After the pause

red and yellow flower image

Spring usually comes rather reluctantly to Maine. Long after people living south of here start posting photos of spring flowers, I look out at bare trees and brown ground. And then ever slowly it starts to come– buds on the trees swell, crocus poke their heads up, I hear birdsong in the morning. Here on the coast warm temperatures are held at bay by onshore breezes from the ocean which is still quite cold, but the presence of spring is undeniable. As if emerging from hibernation people are out everywhere, taking walks and enjoying freedom from heavy coats.

We have lovely tulips and daffodils that are just about finished this year. The leaves on the maples are full. Even the oaks have fully leafed out. And inside, on my windowsills, my plants are putting on their own spring display. The flower in today’s photo is a hibiscus in my dining room. There is no way to fully capture the depth and vibrance of that red and yellow. For a couple of days, it stars in the window display and then it is gone. Spring is like that.

Spring has brought with it some renewed energy and interest in writing so hopefully you will see posts here more frequently again. Here is a short one for you to consider.

Today let’s consider a question I have been asked: who does the work in therapy. Or “How do I balance my sense of what’s right for me to be looking at right now, and what my therapist seems to focus on?

I was puzzled at first by the question. The basic instruction in depth psychotherapy is to say what comes to mind and how could that be if the therapist determines what should be the focus in therapy?

I remember attending a workshop some years in Boston taught by Raphael Lopez-Pedraza. He noted in passing that being an analyst meant he spent hours listening to patients talk about business or farming or accounting or any number of things he himself knows little or nothing about and gaining understanding of those things and their importance to his patients is part of the process. This is something we do to become the therapist the patient needs. It is not the patient’s task to become the patient we need, but the reverse.

So, a patient may come in for session after session and seem to talk only about superficial things — meals she prepared or what her children are doing or how her garden is growing. One way of looking at this kind of time is that all of what she is saying is a comment about the therapy process itself — this is the approach Robert Langs advocated. Another way of understanding it is that she is telling me about her life in the way she knows how. I need to be patient, be curious and listen for all of what she is saying, the subtext as well as the actual content. And if I think she might be avoiding something, I might ask about that. But it wouldn’t feel right for me to tell her what she should be focussing on.

That said, there are therapists who specialize in one area or issue rather than work as generalists. So they may not be so open to listen to material that seems not to be germane to that issue.

In any case, the therapy belongs to the patient. So talk about it; raise the issue with the  therapist. Let him or her know how you feel.