The Answers to More Questions You’d Like to Ask your Therapist

psych-supp-peanuts

Last autumn I wrote a post in response to Spacefreedomlove’s five questions she’d love to ask her therapist. I will try to answer a few more now, those from Jay at Who are You Calling Sensitive?

1) Do you ever dream about me like I dream about you? 2) Is it really easy to limit your thoughts and feelings (both positive and negative) about me to our one weekly session or do these spill over? 3) What do you most love and loathe about our therapy relationship? 4) Is being a therapist just a job or is it a big part of who you are? 5) How on earth do you manage to get all your needs met outside therapy with long working hours and don’t you just want to chat the ears off your friends and family because you’ve been relatively quiet during the day? 6) Do you feel lonely as a therapist, working alone and not being able to chat about the day freely and limiting where you go out in case you bump into a client?

1. Yes, I certainly had dreams about my patients when I was in practice. (I retired three years ago). Clients who weren’t progressing were the most frequent visitors during slumber. Not, you might be wondering, sexual fantasies or friendship themes. Whatever countertransferential feelings I had occurred while awake. In that time I found myself thinking about how to improve the therapy process and reconsider the diagnostic and treatment formulation. The blackboard needed a clean wipe to look at my patient afresh and discover something I missed.

2. Yes, feelings spilled over, but not about everyone. If treatment advanced, then I didn’t find myself drawn to think about you much outside of a session. If the course of therapy was rocky, however, questions and problems grew arms and threw stones at the door to my mind. I didn’t avoid thinking about anyone, but my process was as described.

3. What did I most love and loathe about my relationship with clients? I will admit I didn’t like my patients equally. Some drained the fuel cells, some energized me. We are human, therapists and clients alike. No two people match up in an identical way. For those who gave inadequate effort, I addressed this in session. All experienced counselors understand the patient must give everything if he is to improve.

When the metaphorical cellophane wrapper of my professional life had been removed, I found the “detective work” especially captivating. That is, trying to figure someone out.

I’d sometimes get frustrated and go too far in expressing frustrations. This occurred more near the beginning of my private practice, as well. A bad idea for both my client and myself. I then had work to do on my own psychology. Increased therapeutic distance was required. And, I tried to unravel any bubbling resentments about issues in my own life, old or new, that slipped past my receptionist into the office.

With respect to what I loved, I enjoyed hearing close to everyone’s life story. Even now, I continue to do oral histories of retired and retiring musicians for the Chicago Symphony. My fascination with such things assisted, I think, to communicate a genuine interest in helping. People recognize your sincerity if you are hanging on almost their every word. I also enjoyed laughing with clients.

My ex-patients will remember my fondness for telling stories. The therapeutic message has a way of sticking with you when it doesn’t sound like a line from a clinical text.

I was delighted when people grew from our process; and grateful when I was enlightened by the therapeutic interaction and grew myself, not only as a therapist but as a human being. There is a two-way interaction here. Always. Patients understand that the psychologist benefits financially, but might not recognize how much a therapist’s life and humanity are enriched by non-sexual, intimate contact.

4. Being a therapist was much more than a job. Were it only a vocation I would have phoned it in, sounding like a poorly recorded 78 RPM disc, with as little expression as its two flat, black sides. I don’t hide disinterest well and have a poor “poker face.” I am not the most energetic person on the planet — never even close. Had I not been a counselor by training, choice, and by nature, the job would have made everyone miserable. Some said they had never experienced anyone who listened as intensely as I did. Those were the greatest compliments I received.

And, no, it wasn’t always praise I heard! But usually it was. Therapists who fail to generate approval are called ex-therapists with short careers.

5. Yes, the hours can be long. I suffered some internal conflict during the first years of independent practice. I tried to balance my desire to be the best clinical psychologist I could be, working late to support my young family, honoring my love for my wife and children with face time, answering emergency calls, and being good to myself. I had to avoid having the life sucked out of me by competing demands. I got better at this juggling act as I aged, my nest egg grew, and the kids required my physical presence less.

My work day and work week shortened by choice as time passed. I gave up carrying the now antiquated pager (in the days before cell phones), partly to reduce the crazy-making, self-inflicted wound of being on call at all times. I also discovered that when my patients knew they could not reach me past 9 pm, they found reserves of patience and fortitude to endure on their own. It is foolish for a therapist to wear himself to a nub and believe he is simultaneously providing anyone with a model of good self-care. He needs to be at his best in session, which required, at least for me, enough rest.

With respect to chatting “the ears off (my) friends and family,” two things: first, if you are tired, you possess less energy to talk. Secondly, I’m an introvert, so when the fuel tank is empty I prefer freedom from intense social interaction, not more of it. The exception was when my girls were small. I couldn’t wait to play with them and love them up.

6. I never felt lonely as a therapist. Again, my basic introversion helped with this. Plus, I found intense therapeutic interaction stimulating, as both an intellectual challenge and as social contact. I’ve been the lucky beneficiary of a wonderful spouse, amazing children, and good friends. I never avoided activities or neighborhoods for fear of running into a patient. Indeed, I don’t think the idea ever occurred to me. I did, of course, say hello to people here and there. Occasionally it was uncomfortable (probably for both of us), but nothing of lasting impact. It is usually a pleasure when I encounter former patients now.

I cannot speak for all therapists. The answers you’ve read are mine alone.

Again, thanks to Jay at Who are You Calling Sensitive?Life in a Bind — BPD and Me, Saving Mommy, Possibly Penny, The Empress and the Fool and others who have offered questions they’d like to ask their therapist. And my appreciation to those of you who reblogged my previous efforts to answer such questions, including Spacefreedomlove, Understanding Me and Her, and Sunshine After the Rain. If I failed to credit you, let me know and I will correct my error.

I intend to address more of these “questions to therapists” in the future.

24 thoughts on “The Answers to More Questions You’d Like to Ask your Therapist

  1. Reblogged this on foreverdreamingoflove and commented:
    This is so interesting… Hope you don’t mind me reblogging.

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  2. That post has become the gift that keeps on giving! Thank you for being so open and honest with your answers, for sharing details one, as a patient, often wonders about but rarely gets to hear. What a blessed life you have had Dr.Stein. Thank you for sharing it with us!

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  3. Reblogged this on spacefreedomlove and commented:
    The brilliant Dr. Stein answers more of your questions!

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  4. I have often wondered about the hours and how it feels afterward. As a teacher who has to talk, answer questions, and meet needs of kids all day, I need no less than a half hour of silence to decompress before I can be warm and congenial with people in my personal life. For therapists, the listening all day, really listening, seems mentally exhausting. I could see needing some solitude.

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    • Indeed. When the price of concentrating got too great (in terms of exhaustion), I knew it was time to retire. While it lasted it was a rewarding ride.

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  5. It’s good to know you never got really lonely. I sometimes wonder about my therapist, as he works such long hours and gives so much of himself. But, of course that’s his own self care that I try to manage way too much! lol

    Funny about the dreams. I have been doing a lot of healing rapidly and he told me his wife woke him up in the night asking if he was okay. He said, “yeah, why?” And she said he had been chanting in native tongue out loud while asleep. He was dreaming about me! So strange.

    Thanks for the insight! I look forward to reading more questions.. and I might have a few of my own to ask!

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    • Of course, not all dreams are remembered, so it is likely I had some about patients I didn’t recall. Sounds like you are making rapid progress. Congratulations! Thanks for your comment and please do feel free to ask questions.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Dr. S, I was so happy to hear you enjoyed laughing in your clinical practice, too! I’ve been very blessed that both the psychologist I used to see and my new therapist both enjoy my sense of humor. Sometimes we have some time left, and I try to share something amusing. The week before last it was this ridiculous news story:

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/ala-middle-school-tells-kids-throw-cans-shooters-article-1.2075972

    Remember: Canned soup is your friend when facing a terrorist. 😉

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    • Harry, where have you been? I’ve missed your written “voice.” The sad thing about the “can” story is that these people appear to be serious. Hope all is well with you. Keep laughing.

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    • Another thought, Harry. Paraphrasing the famous line of Mae West, “Is that a can of soup in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”

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      • Hi Dr, G, the holidays were especially difficult this year (had a crisis appt), but I’m back on the good side. You, my friend, are always like an intelligent friend who shared some thoughts for the day, and it is always *so* appreciated. 🙂 BTW it is 72 today, and I have the front door open for the Maltese babies. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Glad your life is sunnier in both senses. Yes, indeed, the weather here is no bargain. About 17 inches of snow kept me busy yesterday afternoon and this morning. Be well, Harry and thanks for your good words.

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  7. Wow, a heartfelt thank you for answering my questions Doc! I can see you gave them a lot of thought. So much insight for therapy clients here x

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  8. Reblogged this on Who are you calling sensitive? and commented:
    Inside the mind of your therapist… Dr Geraldstein takes the time to answer the questions I had about my therapist DS (and which I’m sure you were asking too). Very insightful.

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  9. Reblogged this on whoareyoucallingsensitive and commented:
    Inside the mind of your therapist… Dr Gerald Stein takes the time to answer the questions I had about my therapist DS (and which I’m sure you were asking too). Very insightful.

    Like

  10. Reblogged this on Life in a Bind – BPD and me and commented:
    This is a fantastic follow-up post to Dr Stein’s “Five things you wanted to know about your therapist but were afraid to ask: The answers”, which I reblogged in November 2014. In the November post, Dr Stein wrote a response to blogger SpaceFreedomLove, who had written about the questions she really wanted to ask her therapist. Those questions prompted a whole host of questions by other bloggers who really related to her words, and in this post, Dr Stein addresses some of those further questions.

    I find it fascinating – and I wonder, cheekily, if Dr Stein does too(!) – that different bloggers, myself included, posed quite a different set of questions. The questions we ask can be quite revealing of ourselves, our circumstances and our preoccupations. Dr Stein’s posts have revealed aspects of how he felt about his work as a therapist and how he felt about his clients. What have our questions revealed about us? Despite their apparent differences, are there some obvious threads? Is there one key question or concern, or perhaps a small set of them, underlying all of these other questions?

    Dr Stein has tantalisingly said that he will be addressing more of those questions in future, and I am very much looking forward to the next post. In the meantime, I hope you find this instalment as fascinating and informative as I did!

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  11. Thank you so much for another wonderful post and fascinating set of answers to some excellent questions! I completely agree with Spacefreedomlove – it’s the gift that keeps on giving! And excitingly, will continue to do so, according to your final sentence…

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    • Thank you for being an interested and thoughtful reader (and writer)! Without you and others who create a receptive audience, I wouldn’t be writing, I suspect.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks for this post. This is fascinating to see such an open and honest account of a therapist’s views. You sound like a good one! (or, you were a good one 🙂 ) There are not many therapists blogging, perhaps partly because of confidentiality issues. It’s good to have this perspective and to see that you are actually human beings as well!

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  13. […] sick of me and just longs for me to be gone. The wonderful Dr. Stein had recently wrote a post on The Answers to More Questions You’d Like to Ask Your Therapist. I love his openness about the therapeutic process, as his compassion and care shine through his […]

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