I should make a note here that there is actually a third kind of therapist; the abusive one. You don’t see this therapist often but if you are unlucky enough to be young enough when you meet this kind of person it is difficult to recognize them or even to get out from under them. I have had this kind of therapist and while I won’t go into detail here I can tell you that unlearning all that she taught me is still something I struggle with. These are the kind of therapists that shouldn’t just have their license revoked but their whole life destroyed. It seems only fair.
Thankfully, abusive therapists are indeed rare, so I don’t want to spend any more time speaking about them. However, there is one more thing to say. If you even think that your therapist is abusive, not treating you well, not helping, not listening, move on. And do it before they destroy you. Because if you don’t the consequences are greater than you ever imagined.
To get back to the first premise of this piece, there are two different types of therapists in the world.
Let’s start with the easiest. This therapist listens to you but rarely hears. This therapist writes notes but will rarely ever look back on them. This therapist will play the game of a willing partner through your journey all the while happy that the insurance companies are paying their mortgage. This therapist means no harm, but their ability to care or to empathize is so human as to be not even noted in the textbooks of individuals of greatness. They are as normal as the rest; only caring to the line in their own sand.
There isn’t anything wrong with this kind of therapist. Sometimes you just need to vent and talk about your frustrations. Sometimes in this journey it isn’t so much about getting to the next place but rather stomping your feet into the ground you are already standing on. A person who is trained to sit there and listen without caring overly much is the perfect foil for this time in your life.
You don’t want to delve into the moment you lost your innocence. You don’t want to release all that truth that surrounds you. You don’t want to figure out where you have been or even what there is to live for. You just want to talk. And talk you can.
Often this therapist will have not only all their degrees and licenses hanging on the wall but also a decor. Their couch/chair will match their desk. Their paintings on the wall are not there to make a statement to you but a statement to all those impressive ghosts of your therapist’s past. They are put together. Their files are put together if a little bare of the details of your life but they are simply a clean and not so deep slate.
There is nothing special about this therapist but again, there is nothing necessarily bad about this person. They may or may not throw out some kind of advice or put your feelings into their perspective so you are believing this person’s word just because he has a degree. But nothing overly harmful.
But nothing overly helpful either.
Then there is the other kind of therapist. This kind of therapist is much harder to understand and much harder to categorize. They don’t necessarily fit into a pattern and they don’t necessarily show you who and what they are. They are the enigma in your life; the only place that you can go where you aren’t not only heard but made to listen.
This kind of therapist makes you listen to your own words. They are not going to let you get away with generalizations or blanket statements. They are going to make you define what you are trying to say and where you are trying to go. There is no moment where you are allowed to rest on your own stupidity.
They have no hints to who and what they are in their office. Rather all you can see is closed files and heaps of paper. They don’t touch their computer during the session and they never forget to turn off their cell phone. They don’t believe in listening because they are too busy trying to hear.
These therapists are scary. They are going to make you cry and be unapologetic about it. They are going to lead you exactly to the position they already figured out you are standing in. They are steps ahead of you, not because they are any better of a therapist than the other, but because their empathy and sympathy allows them to see what you don’t. They can feel what you don’t want to show. And they can move you in places that aren’t any fun to visit.
They make you more. They make it okay not to be perfect or even all that normal; but they do so not by telling you but making you tell them. They will stop you in the middle of a discourse about something you thought was incredibly important to clarify a point that on the surface seems like a meaningless detail. And the next thing you know your session has turned a page that you never meant to reveal. All from one tiny and what you thought insignificant detail.
These therapists are extremely difficult to get away from. Not because they are keeping you chained or in any way making you sit there, but because they force you to be exactly what you always hoped you could be: real. The one thing that you don’t want to admit to, the one truth that you only acknowledge in your nightmares becomes fair game. And you will always return for more.
I have a therapist like this now. I have cried each time I have walked into her office; something I don’t like to do. Her office reveals nothing about the person she is deep inside and she never alludes to herself in any way. And she lets me talk and talk and talk; until eventually I back myself into a corner and am forced to see the truth about the person I actually am not the person I thought I was. And she does it with anticipation; the battle to figure me and my battle out is not what she does for a living but rather what her soul needs to do.
She is happiest when she catches me or when I debate a point…about myself. She will not tolerate lies or half-truths. She will not allow me to hide from the big, tear inducing emotions just so that she can be paid. She will not take it easy on me despite the fact I am still a relative stranger to her. She will push my buttons not out of fun, although I think she gets a kind of triumph from it, but because she is determined to help me. And there are few people that are able to help me.
I probably won’t ever feel comfortable around her, that is beyond me. I actually have bad moments thinking of a time in the near future when we may run into one another. I don’t want to introduce her to my parents, to my husband, to my friends not because I don’t like her, but because I recognize that she is so precious to my eventual healing.
I have had therapists of every shape and size; even religious. Despite how many times I have sat on that couch or chair I never seem to be fixed and I doubt that I ever will be. I doubt that I will ever be able to resolve that which most are able to ignore. And I will probably continue to cry and continue to open the wounds that scabbed over so long ago.
I recognize, like you must, that who and what I am isn’t bad as much as too raw for the real world. I recognize that no matter how much therapy I do there will always be things that I simply can’t handle despite my knowledge of them. And I recognize that at the end of the day this battle is mine and no one else’s.
But I admire the apprentice standing beside me handing me the helmet. I admire the ones that can make you feel, that can even provide the blanket of security and hope that you can’t find in your day to day life. While I will continue to cry very much alone there is comfort in the idea that someone is passing me the Kleenex.
There is no way to thank therapists. You can’t give them a going away present when you leave them because some insurance idiot deems your time up. It is hard to recognize or even state out loud how much therapists can do; whether good or bad. But they fill a void in the same way Socrates once did. When no one can see your scars being able to show them to someone you trust is more than anyone can ask for.