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B-Sides, Part 1

Posted Jun 14 2010 12:25pm

I’m going to steal a page out of my friend Philalawyer’s book and post some material that was either in my first, badly written unpublished book or was material that was ultimately cut from CRAZY .

With the exception of very minor editing so that the material makes contextual sense, I will post the material “as is.” Although highly embarrassing, this will hopefully show how writers change (or possibly stagnate) over time, so if you’ve been reading this site for a long time you’ll see where I’ve gotten since I first started pounding the keyboard. In other words, this B-side series is geared toward people who like psychology and people who like writing, but especially toward people who enjoy both.

This is the introductory chapter from my first book, written in early 2006:

On Tuesdays, I have my weekly visit with my therapist. I started seeing Carol about a year ago, after a struggling relationship was finally put to rest. Many people don’t divulge the fact that they are in therapy. Even though science has accepted mental illness as just that, an illness, there is still a huge stigma in our society about seeking help for psychological distress. If you’re in therapy, you’re crazy or weak. It’s even worse if you are in therapy as a mental health professional. How can you help others if you can’t even help yourself? In response to that question, I used to say, “cardiologists get heart problems, don’t they?” No one really understood that analogy, so I ultimately abandoned it. The real answer is that mental health pros still get depressed, suffer from anxiety, have anger management problems, and can’t maintain healthy relationships, just like the general public. But, for some reason, when we’re not in the throes of the problems ourselves and can maintain a little objectivity, we can often provide a useful service to most people.

After my girlfriend and I broke up, I was feeling depressed and/or anxious most of the time, and my sleep was basically non-existent. Being a Psychologist, I had a pretty good idea that seeing someone would be beneficial. Fortunately, I was right. After a few months, my mood was much better, and I was sleeping a standard 8 hours a night. I decided to continue with therapy after I was asymptomatic, because I enjoyed the insights that Carol provided, and the 45 minutes per week was an ideal amount of time to really talk about what’s impacting my life. It’s my time to focus on what a lot of patient’s call “my stuff,” the things that are bothering me in life, my reactions to the world, interpersonal relationships (both good and bad), and so on. Carol is a phenomenal therapist. She can explain the most complex psychological issues just as easily to a seasoned colleague or a man on the street, and she has a unique ability to make you willing to disclose anything and everything to her, to let you help her. I hate her for it, because I’m dying of jealousy. Even though she is probably 20 years my senior, I can never envision myself as gifted and talented a therapist as she is. To compensate for this feeling of inadequacy, I have but one option: make jokes about her in my own head to bring her down to a level with which I am comfortable.

When I started graduate school about 10 years ago, I was trained in a modern form of psychotherapy: a short-term, problem-focused, “here and now” approach to treatment. When I am working, I often begin by saying “How would you like to use our time today?” or “What do you think is important for us to work on this week?” To the point, down to business. Carol is more like Sigmund Freud; she will often talk about the past, how my current problems might relate to how I feel about my mom, subconscious issues, things like that. She was trained to keep quiet at first, to let her client’s impulses take over, let the psyche speak first. So when I sit down in her office, she smiles politely and waits for me to talk. I knew that she was trained this way before our first meeting, because I had asked her on the phone, so I know what to expect. And because she has the same first name as my mother, I always feel some sort of cool, Freudian irony when I sit down. Sometimes I wonder if she’ll ever act differently towards me, since we are colleagues, maybe even give me a discount on the fee. But Carol will have none of that. Once I sit in the chair, I’m another patient, who will be treated no differently than any other. So she waits. And smiles politely. After about 15 seconds or so, I speak.

“I’ve decided to write a book,” I finally say.

“Oh? That’s interesting,” she says.

Rather than say “Good for you!” or “What’s it about?,” Carol knows that therapy isn’t just a regular conversation. Her job is to make me think about basically every word I say, to understand why I just said what I did.

“How so?”

“You were saying a few months ago that you were stagnating, that you
needed a new project to work on, that it was hard for you to not have something to look forward to.”

I don’t recall saying that, but it does sound like me.

Carol continues. “Do you remember when we talked about your childhood, how your mother always pushed you to do more, to not be content, to keep going?”

Remember? We go over this probably every week. “Yes.”

“Is this a manifestation of that message?”

She’s absolutely right, of course, but right now I’m just excited about the idea of writing a book, and I’m not really in the mood to analyze that decision. “It is, definitely. Do you want to know what it’s about?”

“If you think that’s important.”

That’s about as excited as she gets when something good happens. “It’s going to be called What your Therapist REALLY Thinks: A New, Behind-the-Scenes Look at Mental Health. It’s a book about interesting therapy stories and cases told from my perspective.”

Carol doesn’t speak for about 10 seconds or so, lost in thought, looking up and to
the right, as she often does. “Why would you write a book like that?”

Why? “Well, I have a lot of people asking me ‘what is it really like to be a psychologist?’ or ‘when someone says something really unusual, what do you say, or even better, what do you think?’ It seems like a large number of people are really interested in our type of work, especially the more unusual aspects of our job, so this would be a way to share that, maybe in a humorous way. Most books about therapy these days are just so clinical, or self-help. This would be a brand new perspective on a field that basically lives in obscurity.”

Carol’s eyes are looking colder, and the smile from earlier is long gone. “You’re going to talk about your work in a book?”

I’m confused by the questioning, and I’m not used to seeing such a cold expression. Carol can be pretty judgmental at times, and I usually see it coming, but the eyes lead me to believe this could be an unpleasant session.

“Isn’t that how all psychology books get written, by talking about work? You know, case studies, professional experiences?”

“Well, yes, but case studies are generally used to elucidate psychological concepts for educational or self-help purposes, not for hilarity or entertainment.”

“This book is going to both entertaining and educational. That’s what makes it so special. It will give a real take on what therapists think. It will be honest. The reader will be right there, in the room with me. Have you ever read The Road Less Traveled?”

“Yes, I have.”

Carol is annoying because she has read everything. I fancy myself a well-read person, but it seems that she has read thousands of books I haven’t even heard of, and probably everything I’ve picked up she’s read twice. Sometimes I’m tempted to just make up titles to make sure that she isn’t just saying “yes” to every book I ask her about (“So, have you ever read the book, Why All Therapists should Sleep with their Patients?, or Why I Killed my Therapist, by Rob Dobrenski?”), but I know that a statement like that will lead to five or six sessions of analysis on why I would say such stupid things in the first place.

“Well, if you remember, he wrote a lot about his patients to elucidate certain points, and he was somewhat humorous in the process. I think I could write something more for this day and age, something with more edge perhaps.”

Carol is clearly not sold on this idea, although she’s not about to say so in absolute terms just yet.

“Entertaining and educational, with an edge, in the room with you, about your own thoughts on being a shrink, huh?”

“You got it, absolutely!”

Rob, do you want to know what I really think?”

Wow, this is a first. “Yes, definitely!”

“I think that only a true narcissist would do something like this.”

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