the last word by rich orloff '73

Shrinking Expectations
Are there therapy counselors you visit when you have trouble with your therapist?

On a cold winter night, I'm having dinner with one of my best friends. A trusted confidant, over the years we've shared our most intimate thoughts and feelings, including the ups and downs in all our relationships. After several minutes of social banter and a little wine, I finally develop the courage to tell him my latest relationship news. Following years of trying my best to make things work, I've made a decision: I'm leaving my therapist.

My friend is a little surprised. He knew things were bad, but he didn't know they were that bad. He empathizes, consoles, and supports me in whatever I decide to do. And I think, "if only my therapist were like that!"

When I break the news to my therapist, he views my desired departure as a sign of repression, avoidance, and a refusal to take responsibility. The difference between breaking up with a loved one and with a therapist is that a loved one will call you a bitch or a bastard; a therapist will observe you're neurotic.

His observations brought up a lot of thoughts and feelings. Did we discuss them? Of course we discussed them! And at the hour's end, we agreed to continue discussing them.

Despite my disappointments and frustrations with my therapist, I also respect him, which is why I've stayed with him for five years. Given my respect, combined with the awareness that I couldn't possibly be correct in my assessment of, well, anything, I began to think not just about what a jerk my therapist was but also if part of the problem was (dare I say it?) me.

I bring enormous expectations to therapy. At times I want my therapist to be an encouraging best friend, an understanding father, a skillful coach, perhaps even a forgiving god. In a secular age where psychology is treated like a religion, I admit I've never discussed my problems with a minister or rabbi, but I've often gone to my therapist in need of spiritual counseling. Of course, my therapist refuses to live up to all my expectations and instead just helps me get in touch with my expectations.


When I'm not busy wanting my therapist to be all-knowing, all-loving, and all-insurance-covered, I think a therapist should be capable of seeing me clearly, effective at communicating what he or she observes, and able to help me gain awareness of the tools and skills which will help me grow, or at least more effectively cope with being me. That's my ideal. Now I know that finding the ideal anything is rare. What I don't know is, how ideal should I expect my therapist to be?

Between the therapist I saw for several years in Los Angeles, and my current one in New York, I tried several others. One took incessant notes and seemed to use his clipboard as a combination security blanket and psychic shield. Another agreed to short-term treatment, and when it didn't prove effective, admitted, "I never thought it would be."I liked both of these guys better than the first therapist I ever tried, who, when he learned of how poor I was at the time, replied in an ominous tone, "I suppose you'd be too scared to ask your parents!"

I generally liked my Los Angeles therapist, although I'm not sure if that's because she was caring and gentle or insufficiently confrontational.

Nevertheless, I often found therapy frustrating. Once, when we disagreed if I should pay for one session I missed, we spent four sessions exploring why I felt that way. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the exhaustingly examined life isn't very cost-effective.

It's just not fair. I pour out my guts, reveal the darkest sentiments of which I'm aware, and continually consider darker impulses and painful truths about myself, and if I decide my therapist is a bozo, I have to pay to figure out why I think that.

Okay, okay, okay. I don't really think he's a bozo. I appreciate his insight and dedication over the years. But I wonder how much of me he sees, and thus, how far I can go with him. I wonder if he sometimes resonates too much with areas of significance with him and neglects other areas of vital importance to me. Most importantly, I see walls I keep hitting over and over again, and although I know it's not his fault, I wonder if someone else might have whatever qualities it takes to help me enter worlds I avoid in my psyche.

I know everyone has strengths and weaknesses. If I decide to leave, am I finally accepting his limits and taking responsibility for my life, or am I just unwilling to trust him and dig deeper?

Should I see a therapist about this?

Are there therapy counselors you visit when you have trouble in your therapy relationship?

If I leave him, will I find happiness with my next therapist, or am I doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes with therapist after therapist until I work out my own problems?

Despite my current struggles, I still believe in therapy. I hope I can resolve my differences with the one I have, but if not, I'm sure that after a suitable period of retreat and recovery, I'll be ready for my next therapist. Somewhere on this planet I'm sure there's the right therapist for me.

I only hope I'll be mature enough to be able to handle the relationship.
Playwright Rich Orloff lives in New York with his wife, Amy, and several fictional characters.


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The Last Word