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Be Careful What You Wish For (long)

Posted by mair on June 1, 2004, at 22:22:31

This is a cautionary tale to all those who wish they knew alot more about their therapists.

I've been seeing my T for about 5 years (unlike Daisy, I've lost all track of time). A couple of years into the therapy, I discovered, quite inadvertently, that my T's husband had recently written a very personal account about his own struggles with depression. The book contained alot of detail about how his depression affected his marriage. I was pretty much blown away when I read the book because I had a very different image (thoroughly self-generated) about my T and her family life. It also raised some issues for me because the struggles she and her husband faced as described in the book were very similar to ones I faced with my own husband; these were things we had been talking about alot at the time that I discovered and read the book. I really didn't want to talk to my T about the book (which she had never mentioned to me) but as time went on I realized I had to because it really was starting to interfere with therapy. We'd be talking about something and I'd be thinking about what I knew of her own life. I'm not great about delving into difficult topics and it took me a long time to screw up the courage to tell her that I had read her husband's book. I was really helped by a former poster here who went over this with me in great detail via email. Once I finally told her, of course we had to process what that meant to me, which we did for several sessions, ad nauseum actually. These weren't easy sessions, but I did admire the way she was willing to address what must have been awkward for her. Since then she has periodically raised the issue of the book to make sure that my knowledge of her own personal life isn't inhibiting me in therapy, particularly when we've been discussing issues similar to those raised in the book. Mostly I stopped thinking about it and assumed, as she told me at the time, that her husband was seeking treatment and things were alot better. The book did, afterall, describe a period which was some years removed from the year the book was actually published.

Over the last several weeks I've noticed that for whatever reason I've started to open up to her much more freely. We've both looked at this as a real step forward because my inability to talk about lots of things has at times been a real source of difficulty. Also, I'm going through a rather tough time with my husband now and it's been very valuable to have the release of being able to talk to my T about my marriage - my relationship with my husband is pretty much all we've talked about recently. A couple of sessions ago, she brought up the book again and I made some remark about not wanting to "go there" mostly just because I had another more pressing thought that I needed to discuss. She took my response to mean that I was thinking alot about matters discussed in the book and just felt uncomfortable addressing them. So she raised it again today. I can't recreate the long progression of the discussion we had but the upshot was that she told me toward the end of the session that she and her husband had separated. After some discussions with her supervisor she had decided that she should share this with patients, or at least some patients, minimally because we live in a pretty small area and she thought it better that I hear this from her rather than from someone else. I think she picked up from things I had been saying lately that I was sensing that something was wrong and that this was leading to alot of anxieties on my part about termination. And of course it occurred to her that once again we were now discussing issues which were very similar to ones she faced. In actuality, I hadn't picked up on anything; either I'm too self-absorbed to pay much attention, or she's done a remarkable job of not letting her own situation interfere with mine. Her parting shot at the end of the session was that this was alot for me to process and that we would need to continue to talk about it in my next session.

I compartmentalize things and I frankly thought I would be unaffected by this news. I don't usually think much about therapy in between sessions. Not so - to the contrary it's raised all sorts of anxieties, and off and on it's hard to think about anything else. Mostly, I don't want to talk to her about any of this at all, and I think it's really awful that she's in a position where she has to address it with her patients just because some of us know more than any patient in a therapeutic relationship should, at least according to prevailing wisdom. I'm really torn between not wanting to have this discussion with her, and wanting very much to know enough to assure myself that she's holding up ok. ... and when you think about it, how can I really assure myself of that anyway.

I realize that this is probably a pretty unique circumstance - fortunately most of us don't have the experience of being given such an open look into a T's personal life. Having been dealt that card, she's unbelievably professional in the way that she puts the issue out on the table, knowing that she probably has to in order to make sure that our familiarity hasn't compromised our ability to work with her. I have all the respect in the world for her, but this whole experience has taught me that no matter how much we think we'd like to know, it's alot more comfortable to know less.





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