You Don’t Always Get What You Want

A couple of years ago I read The Last Asylum, by Barbara Thomas. It’s one of those books that has stayed with me and leads me to think more deeply about the things she writes about — madness, analysis, healing. 

Thomas came to analysis wanting her analyst to take care of her, much as she wanted and got friends to take care of her. She wanted him to give her answers, to tell her what to do to feel better. It took a number of years for her to come to the place of accepting that he could not and would not tell her what to do or give her answers or take care of her. What he could do was help her to find her own answers but in order to do that she had to surrender.

This brings to mind a day when my daughter was 4 and had an epic tantrum. The kind of tantrum where I sat on the floor holding her, careful to keep my head out of the way of her flailing and hurling of her own head and let her be in that state, let her cry and yell and flail and just lovingly hold her so that she did not hurt herself or me. Finally she stopped yelling and the storm subsided into tears and then calm. I let go of her and she turned and said ”Mommy, why did I do that?” Just as Thomas railed at her analyst until she finally let go, my little girl had to do the same. Though of course there were many times in her childhood that she got angry with me or her father or brother, many times she felt us thwarting her desires, she found words to express those feelings and there were no more epic tantrums. In a way this is what Thomas describes. She had to go through that long struggle to get her way, to get what she wanted in order to get what she actually needed. She had to reach the point of surrender in order for her to get that.

And isn’t that what happens to many if not most people in analysis or in any other intense intimate relationship? Does there not come a time when to get what we need, we must surrender our insistence on what we want? Because we must learn the difference between want and need. Or as the Rolling Stones put it, “No, you can’t always get what you want But if you try sometime, you just might find You get what you need”. Thomas did not get what she wanted. My daughter didn’t get what she wanted. In my own analysis, I didn’t get what I wanted. But in surrendering that, low and behold, we got what we needed. The same is true in therapy. In order to get what we want, we need to surrender to the process and if we stick with it, we will get what we need.

Words that shaped me

I have always been a reader and books have played an important role in shaping me as a person and as a psychotherapist. So in no particular order of importance, here are ten books that have stayed with me and in both subtle and not so subtle ways helped to shape my thinking about what I do.

1. Freud’s Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis — the basic text for my second course in psychology in college, taken when I was a sophomore. Whether it was the ideas of Freud or the genius of the professor, Irwin Kremen, this book and course grabbed me and really got my interest in psychotherapy and in the workings of the mind going.

2. Man and His Symbols — Carl Jung. I discovered this book while browsing in the Gothic Bookshop at Duke sometime when I was a junior in college. I was fascinated by the ideas, though I didn’t understand a lot of them. 

3. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden — also read while I was in college. I count myself lucky to have encountered these books n my college years when psychoanalysis and depth psychology was still the dominant mode.  This novel set me to browsing the shelves of the library reading all kinds of books about psychotherapy and psychoanalysis.

4. August — I still recommend this novel by Judith Rossner to friends. The novel focuses on the relationship between a psychoanalyst, Dr. Lulu Shinefield, and a young troubled woman, Dawn Henley, from the beginning of their therapy together through to its termination. And because it gives us perspective from both sides of the couch, I think it is really unusual.

5. The Words to Say It– Claudia Cardinal. Around 20 years ago, a patient gave me this book. It is a fictionalized report of the author’s seven years in psychoanalysis and gives a sense of that process. 

6. The Treatment – Daniel Menaker’s novel about Jake Singer and his analysis with Dr. Morales, a wild and passionate analyst. Though Dr. Morales behaves as likely no analyst would, his passion and willingness to engage Jake in the way he does captures the excitement that I find at the heart of this work. 

7. Schizoid Phenomena, Object-Relations, and the Self – Harry Guntrip. Through the 70’s and 80’s I read widely in psychoanalysis, object relations, Jungian psychology. I would look at the bibliography of any book I liked and find as many of those books that sounded interesting to me and read them. This gave me an intensive education that I couldn’t have gotten any other way. This book, with its awkward title, was one I I’ve gone back to a couple of times. 

8. Psychotic Anxieties and Containment: A Personal Record of an Analysis With Winnicott –  Margaret Little. This little book, just 129 pages, was terrific for giving me a deep sense of what it is to be a wounded healer. Not many analysts or therapists write about their own wounds and madness. Margaret Little gives a tremendous gift in this account of hers.

9. Women Who Run With The Wolves – Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I go back to this book again and again, drawn by different fairytales and her analysis of them. To my mind, this is one of  the best books  based on Jungian principles and most accessible to the general public.

10. Of Two Minds: An Anthroplogist Looks at American Psychiatry – T. M. Luhrman. An interesting look at the split in psychiatry between those who lean to brain and those to mind.

Of course in the process of writing this list, another dozen or so books sprang to mind. I’ll save them for another day.

Slow

Summer is the time for slowness. I have been reading a lot but not writing much, though I expect to remedy that in the next little while. Meanwhile, here is a lovely quote about therapy from Freud:

 “Nothing takes place between them except that they talk to each other. The analyst makes use of no instruments— not even for examining the patient—nor does he prescribe any medicines. If it is at all possible, he even leaves the patient in his environment and in his usual mode of life during the treatment…The analyst agrees upon a fixed regular hour with the patient, gets him to talk, listens to him, talks to him in his turn and gets him to listen… It is as though he were thinking: ‘Nothing more than that?… ‘So it is a kind of magic,’ he comments: ‘you talk, and blow away his ailments.’ Quite true. It would be magic if it worked rather quicker. An essential attribute of a magician is speed—one might say suddenness—of success. But analytic treatments take months and even years: magic that is so slow loses its miraculous character.”

Leo Shows His Past

This noble beast is Leo. He is three years old and has been with us since he was about nine weeks old when we adopted him and brought him home. That first day he strode boldly out of the carrier and made it clear that he intended to rule the house. They told us at the shelter that orange cats tends to be dominant and it certainly looked like Leo fit that bill. He quickly made friends with our two other cats, Roscoe the old guy and Ollie who is about the same age as Leo.

We didn’t know a whole lot about Leo’s origins. We knew he had been found on the street in Rockport when he was about six weeks old, a tiny thing, too small really to be alone like that.  He was in the shelter just long enough to become healthy and be ready to be adopted. 

After a while, though Leo was from the beginning an affectionate and friendly kitten, we noticed that he never stayed at the food dish to eat but rather would fill his mouth with dry food and then go elsewhere in the house where he would drop the food and eat it, or at least most of it. So we were always finding little piles of dry food in the places he liked to be. And when one of us would sneeze or cough loudly, Leo would startle and run away. Then we moved a couple of months ago.

All of our cats are indoor-only cats, so the move was the first change of place for Leo since he joined our family. Now it became evident how much Leo really hates change. We brought the cats to the new house after all the furniture and boxes had been brought in. One by one the cats emerged from their carriers and began to explore the house. Except for Leo. Who found a hiding place. And we hardly saw him for almost two weeks. We would catch glimpses of him as he raced to the kitchen to grab some food, but otherwise he stayed hidden away in a closet or behind boxes, clearly not thrilled with being in this new place. 

Finally after two weeks he began to spend time outside of his hideaway. He would race into the bathroom any time I was there and purr and rub against me. And he began again to perch on my lap, between my legs so he could watch tv — he loves television. And he returned to sleeping next to my feet at night and walking on my husband during the night when he thought he should be fed. He seemed to have returned to his old self.

Then we changed the kind of litter in the litter boxes. And on that very same day there was a huge and very loud thunderstorm — and Leo disappeared into hiding again, this time for about three days. It is now a bit more than two weeks since that trauma and he has again emerged and seems even more his open self than before.

We know that trauma leaves its mark on developing brains of humans. I can’t help but believe that is what we see in these behaviors of Leo’s — the way he takes his food away from the dish, his response to changes in his environment — are how the trauma of his early weeks marked him. Though he has been safe and warm and loved for all but a very few weeks of his life, those weeks remain with him.

In Treatment, Season 4, Weeks 5 & 6

 

 

I watched the last 4 episodes of this season last week. I had really looked forward to this show. I wanted to like it and be as interested as I was in the first 3 seasons. It hasn’t turned out that way. I have not even felt moved to write about the episodes in the way I did originally. So today I will offer my impressions of the season as a whole and talk about what bothered me about it.

I have said before that I very much like the actors. They do heroic work with what they have been given. But the whole thing lacks the verisimilitude that marked the first 3 seasons. It’s not the acting but the scripts, I think. In Treatment in its original form was notable for being the best representation of psychotherapy in a drama that we have seen. Compare it with Couples Therapy on Showtime and of course, the differences are glaring. Couples Therapy is a documentary series with a real therapist so does not operate in the confines of drama. In a way, comparing the two series is unfair. In Treatment took risks and experimented with format in ways that made it more compelling than it would have been as a normal drama. And it might even be that it paved the way for CouplesTherapy by demonstrating there is an audience for such a series. All of that is to the good. So what didn’t I like this season?

As I have said before the “patients” this season all feel to me like types and not so much like real people. The dialogue too often felt academic and a bit stilted. The stories just don’t ring true for the characters. I WANTED to care for the patients and the therapist, but I couldn’t muster the empathy. The dialogue just lacks believability. I found myself rolling my eyes at the screen and expressing my annoyance out loud, which I guess shows I was engaged at least at the negative level.

No therapist is perfect. Jungians speak of the “wounded healer” — that we are drawn in part to our work because of our own wounds. We deal with those wounds in our personal therapy and analysis so as not to act them out with patients but to have our experiences serve as a source of deep understanding. Brooke like most if not all of us is wounded. That doesn’t bother me. But she, through the course of the season, is an actively drinking alcoholic and is not in treatment herself, not actively, which means she is impaired. The problems this creates actually to my mind dominate just about everything she does. While we learn that Paul is her supervisor, they do not talk regularly and she does dodge him. In this way, she echoes Paul’s dual relationship with Gina. Brooke’s friend/sponsor, Rita, cannot provide all of what Brooke needs. Just as Paul did not get a firm handle on what he needed and wanted until he enters therapy himself with Adele, so Brooke is not getting what she needs though in the closing scene of the season she does call Rita and say she is ready to stop drinking. And that is great but only part of what she needs to do.

One of if not the best episode of the season came in week 5 when Brooke was to meet with Paul. Paul cancels at the last minute which leads to the device of Brooke, the therapist, meeting with Brooke, the patient—a little gimmicky but overall it works. We learn the most about her in this episode as she confronts herself. For me, it pulled together a bunch of things. In a sense, the three patients can, as in a dream, be seen as aspects of Brooke herself. Eladio and Laila both suffer, as indeed Brooke does, from mothers who cannot give what they need. Brooke’s mother was an alcoholic and just didn’t see her really. Like Colin, Brooke contorted herself in an effort to get her mother to like and want her. 

Mother — mother absence, mother problems — is the dominant theme of the entire season. Brooke, who is motherless, gave up her only child at birth and those became absent to her own son. 

Eladio wants Brooke to be his mother, the mother his own could be. He wants unconditional love, which Brooke cannot give him. She can see and feel his transference but every time the emotions become strong and he evokes a big feeling from her, she bolts — literally leaving the room, referring him to a psychiatrist, then to another therapist. She is correct when she tells him she is failing him, but it is not at all clear that she can see it is her own unresolved mother complex and her drinking which underlie her failure.

With Colin, there is a massive boundary violation which she tacitly accepts. He shows up at her house unannounced and proceeds to act as if they should have a session. And, she does not make him leave. The next week, when he returns, they spar and he then attempts to engage her sexually. She doesn’t acceded to his desire but she does not make him leave either. To me, that was mind-boggling. There is no way to remain neutral and objective once that boundary has been crossed. That she agreed to continue to see him is a problem. This is a situation in which I believe the better course of action is to refer him elsewhere and end work with him. Brooke seemed unable to see how deep manipulative Colin is, imagining somehow that she could penetrate his thick defenses. He would momentarily look like she had found her mark but it never lasts. Colin isn’t motivated to do the work of therapy, was only there because the court ordered it. What this case did was provide a platform for some heavy handed talk about  privilege and race that entirely missed the real issues with Colin.

More than once Brooke launched into mini-lectures about theory and technique or ethics. She does this with Eladio, Colin and Laila. With Laila, instead of saying she, Brooke, is concerned that Laila might be having suicidal thoughts, she says the law requires her to ask. That feels clumsy to me and a bit impersonal. When Colin tries to engage her sexually she talks with him about erotic transference!

These things are problems with the writing. As I said before, the actors, especially Uzo Aduba as Brooke, are superb.

Reboots often fail to live up to the original. This is no exception.

So, what did you think?

InTreatment, Season 4, Week 4

Week 4 — what to say? Brooke is deeper into her relapse, pursuing unconsciousness with a vengeance. It is painful to watch. Everyone that we see her with tries to connect with her and every time at the critical juncture, she flees either literally or figuratively.

Eladio confronts Brooke — “What am I to you?”. He feels her double messages, tells her she runs hot and cold. He wants her to be with him as he is with Jeremy, his charge, whom he loves and loves enough to be honest with. 

Colin, who like the good narcissist that he is, is at turns charming and maddening. He invents stories to tell her and when caught in the lie, makes another story. She does not really respond to the one naked thing he says which is “I want you to like me.” Underneath we know he feels that he can only get people to care by doing his charm offensive, that if he is real, he will be rejected. He succeeds in making Brooke angry and she tells him she had promised herself no more narcissists because they don’t change, shooting her own arrow into Colin. She would need to hold her therapeutic stance, to let him feel, and to work to get deeper inside his need, his desire to have her like him. One wonders how she might respond differently were she sober and not mired in her own lies and emptiness.

We see how really wounded Laila is this week. Brooke is better with her but seems not to get until the end of the session that Laila is likely suicidal. 

And then Adam, who isn’t especially appealing but who tries to connect in some way with Brooke. At the beginning of the week he offers to have a child with her if that would help. And he accurately identifies that her son, gone from her since birth, is more of an idea than a reality, hence his suggestion that they could have a child together.

Brooke has another bender and this time it is the last straw for Rita who tells her she can’t stay, that when Brooke is ready to stop drinking, she can call her. Brooke complains to Adam about Rita and sadly, he colludes with Brooke’s claim to victimhood. He again tries to connect with her. They have sex but she seems hardly there—to be fair, she was drunk so unable to be present. Then as they finish, she passes out, becoming literally unconscious finally.

Watching Brooke this week was depressing. And made me angry. I wanted to shout at her and at the writer’s who have created this mess. Many years ago, I and some friends attending a family therapy workshop volunteered to role play a family for the workshop leader to “work” with. The family we fell into being was rather like the characters in this season — types, exaggerated, unrelenting. We became caricatures of family. 

I don’t know where things can go with the rest of the season. A suddenly seeing of the light on any of their parts would feel phony. Yet sliding down even further a bleak prospect. 

I noticed today that HBO has released all of the remaining episodes.I plan to watch them this weekend and next week post about what I see and reflections on this season and tissues it raises. For now, color me less than pleased.

In Treatment, Season 4, Week 3

Here we are at week 3 and I remain ambivalent about this season. In fact it took me until today, several days after they aired, to watch this week’s cases. So this week I want to focus on what it is that makes me uneasy about the characters this season, especially about Brooke.

I am beginning to feel that what appears to me as maybe sloppy work with her patients can be attributed to the fact that Brooke is drinking and has been, we learn this week, since her father died. All therapists are human with human problems. Our personal lives can become messy and troubled. But we have an ethical obligation to deal with intrusions from our personal issues into our work. And Brooke is not meeting this obligation. Yes, she talks with Rita who is, in addition to being her friend, is her AA sponsor. In a way this is a dual relationship not unlike the one Paul had with Gina. Dual relationships are problematic because both roles ultimately get short-changed. And Brooke needs more than a friend and sponsor to deal with her problems. AA can be great for gaining and maintaining sobriety, but Brooke’s issues, just from what we know so far, run deeper than her alcohol use and to a degree certainly drive her desire to drink. We don’t hear this week about Brooke dodging Paul and her regular supervision but there is no reason to believe she changed her behavior.

In each of the sessions with the three patients we see, Brooke jumps away from strong expression of their feelings. Eladio spoke movingly and intensely about his care for his charge, that he loves him which Brooke in time connected to his own need for care and for good mothering. Eladio responded by wanting to end the session early and instead of gently encouraging him to talk about what he was feeling, she assented and then immediately called her psychiatrist friend to refer him for evaluation and possible medication. When she calls him to tell him, she also tells him she questions his bi-polar diagnosis, which makes me wonder why she didn’t explore this with him further before or even if making the referral. I suspect it was Eladio’s strong emotions which elicited what looks to me like a countertransference response from Brooke.

Then Colin began with wanting to please her, to make her like him. They sparred throughout the session. Brooke becomes a bit coy in manner with him at times. At the very end he asks her if she likes him and rather than stay with that, with his, for him, rather naked need, she pushed him away. If he stays for just the mandated 4 sessions, they have only one session left. He has said he just wanted to get that requirement met and done, yet he did not show signs of wanting to bolt most of the session and with some encouragement from Brooke might well begin to sink into the process.

Finally Laila whose grandmother pretty much tells Brooke that she is not doing her job to prepare Laila for college and intimates that there won’t be many more sessions. The work with Laila, as with Eladio, for most of the session is pretty good. But, as with Eladio, when strong emotion led Laila to defend against it by taking out her phone to text her girlfriend, Brooke exits the room. She doesn’t stay and challenge Laila or encourage her to talk about what she is feeling. She just gets up and leaves the room, ostensibly to get something to drink. Laila gets ready to leave, says goodbye to Brooke who says she will see her next week. And then Brooke takes out a bottle of vodka and pours some into her energy drink. Once again, strong emotion leads Brooke to flee.

Finally in the time with Rita, the dimensions of Brooke’s behavior become clearer. Rita is caught between wanting to soothe her friend and doing what she knows as her sponsor she should do given that Brooke has relapsed. In the end, she yields to the friend side, which is a shame because Brooke needs someone to hold her accountable. Underlying the drinking on this day is news she received that she would not be able to reconnect with her son who was placed for adoption right after birth. So Brooke is grieving the death of her father, the loss of the hoped for reunification with her son, among other things. She needs help and so far at least is not only not seeking it, she is actively rejecting it. 

I am anxious to see how much more of a train wreck Brooke will create in the remaining weeks and which of her patients will settle down into therapy and stay. 

What do you think?

In Treatment, Season 4, Week 2

In the second week of this season’s In Treatment, I remain ambivalent. I like all of the actors and do not especially like any of the characters. I struggle to understand why Brooke, who describes herself as some variety of longer term probably psychodynamic therapist is seeing these patients. 

Eladio is a good candidate for depth therapy *if* it weren’t dependent on his employer paying. He would be a tough one to work with because of his history with probably drug use and shakiness of his life circumstances, but he seems psychologically minded, can reflect on himself and is so very eager to attach to Brooke. But his employer is looking for a resolution to Eladio’s insomnia, not for his personal growth so the resources for long term work are not likely there. I understand the appeal of working with Eladio and how Brooke is somewhat seduced by him, so she is going to have to keep an eye on her countertransference with him and be ready for him to leave well before he is actually ready.

Why Colin? Referred by the court — which is already an issue because Brooke is being hired for reporting on her assessment of him, not by him for therapy. In my experience these kinds of referrals rarely go anywhere past what is ordered, because the patient is not the initiator of the referral or the work. So she has accepted him and as a pro bono patient too — why? And why is the court not paying for the four sessions which it has ordered? So I am puzzled by the fact that Brooke accepted the referral. The verbal fencing he does with Brooke and the avoidance of anything resembling real  insight would wear thin pretty quickly. That he is there to get an approving report from Brooke feels to me like the only real skin he has in the game and the major reason he is there at all. The fact that he has crashed and burned his life could be the impetus for real work in therapy, but only if he is willing to drop the mask and be vulnerable. 

Then we have Laila.It is never clear that much if anything Laila talks about is really personal. Her character is drawn more as a type than as a person. The one place where I could feel her was when she talked about the way she and her girlfriend created imaginary worlds together. There was a playfulness and creativity in what she described that is very different from the brittle intellectualizing she more usually indulges in. We see in her talk about her relationship with her girlfriend a look into who Laila is underneath the mask she wears. She tells Brooke a dream, which Brooke deals with entirely as about the reality of being a black woman, which certainly is part of it. But she makes no attempt to bring the dream back to Laila and what is says about her life today. The Jungian in me wishes she had invited Laila to actually work on the dream with her as that very well might have opened this therapy up a lot more. As with the other two patients, there is every reason to feel the work with them will be short term. Laila is going off to college for one thing and her grandmother brings her to Brooke to prepare her for college. These patients seem misaligned with what Brooke purports her practice to be. 

We learn in Monday’s segment about Brooke, that Paul, from previous seasons, is Brooke’s supervisor. Rita says she thought Brooke talked with him every week. We have seen Brooke dodge his calls and emails so we know Rita is right when she asks if Brooke is avoiding him. That she is doing so is a big red flag given Brooke’s issues. It is clear that Brooke has some issues with Paul in fact, referring to him as the “world renowned Paul Weston” out of anger maybe or envy. In the process of her talking with Rita, we learn that she has thought about having a baby with Adam. We know from earlier that at age 15, she had a baby which her parents made her surrender for adoption. And now she wants to find her son.  So we have Eladio wanting a mother and Laila without a mother and Brooke struggling with the loss of her father and longing to find her son — a potent stew indeed. I was intrigued that Rita sat in one of the chairs and Brooke on the couch, reflecting perhaps the way she and Brooke are relating, more as therapist and patient than as friends.

As I said before, I like the actors this season but find the characters they are playing kind of lacking. The three patients seem like types rather than full fleshed people. They embody an issue or group — Black American teens or privileged white men or essential workers who aren’t treated that way — more than they stand out as unique individuals in need of help. Plus we haven’t heard at all how the changes wrought by COVID has impacted them, which seems quite unrealistic. In my practice my patients regularly talk about issues and feelings they have arising from the pandemic so how can it be that this is not a major element in this season?

What are your thoughts? What do you like? Dislike?  Let’s talk about it in the comments.