking about why you have them instead of saying "therapist I really wish you would like me and be my friend" - is what is most likely to be helpful.
posted by Frowner at 12:08 PM on January 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Oh my goodness, yes, keep going! The process of learning how to share with your therapist all the feelings you felt after your fourth session, but did not express to her as clearly as you wish you had in your fifth session, is probably a central task of your therapy. Maybe a central task of all therapy, period.

I think your therapist missed an opportunity in her response to you. Being honest with your therapist deserves much stronger praise than "nice" -- it's far more than just nice, it's absolutely crucial to your therapy, and often takes a great deal of courage. Some clients finish therapy without ever finding the courage to be completely honest with their therapist, and you deserve recognition from your therapist for finding that courage. I also think it was a misstep on her part to agree with you in that moment about your sense that sharing intense feelings with others is inappropriate. At the very least, I would expect her to immediately add that sharing intense feelings with your therapist is always the exception-- not only is it appropriate to share with your therapist, it is LITERALLY the job you are paying her to do for you. (And then I would have hoped for her to clarify that even out in the world, it sometimes is okay to share intense feelings with others, and that therapy can help you learn how to do that in an appropriate way.)

Your email request to her also took courage, and I hope you can be open to another possible interpretation of her response. Yes, she is reserving the right to set a boundary with you about how much she would be willing to do for free, and your embarrassment about that is certainly understandable. But it might not be that you're repulsive, but simply that your therapist is also a person who needs to have their own downtime just like everyone else to rest, recover, and watch guilty pleasure TV.

It sounds like you could use a little more warmth and affection from your therapist, and I hope she responds positively if you decide to ask for that. Do not hesitate for a moment to show her every word that you shared with us here. I think you're doing great!
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 12:16 PM on January 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: A few thoughts based on similar conversations I've had with my therapist.

Your therapist has already mentioned that she likes you. That isn't fake or based on the fact that you pay her for your time. At one point in my therapy, I was struggling with being open because I was overly worried about what he thought of me. And eventually he told me that he didn't think we would be able to develop a therapeutic connection if he didn't care for me. That therapeutic attachment is a two way street.

It's not fair to expect other people to manage your intense emotions*. But that's what the money is for. The emotional labor of staying with you during these intense moments and teaching you to manage those intense emotions.

*Well, most people. My therapist's deal is that parents are supposed to help you manage your intense emotions. By doing that, they teach you that both your emotions matter and you can manage them yourself. This is mimicked by the session structure itself, where your emotions matter during the session. But the firm ending punctuates the fact that you will have to manage yourself until your next session. If you need more support, you need to explicitly plan for it. A good therapist will help you create that plan, either with more sessions, medication, support groups or other tools.
posted by politikitty at 1:15 PM on January 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Regarding your email, I think they could be very helpful. However, I suggest writing them out, and then not emailing them. Instead, bring them with you to sessions and go over anything that is still bothering you (by Monday you may have internally resolved something upsetting from Thursday). I would often write notes to myself about topics I wanted to bring up in therapy. Sometimes the act of writing them down is enough.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:22 PM on January 19, 2018 [11 favorites]

I suggest asking your therapist for help learning to make friends and maintain those relationships. I understand how difficult it is to have no attachments, and I wish you luck finding your support system.
posted by Eevee at 2:28 PM on January 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Short answer - yes, go back.

It's not an uncommon thing to feel worse after starting therapy than before starting it, as you begin to explore traumas, issues, unmet needs, etc. Just as getting treated for cancer is more uncomfortable than ignoring it and hoping it will go away. But hopefully in the long run you should feel better - more able to tolerate the downs of life and celebrate the ups.

It sounds like you have a profound need for connection, and therapy can be a powerfully connecting thing. It's very, very common for people to connect intensely with their therapists and to want additional connection besides the therapy session. However, just about anything you read on the subject cautions against this as likely to be ultimately harmful to the client.

At your next session maybe consider talking about this intense need for connection you're uncovering, your barriers to connection, and what steps you might take towards addressing your needs - creating community, building friendships, etc. You might also talk about learning what to do with your intense feelings. Your therapist shouldn't handle the feelings for you, but should help you find the tools and skills to handle them. (People sometimes bring up the Emotional Intelligence book in this context -- I read it at a former therapist's suggestion and mostly what I got from it was that there was a whole world of skills I didn't know about and not so much how to get them. At the time it was discouraging but in the long run it was valuable knowledge).

I've found it helpful in the past to write things out as I think of them, and bring them up with my therapist at my next session. Sometimes it's seemed like I needed them to read pages and pages to understand what I needed them to know, but usually if I write out the pages on my own, by the time the session rolls around I'm able to talk it out without asking them to read a book (which would eat up all of my session time).

Good luck to you!
posted by bunderful at 4:10 PM on January 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: (Sorry for the book length response in advance. I hope you can get some value from this.)

Many pioneers of attachment theory research (see Allan Schore) have said that the key to healing attachment injuries from childhood in therapy as an adult is for the therapist to provide a secure base for the patient, which they have likely never had as a child, to explore and make sense of their past and feelings. Children that are fortunate to get secure attachment relationships with their caregivers have this secure base while they are developing which allows them the crucial support while individuating, exploring, and going out in the world. You've acknowledged that you never had that is a child (great awareness). Your attachment system is clearly activated with this therapist: The feeling of need (and hope!) is intense, and after the session, it grew stronger, and of course focused on her. That's good- it means that she could potentially serve as this secure base that you need while you do this work. However, you are only 4 sessions in with this therapist and it takes some time for you to see if the trust and security is there with this person. It also takes her some amount of time to get to know you and learn what your issues are and how best to help you. I think you definitely should continue to see her and let this patient-therapist connect continue to grow and find its way.

In the meantime you need to cope with your feelings that you are going through while this therapy takes time to ramp up. It seems right now like many of your feelings have to do with what the therapist did or said in your sessions, but consider the possibility that the way you are feeling right now has nothing to do with the therapist. I may be wrong, but just consider it. As children, when our attachment needs are neglected, unrecognized, and unsatisfied by our parents, the child will often internalize this as being their fault and activate a tremendous amount of shame around these needs. You said, I feel awful bothering anyone with these overwhelming needs just because my mother failed me. Recognize that this is a very, very old belief and that feeling goes way back. Further, I am going to guess that you have an anxious-preoccupied attachment style as it seems like you are hyper-vigilant for signs that this therapist can't or won't deal with your needs, parsing out her language and seeing signs of rejection where there may not be any (I may be wrong, but for the sake of discussion). How much of this is borne out of a very early internal belief that your attachment needs are shameful and unworthy of being met (and hence likely to be rejected/neglected)? For those of us with childhood attachment injuries, there are always two people doing the thinking and feeling together inside one body- an adult, mature you and an injured child you. Until we make sense of our past, and have corrective experiences, the injured child is oftentimes running the show where attachment is concerned. This is normal, unavoidable, and nothing to be ashamed about (over time attachment styles can shift with therapy). Try to sift through these feelings and find the adult-mature you and get in touch with what he/she has to say. See if he/she has any resource to offer the hurting/fearful child part and a different perspective on what the therapist said. Be compassionate with yourself. and looking back it seems embarrassingly needy. Nothing is embarrassingly needy. Look at yourself as a person that that obviously loves him/herself and is doing a very brave thing by wading into your feelings and making an attempt to make sense of your past with a mental health professional. Try to self-soothe by being that caring, attentive, in-tune parent to yourself that you never had. Literally hold yourself.

Finally, regarding your idea to send emails in between sessions: therapists are paid by the hour of service and off session communications are customarily, but not exclusively, reserved for emergency or critical situations. I think she genuinely would want to provide ongoing support throughout the week, but think that if she did that with every patient, an enormous portion of the day would be consumed by email correspondence that would be unpaid. She is not rejecting you, but just stating a business reality. How much do you think that your wanting to have this email link with her is to satisfy an attachment need to feel connected when apart rather than a practical measure to further the therapy? If so, it is completely OK and nothing to be ashamed of at all, but just the realities of the profession make that kind of regular communication difficult to maintain for the therapist. You could try journaling your feelings and observations in between sessions and then bringing those entries to your sessions with her. That may even be preferable because it will give you more time to reflect on what it is your are really feeling and the thoughts you most would like to bring up to talk about.

You are just starting with this therapist and you need to see if this secure connection of trust and support will develop. It will take time and is inherently anxiety producing, especially for those of us that have issues with attachment, but that process of connecting does seem to be starting and part of you is very encouraged and hopeful about that (I submit that this is "adult you"). Another part recognizes the vulnerability that comes with this and is afraid of rejection or already sees it (maybe "injured child you"?). These feelings of shame, and anxiety, loneliness, sadness are all the feelings that you are going to therapy to explore. Don't let them make you turn back right now.

You seem to have insight and you don't suppress your feelings. I see good things for you if you continue doing this work. Wish you all the very best.
posted by incolorinred at 4:18 PM on January 19, 2018 [15 favorites]

"intense feelings were in fact inappropriate to expect others to deal with" meant others outside of therapy. It's your therapist's job to deal with them.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:35 PM on January 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

shorter bunderful: you're getting to the good part: seeing, crying, (maybe puking), changing. stick around. it's not but there is something more on the other side.
posted by j_curiouser at 5:17 PM on January 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think your email request was a fantastic idea and not a mistake. Your therapist told you it was OK to do it (different therapists have different policies but she said it was OK - if it wasn't, she would have said that) but she also let you know that if she had to spend a lot of time on it, she would charge you. (She is doing her job here of being clear and reliable - yes it is Ok to send but if it involves a lot of extra work then you should expect to pay for it) Your idea - that you would use it to organize your thoughts and put them out there so you don't back out and that no reply is expected sounds just fine to me.

Aside from that, I feel like I'm watching some one running a marathon, taking on some hard hills. I just was to cheer you on - this is hard but you can totally do this! Go!
posted by metahawk at 7:22 PM on January 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Print out your question and take it to your next session so you can talk about this with your therapist.
posted by Carol Anne at 4:54 AM on January 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you very much for all your kind and thoughtful replies. I read them all multiple times :) and I will try and take all the advice to heart (oh and I will definitely go back). You're the best, Mefites!
posted by any_name_in_a_storm at 9:32 AM on January 20, 2018 [8 favorites]

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