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An Experience with Psychotherapy

Updated: Mar 20

This is the story of the last psychotherapist I attempted to work with.  It was some years ago in Athens.


This psychotherapist had been strongly recommended by someone whose judgment I in general trust, and who had worked with her for a number of years in the past.


It is true that the right therapist for one person is not always the right therapist for someone else, and that much comes down to the chemistry or what you could call the lock-and-key complementarity of a counselor and client.   


Nevertheless, my disagreement with the approach of this psychotherapist was a disagreement in principle and not simply in regard to style.


I alerted this psychotherapist within some minutes of meeting her that I had been disappointed with a few psychotherapists prior to her.  She asked me how soon I knew that someone was or wasn’t right for me and I answered candidly, “Usually by the end of the first meeting.”


Much of the conversation consisted in my explaining why I had come to her, and I described a particular issue, related to my own personality, that had bothered me for a number of years.


She took assiduous notes throughout our meeting but the very few things she said or asked of me gave me the impression of someone without a great depth of thought or imagination, though I cannot recall the details at the moment.  I kept hoping she would dive into the topic with me, help me get at the real questions and confront some value dilemma, but I was given no real traction in the conversation, which is usually something that makes me pessimistic.  


But my heart started to sink when she announced that several more sessions would need to be devoted to describing, in detail, my own personal history in its different phases, before we could tackle the issue I was bringing to her.  I started having images of my talking endlessly to someone who only takes notes and says nearly nothing, and paying handsomely for it.


Actually, the real disappointment came after this.  She said to me that before seeing me again she wanted me to get a psychiatrist’s assessment, which I would share with her, and which would somehow position her better to work with me.  And here I thought: really, I have just spoken to you for nearly an hour, and, rather than trusting your own judgment, you want a psychiatrist’s opinion – a psychiatrist being someone even more prone to simply labeling people and to understanding psychical challenges as being physical and chemical problems rather than very human, philosophical ones?


And in fact, that reflected the trouble I was having with her approach generally.  She wanted to see me from outside – and, conscientious and diligent though it may have been to want to know all the details of my personal history, this was really serving an impulse to characterize me in some way.   But that was not what I felt would help me.  I wanted someone who would understand that the questions I was bringing were general human ones, and that the only way to help was to “get dirty” exploring them and seeking answers to them.  I was not seeking a diagnosis.  I was seeking a place for honest, earnest inquiry. 

As I recall, the meeting ended early after a slightly tense exchange in which, among other things, I expressed my disagreement with her reliance on psychiatrists' assessments and she had insisted, implausibly to me, that she wasn't "hiding behind her notes."


Sometime, I will tell the stories of my other failed attempts to work with psychotherapists.


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