Photo of Paul

I wish it were more common that therapists chose to be in therapy themselves, but surprisingly it is less common than most people think. It is not a requirement of licensure or training, except for psychoanalytic training. So I am pleased to know that Paul has his own therapist, Gina, played by Diane Wiest.

The episode opens as he returns to therapy after an absence of some time. Right off the bat Paul sits in the therapist’s chair, which subtly suggests to us that it is not so easy for Paul to return. Gina has retired following the death of her husband. At Gina’s gentle prodding, Paul begins to talk about what has brought him back — he says he is struggling with his weight and is having another mid-life crisis, referring to one when he was 30 and another when he was 40. And finally he gets to the reason for calling Gina again — that he is losing his patience with his patients, feeling burdened by them, annoyed. He refers to Jake and says he really got under his skin — and if we listen between the lines, we can guess that there is something similar between his marriage and Jake & Amy’s. And Laura and the erotic transference. He ruefully says that if patients could see what therapists really think and feel, they would head for the hills. He tells her he is feeling anxious before sessions. 

And then we learn it has been ten years since he left therapy and Gina had assumed he was very angry.

Gina was Paul’s clinical supervisor and he left her, he says, because he felt she was interfering with his practice. And after a bit of banter, Paul confesses that he and his wife fight all the time and that it is interfering with his work. They fight over their son, his involvement with his practice, her emotional upset. Gina responds to him clinically, Paul tries to back out and turn back to his professional concerns, because he is reluctant to deal with his marriage. He makes a tentative commitment to try meeting with her a few times to see how it goes. And then begins to talk about his marriage again. And we learn that he seems to suspect she is involved elsewhere — an affair — and that their sex life has become lackluster. Gina offers her belief that if a therapist has difficulty with an erotic transference, it may well indicate problems in the therapist’s marriage, be a test of the marriage.

Gina confronts Paul on his evasion, that he tells her he is there to talk about Laura but keeps mentioning Kate, his wife. Paul is angry and defensive when he believes that Gina suspects him of acting out in the transference. He is prickly, argumentative, defensive. Paul critiques Gina and tells her how she is not doing well with him. Gina confronts him about his anger and resistance and tells him she does not know why he has come or what role he has placed her in. They allude to a complex and conflicted history, yet he says he could not think of someone else to talk with. Gina shows the impact of his verbal assaults and tells him he should get professional help with Laura.

The session ends in a draw and we are left uncertain whether Paul will return.

Working with another therapist in therapy is challenging. I have been in the position of being a therapists’ therapist and found it both difficult and rewarding. The kind of jockeying to be on top that we see Paul do with Gina is not uncommon. Resistance is part of any therapy and no less so when the patient is also a therapist. Paul shows us this very neatly when he gets prickly with Gina and won’t yield to her probes no matter how she frames them. In fact he accuses her of going too far and criticizes her approach. He is actually quite like Alex was with him in his efforts to control the session and keep her away from any points of vulnerability. Nevertheless, I suspect that her arrows about the situation with Laura and his need to deal with his marriage found their mark and because Paul is a good therapist and wants not to screw up, he will be back.

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