Being Excluded From Your Therapist’s Life: Reasons You Haven’t Heard Before

598px-Ethiopian_Stop_Sign.svg

We’ve all had idols. Perhaps a sports hero, an older sibling, a teacher, or — God help you — your therapist. In the latter case, authorities tell you why a relationship outside the office is not permitted:

  • The shrink might exploit you.
  • Progress would be hindered if your therapist occupied the dual role of therapist and friend.
  • A healer needs downtime.
  • Personal information about the counselor complicates the transference relationship: the extent to which your issues will play out in session.
  • The therapist would be of little help if he feels too much of your pain, as he will if you become more than a patient — an important part of his life outside.
  • The ethical guidelines of the therapist’s profession prohibit intimacy.

Much of this sounds unfair and unfortunate to the patient, however true. Many believe they would benefit by having MORE of the therapist. Jealousy of those who claim more of him isn’t unusual. Additionally, the imbalance of the relationship is troubling. You pay the doctor, but hear little personal about him. The shrink takes your cash and wants to be told everything about you. I’ll try to shine a different light on this subject:

  1. Therapists are human. No one who admires, say, John Hamm or Scarlett Johansson, imagines them on the potty. At least, I hope not. Neither do those who esteem their psychoanalyst hold an image in mind of this particular pose. We stand on feet of clay and need to clip the toenails on those feet. In real life, we get bored, say the wrong thing, lose patience, etc. We are not always sensitive and sometimes we are self-serving. You understand this in the abstract, but don’t witness it. It’s not pretty.
  2. Think about the best dinner you ever had. Now consider having the same meal morning and night. Would you enjoy the food as much? Too much familiarity with anything dulls the experience. To some extent, your therapist’s time is precious because it is in short supply. You visit him once or perhaps twice a week while watching a rapidly advancing clock. Were you to win more access to him, you’d find the contact less special. Even for those psychologists who are terrific human beings, familiarity breeds routine. Should you disbelieve this, I can refer you to my wife and children. They love me like crazy, but also recognize me as the sweaty guy who doesn’t enjoy being disturbed while I’m riding my exercycle or lifting weights.
  3. Many a client needs, at least for a time, to believe we are incredibly special — gifted to heal the hopeless. The illusion of magic works for the patient and is created by the patient. He must think of the counselor as a paragon of virtue and virtuosity. The halo placed atop the psychologist’s head is an imaginative construction of the client, possible because he lacks a detailed vision of who the therapist is. Only with this undeserved enhancement of his benefactor can the man on the couch stand up to walk the tight rope therapy requires: exposing his secrets, tolerating emotional pain, and taking behavioral risks.  Should he see behind the shrink’s professional mask, he might hesitate. The worse for him.
  4. Because you have limited contact with us, we can make the time special for you. The counselor’s job is to invest every bit of his knowledge and concentration on you for the better part of an hour. He does not regularly do this at home, with his friends, on vacation or at the movies. He performs his wizardry for a small number of people. That is, an expert counselor does this for all his clients and only his clients. He tries to make you his exclusive focus every second of the 50-minute hour. Indeed, the shrink can only accomplish this because the time is short. You might think you would accept a lower-intensity version of the doctor, but I doubt it. And you shouldn’t accept such a thing if you already do. Patients receive the best of us in a very special way. Yes, we offer love and more hours of contact to those outside the office. You, however, and others who sit where you sit, get something no one else gets: the healing art.

I doubt that anything written above will dim your desire — cause you to give up what some of you want or think would please you: a chunk of the doctor’s real life. As I’ve said, in some ways it might be best that you don’t relinquish this wish. Still, occasionally a therapist, like a parent, is right when he says, “I’m doing this — keeping these limits — for your own good.” Granted, the frustration may persist. I hope, however, you recognize an element of necessity in your dilemma.

A good life requires our effort to accept those things we cannot change. However disappointing, no one gets everything he wants. The only exception is a kid in a candy store, and he leaves the sweet shop with an upset stomach.

A follow-up to this post can be found here: How would a Friendship with your Therapist Work?

I just came upon this NY Times column adding still one more perspective on therapist boundaries: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/04/21/beyond-the-boundary-principle/#more-156706/

The Ethiopian Stop Sign is the work of Gigillo83 and is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

65 thoughts on “Being Excluded From Your Therapist’s Life: Reasons You Haven’t Heard Before

  1. Well written & touching explanation. It makes my current struggle with transference & denial of a peak behind that veil of secrecy & privacy a bit easier to swallow.

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  2. Always amazing posts! While I trust my Therapist professionally and feel I can speak to him about anything and, yes, I look forward to seeing him every week, I can’t help but wonder if I am somehow holding something of myself back because I do not seem to view my Therapist in the same way as most others do. There are no feelings of dependence, I am not interested in his private life and neither do I wish for something more. I only want to work with a blank canvas for 50min weekly. Reading your post, I now think that perhaps I am not holding back and maybe just taking a realistic view of that professional relationship….mmm…or perhaps I’m just kidding myself and holding back on the connection…food for thought

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    • Thank you for the compliment. I wouldn’t necessarily assume there is anything to worry about in your connection to your therapist. The range of possible reactions is wide.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My therapist actually gives more away than most. Not that we’re hanging out on Saturday nights, but he throws small tidbits of self-disclosure into that mix that I think humanize him for me, and I’ve never trusted or felt closer to a therapist. Counselors I saw here and there as a young person working through family dysfunction when I was freshly out of the house were often so two-dimensional that our time together felt very pragmatic and clinical. There’s a warmth to my connection with this therapist that I think has been helpful for building a trust, which made therapy the safe place it should be for me to sort through stuff that had been dragging me down for years. Transference? Maybe a little. I think of him mostly as this cooky, insightful Jewish uncle whom I can turn to for guidance when shit makes no sense.

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    • It is hard to know exactly what the norm is with respect to self-disclosure. I certainly told my patients stories from my own life to make a professional point. As you know, the Freudian model has the the client on a couch. The therapist is out of sight. I don’t know anyone who does this now, although I “know of” some who continue to. The kinds of disclosures you describe can be humanizing, as you say. They might also serve to fuel the wish to know more. In any case, I’m happy for you that your connection with your therapist is a good one.

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      • In my case, it makes me want to know less. I think relating to the patient and telling your life story to the patient are two different things. I am at a point where I’m trying to figure out how tell my counselor that she talks to much about herself or move on. Sometimes by what she says about herself, it feels like she is saying, that is how I should do things too.

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      • Excellent point, Devin. I have heard this complaint from clients in my own practice regarding the behavior of previous therapists. No doubt, for some counselors, the therapist’s chair becomes something of a bully pulpit. There is much danger in this.

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  4. One can be aware of every common sense item, every fact, every bit of reality outlined in your essay. However, idolatry can come as much (if not more) from the heart as from the mind. Jealousy, love, hate, etc. are all feelings, all driven by the heart. When the mind knows something but the heart is not in sync, when feelings are strong even while the mind understands the truths you laid out, it becomes a battle between the two….what I know vs. what I feel. Unfortunately for many, feelings trump those understood truths, especially when the feelings are as intense as those created in therapy.

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  5. Thank you for writing this! I currently am going through a time when I want more from my therapist, more information about him. He always turns my questions around to focus on me and why I’m asking. It’s frustrating!!! Your post, however, allows me to see that there is a sort of magic surrounding the therapeutic relationship. Not knowing is actually a good thing.

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  6. As always, your thoughtful missive brought a little more depth and perspective to transference issue. Definitely to be shared with clients. Thank you!

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  7. Thank you very much for this. It is incredibly helpful. There have been times when I’ve known things about my therapist that have made the session difficult. To be fair to her, she only made the disclosure because I asked outright how her mum was. I knew she’d been ill. She told me that her mum had died a few weeks previously. For me then to be talking about my mum in session was quite difficult but I told her that I felt bad about it and she was fine and we worked through it. So I can see hiw disclosure can be problematic. However, other disclosures have been helpful to me.
    For your next blog; could we please have a list of similar reasons why we can’t have our therapists AFTER therapy has finished?! (Tongue in cheek) thank you.

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  8. Another wonderful post, thank you so much! I would love to comment, and will do so tomorrow evening hopefully, but as there are now fewer than six hours until I have to get up, I better get myself to bed! But I just wanted to say a ‘thank you’ now, as I really really appreciated your thoughts and input on this subject, which causes me so much pain and which is something I have been desperately trying to write about myself, from the client’s perspective, but it has been too close to home in recent weeks…..I know your final sentence about acceptance is right, and every little encouragement to do so, including your fantastic post, makes that a little bit easier…

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    • I’m glad this helped. Having read your thoughts on the subject, I know this is no walk in the park for you. I’ll keep rooting for you.

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      • Thank you so much, it’s very good to know that 🙂 I particularly appreciated your point 4), and this is one my own therapist has tried to get across to me when we have spoken about the pain that I feel with this exclusion. She has reminded me that I am getting to know her in a very particular way, as a therapist, that only a few people experience. She gives me her undivided attention, and she does that for two hours a week. I had said it was painful that even strangers could get more information about her life through casual conversation, that I could obtain, but she reminded me that she doesn’t even see her best friends for two hours a week. With regard to your point 3), I wondered upon reading it, whether this was part of the reason I felt uncomfortable with the blog post I mentioned in my ‘ blogging psychotherapists’ post….I found the post I spoke about helpful in that it helped me see my therapist as human, but I found it unhelpful in that it made me think of her as ‘all-too-human’, as incredibly vulnerable. I do believe that therapists are gifted – but that post really shook that belief in therapists’ ability to sustain the ‘healing art’ in difficult circumstances and in the face of certain behaviour or statements by clients. The halo and the lack of a detailed vision do indeed seem to go together – in this case the halo (in my mind) was damaged by a detailed vision of what the therapist thought, felt and dreamed about.
        There are a couple of things I wanted to ask you about, because I wasn’t sure if I understood your intention in using certain words or phrases…in point 3) you spoke about ‘seeing behind the professional mask’, and although on the one hand I understand what you mean (and the mask, given the content of point 3) may be partly of the client’s creation) – but openness and directness, as far as that is possible, is important to me in therapy, and so the idea of a ‘mask’, in one sense, is troubling. When I told Jane that I felt she was ‘hidden’ from me, she reassured me by saying that what I _did_ see of her, _was_ real, and was not a mask. That ‘Jane the therapist’ was part of who Jane was, and not a pretence or a role. And so I wondered whether the ‘mask’ you spoke about, was simply the fact that the therapist cannot reveal all, cannot burden the client with more information that they need to or can know, but that what the therapist does reveal, little though it may be, is still very much part of them. I guess the same applies to the phrase ‘the doctor’s real life’ – is this the doctor’s or the patient’s terminology, and if it is the former, presumably it is simply shorthand for the doctor’s non-professional life? Please do not take these as criticisms (I am often paranoid about upsetting people 🙂 ) – I just wanted to understand a bit better what you meant. You know how highly I think of your posts and how helpful they are to me, this one included! And how much I value your input and support. I hope it’s okay if I reblog this at some point over the next couple of weeks – it might even finally unblock my writer’s block over writing in more detail, my own perspective on this issue! Many thanks again for this post…

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      • To stay with the metaphor, the mask hides only a part of the therapist. What the counselor shows you should be real. The doctor’s “real life,” similarly, is meant to say his life “outside of therapy.” You do see the part of his real life that makes up his work. I would also say, if a doctor is well put together, he is not an absolutely different creature outside the office. There is an integrity to him — he is integrated. He is not in some sort of adolescent identity crisis, trying to figure out how the parts go together. Finally, don’t worry about criticizing me. I know you didn’t, but I can handle a little criticism and sometimes benefit from it. Finally, absolutely no problem in reblogging. I’m flattered. Be well!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you so much for these additional comments! And I have finally managed to write about how it feels to be excluded, from the client perspective. I’ve scheduled the post for Saturday evening 😉 thank you for the motivation and inspiration your post provided!

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      • Not at all. What a sweet thing to say! Just FYI, I will also be posting a follow-up to my “exclusion” post, dealing with how being a “friend” and patient simultaneously might actually work in practice, from the therapist’s perspective. I will look forward to reading your new piece, as well!

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      • Oh, can’t wait to read it! 🙂

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  9. […] a sports hero, an older sibling, a teacher, or — God help you — your therapist.” The blog posting went on to describe why a therapist needs to refrain from personal connection and identifying with […]

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    • For a sceptical take on the entire therapy project, you might wish to read Will Carrier’s post. While I don’t agree with a number of the points he makes, you might.

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      • Hi, sorry just wanted to check whether this reply was meant for me as I didn’t receive a WP notification but it appears under my comment? It’s not unheard of for the order of comments in WP to appear odd 🙂 I also ask because I read the post but given my immersion in the therapy process (and definite tendencies to idolise my therapists! ) I’m afraid I found it hard to be agree with any of the points! But an interesting read nonetheless so thank you for pointing me to it (if indeed it was for me!) 🙂

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      • It was not intended for you at all. It was a brief response to Will Carrier’s post.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, clarification very very very much appreciated. 🙂 I’m still a relative WP novice and also sometimes find things confusing that are obvious to most people! I didn’t realise your comment was a response to the ping back. ….

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      • No offense meant, Dr. Stein.

        I do have considerable reticence about continuing therapy. Everything I wrote was meant to be food for thought rather than a treatise on the entire mental health profession. I have been both helped and hindered by your counter parts in my part of the world.

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      • Thank you, Will. Had I taken it personally, I’d probably have been less likely to post the ping-back. There is a good deal of data out there that contradicts some of the things you said, but I am not prepared to write a treatise either. I must say, though, I’m jealous of those therapists making $300 or $400 an hour for counseling. I’ve never met a single one! In any case, I’m sorry your personal experience with therapists hasn’t been uniformly better. One last thing: thanks for your service.

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      • Jealous? You know what they say…”location, location, location.”

        I did write that I had some positive experience with one therapist, btw.

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      • Got it. In my next life, should I again be a psychologist, I will consult you on the location issue! Be well.

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      • Wouldn’t being a plastic surgeon be a better option? You would still be helping the mentally ill and keeping the same office hours. 😉

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      • Ah, I see you have the makings of a fine career counselor. Oops. I forgot the last word might be a problem;)

        Liked by 1 person

      • (Touche’) Consultant?

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      • You drive a hard bargain, Will, but you’ve got the job!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh…well, I didn’t realize that we were negotiating. But, that works!

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I have been thinking a lot about this post.

    The paradox (or perhaps the power) of the therapeutic relationship is that the therapist becomes such a central figure in the patient’s life, while the patient is one therapeutic hour,and can never mean as much to the patient as the therapist does to the patient. ( a good and proper thing, I know in my head).

    I have sat in both chairs in the consulting room and when I am in the patient chair, I often have a hard time believing anything about the unrequited aspect of my positive feeling could possibly be “therapeutic.”
    Transference Shmansference …
    …just saying
    Jill

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    • I think Brewdun, who commented earlier, would agree entirely. I guess the short answer is that not everything that feels unrequited is necessarily a bad thing. And, just to clarify, my patients were not people I took a casual interest in; rather, a very intense and dedicated interest. Still, for those who idealized me, the levels of importance, not to mention affection, were not equivalent. I recently came across the following quote, from Alfred de Musset’s “Une Bonne Fortune” that touches on one aspect of this very human dilemma, not as regards therapy, but as regards romantic love: “We talked for a long time; she was simple and kind. Knowing no evil, she did only good; She gave me alms from the riches of her heart, And listening intently as she poured out her heart, Scarcely daring to think, I gave her mine; Thus she carried off my life, and never even knew it.”

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      • You are correct, I do agree with Jill’s comment. And, oh my, that de Musset quote is exquisitely beautiful and touching, and utterly heartbreaking.

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  11. Reblogged this on Life in a Bind – BPD and me and commented:
    Another fantastic, illuminating and thought-provoking post by Dr Stein, this time on the topic of feeling excluded from your therapist’s life. This is an issue that brings me a great deal of pain in my own therapeutic relationship, and which I have been trying (for several weeks!) to write about. Sometimes, however, things are just too close to home at a particular time, or simply too difficult to write about. Sometimes a little bit of distance or perspective (or a different angle) is needed, before the experience can be put into some sort of order, and written down.

    Dr Stein’s post brings the ‘therapist’s angle’ into focus in a way that provides reassurance and some key points to try and hold onto, when that feeling of exclusion feels overwhelming and distressing.

    Dr Stein talks about the ‘healing art’ of therapy, but I am hoping his artful way with words will have released my writer’s block on this subject, and that I will be able to write about the ‘client’s angle’ on this topic, very soon!

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  12. Thank you so much. I cannot begin to describe how much I struggle with this, it really has become the focus of therapy for me (I have borderline personality disorder). This helps me understand, to a degree. I suspect fully taking it on board and feeling and accepting the truth of it will take quite some time.

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  13. amandarocksyoursocks

    Conceptually, I get it. Emotionally, it kinda goes over my head… I just can’t/don’t want to accept any other way than what I want and desire. I understand what role/needs my therapist is filling, yet I struggle to verbalize these needs…so most days I would rather suppress my feelings. Not the best option, I know…

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    • It can be helpful to bring these issues into the open in therapy. I can’t, of course, guarantee it would be in your particular situation. I can only say therapy involves risk and, without risk, growth is hard to come by. Best of luck with this, Amanda.

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  14. […] letter; chatting with conference delegates; meeting a colleague; talking to a client. In his helpful post about the reasons behind the ‘exclusion’ of clients from therapists’ lives, Dr Stein (a […]

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  15. […] Being Excluded From Your Therapist’s Life: Reasons You Haven’t Heard Before, and How would a Friendship with Your Therapist Work? both from a wise retired therapist, Dr. […]

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  16. I wonder if you have ever interviewed people who have had personal relationships with therapists outside of their offices, as well as therapists who crossed the professional boundary with their patients. If not, then your post has nothing to do with the real reasons why therapists are advised against getting personally infolved with clients, because it’s based on your beliefs rather than factual information.

    As a survivor of a dual relationship with a therapist, I can tell you that the reasons you have presented have nothing to do with the reality of this issue. Talk to the people who had “friendships” or sexual intimacy with their therapists. You will learn a lot from them and will want to re-write your post. In general, I find the level of arrogance and ignorance of many professionals astonishing when they confuse their beliefs and assumptions with facts.

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    • drgeraldstein

      Indeed, I have spoken with both therapists and patients who have been involved in dual relationships. You have the right to speak for yourself, but do you believe your opinions represent all patients and therapists? I have known therapists who had sexual relationships with patients, employed patients, brought (in one case) a client to live in his home, etc. I treated a patient who had a previous marital therapist who, after the session was over and the spouse left, “made out” with the patient. I knew a therapist who became friends with a group of several past patients, one of whom eventually claimed sufficient injury to report the doctor to the state ethics committee. Several of my own clients had previous negative experiences with mental health professionals who violated boundaries. I could go on at some length with more examples. If you wish to make a contribution to the discussion, it would be useful to write a comment about all the concerns you refer to as “the reality of the issue.” I invite you to do so. As to the question of “arrogance and ignorance,” I’ll allow the reader to make his or her own determination.

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      • I didn’t pretend to speak for all patients and therapists, and I don’t believe you speak for all of them either. When a certain topic is discussed, I believe, it is understood by default that everyone only expresses their vision of it. I also didn’t force my vision on your readers. There is no doubt that each of them will make their own determination whether you or I “allow” it or not, as they don’t need our permission to do so. As one of the readers, I’ve made my determination and I’ve expressed it. I don’t care what others will do.

        Anyway, the reason I bothered to go back here is because someone was trying to reach out to me from this blog and they got to a wrong place. If anyone wants to contact me, the best way to do it is through my website http://www.therapyconsumerguide.com. That is, of course, if this comment will be posted without editing or if it’ll be posted at all.

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      • drgeraldstein

        As you can see, your comment was posted without editing. I find your tone unfortunate. Of course, no one needs permission to make their own determination on any of this. I offered you, however, the chance to provide particulars to your indictment of me and the “many professionals” you tar with the same brush. Some readers might have found it helpful.

        Just as you suggested that I might never have spoken to any of those damaged by a therapist in your first comment, now you raised questions whether I might not post your reply at all. It appears you don’t know me and are making assumptions about me.

        It is easy to be critical. It is unfortunate when, given the opportunity, a person chooses not to back up their assertions with something concrete and constructive.

        One more thing. I am sorry you had the experience of a dual relationship with your therapist. I hope that the future is kinder to you.

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    • Dr. Stein arrogant? Wow. You obviously have not read many of his posts. I truly am sorry your therapist engaged you in a dual relationship. I sincerely hope you resolve your anger issues. In this way, perhaps you can be open to the altruistic guidance and support being offered by Dr. Stein., and other (former and working) therapists who are on the level and have strict, ethical standards.
      Be well.

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  17. Hi. I am currently in therapy for disorganized attachment, so this hits home for me. I actually woke up very early in the morning with an idea for a story to describe the struggle from a client’s perspective. I’m going to paste it here. Feel free to delete if it’s too long, but I think it really applies to some of the points you’ve made here.

    “Half of the Picture”

    One day I had the unique opportunity to go behind the scenes at the local art museum. I had a friend who knew someone on the board, and they gave a small group of us a behind the scenes tour. I was very eager for the opportunity since I love learning how things really work.

    Very shortly in, I could tell that this wasn’t going to be quite as interesting as what I’d hoped. We walked around and saw where offices were and things like that, but I was hoping to see more. I knew they had exhibits and pieces stored that were not currently on display to the public. That’s what I wanted to see. I got bored and started looking around, not really paying attention to our exceedingly dull and full of himself tour guide. I started to look for an opportunity to slip away, hopefully unnoticed. I slowly worked my way to the back of the group with the hope that I could just sort of get left behind.

    As the group starting moving on to the next fascinating meeting room or whatever was next on the tour, I noticed a door that was slightly ajar just to my left. I waited for the group to get a little farther down the hallway, and I quietly slipped through the doorway. I had found what I was looking for. There were paintings, vases, sculptures, and other works of art that were not currently on display. Some were nice, but most were unremarkable.

    However, there was one painting in particular that caught my eye. It had a sheet covering it, and the sheet had been pulled back or was falling off so that about half of the painting was exposed. I still felt pretty wary and didn’t want to get caught, so I didn’t touch the sheet that was covering the painting. I just stood there and studied the half of the painting that I could see.

    I didn’t know why yet, but the painting was fascinating. It was a painting of a woman. It reminded me a bit of the Mona Lisa. The woman was sitting in a chair, with a slightly bigger smile than that of the famous DaVinci painting. I found the woman to be beautiful, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. There was just something about her. Is it possible to see someone’s spirit just in a painting? No, that just doesn’t make sense.

    For some reason I just couldn’t look away. I felt like somehow I was getting to know the woman in the painting. But is that even possible? I was looking at half of a picture, and she was just sitting there. She wasn’t telling me anything about herself. After all, paintings don’t talk. As I stood there studying the picture I felt like I was starting to get to know myself in a new and deeper way. I guess maybe good art can do that. The best artists make you examine yourself and not just their work.

    I continued to study the painting, but it became painful and difficult. The things that it was revealing about myself were beginning to become very deep and surprising. As I was standing there by myself in that old storeroom surrounded by covered works of art, tears began streaming down my face. What in the world was happening? Am I crazy? Is this real? I was just supposed to go on a short tour. I’m here staring at half a painting and can’t bring myself to look away.

    I became a little more comfortable and a little more brave, so I decided to take the sheet off the other half of the painting, so I could see the other half of the woman that so fascinated me. I took hold of the edge of the sheet and attempted to pull it back to expose the other half of the picture. For some reason it wouldn’t budge. It must have been snagged on something. I took a step back and tried to figure out what the problem was. I didn’t see anything obvious so I tried again. No luck. The sheet wouldn’t budge. I was still stuck with half of a painting. I was so fascinated with the half of the painting I could see that I just had to see the other half. I became frustrated and started to cry. Why couldn’t I just pull that sheet back? It seemed like it should be so simple. I thought about grabbing the edge of the sheet and yanking with all my might to pull it back, but I was afraid of damaging the painting so I did not do it. I just continued to stand there, crying and looking at half of a woman that seemed to peer into my soul, leaving me vulnerable and exposed.

    “Ah, I see you’ve found her,” said the voice of an older woman right behind me. I about jumped out of my shoes and screamed I was so startled. I thought I was alone in that storage room, but I guess I was wrong.

    After I caught my breath and my heart was no longer pounding out of my chest, I asked the woman what she was talking about. She went on to explain, “Every once in awhile we get someone like you who wanders in here. Most don’t notice this painting, but a few do. Don’t be alarmed, but I saw you trying to get the sheet off the painting so you could see the other half.”

    “I’m sorry,” I said, “The painting was so beautiful I wanted to see the other half. I wasn’t trying to hurt anything.”

    “Oh I know,” she said sympathetically. She could tell that I had been upset. “I have been in charge of the works in storage for years, and there seems to be something odd about that painting. This may sound crazy, but it seems to behave differently than the other works being stored here.”

    “Behave differently?” I asked. “What do you mean? It’s just a painting, how can it ‘behave’?”

    “Let me explain,” she replied. “This painting is actually of a real woman. For some reason only her closest friends and family are able to remove that sheet and look at the whole painting. I’ve been here for more years that I care to admit and I have yet to figure it out. They look at her for awhile, and then put the sheet back as you see it and go on their way.”

    “That doesn’t seem fair,” I replied. “Why do they get to see the whole painting and I only get to see half? Why are they so special?”

    “I don’t know,” she replied. “I don’t understand it myself. I have only ever seen half of the painting as well. There is one other thing about this painting though that I don’t think you realize.”

    “What is that?” I said, still fuming over the unfairness of those select few who get to see the whole woman in this painting and not just the half that I see.

    “Please forgive me,” she said, “but I watched you for quite awhile while you were studying the painting. I saw how you were fascinated and became quite emotional. I knew that you were learning more about yourself than you were learning about the woman in the painting. It’s a very powerful experience. But you are not the only one. It’s happened to me and a select few other wanderers that have found themselves in here over the years.”

    She continued, “And I know right now that you might feel cheated because you only get to see half of the painting, and while you might not believe me at first I need to explain how this painting works. You know how you feel like the woman in this painting is somehow teaching you about yourself and exposing your soul?”

    “Yes, absolutely.” I said, “I’ve never felt anything like it.”

    “Well,” she explained, “While her friends and family get to see the whole painting, and they somehow see her more completely than you do, you are also getting something that they are not. She doesn’t look into their souls and uncover their pasts like she does yours. I know because I’ve watched them. They certainly enjoy the painting and are touched by it in many ways, but it doesn’t have the same effect on them that it has had on you and me and a few other people. You may not like to hear it, but it is giving you what you need. You way want to see the whole picture, but right now you need to see yourself more than you need to see the other half of that painting.”

    I knew that she was right. I didn’t want to admit it, but she was right. And she had experienced it as well, so she knew.

    “Well, I have been here awhile and I need to get going soon. Is there any way I could come back to visit this painting again.? I have a feeling that I might need to.”

    “Absolutely,” she said. “This door will be open for you as long as you need it to be.”

    “As long as I need it to be?” I asked. “What does that mean?”

    “Well,” she explained, “Some people have come here for years, and some for a few months. Somehow the door is open when they need it to be open, but when they don’t need it to be open anymore, they come and the door is locked. I can’t explain it. It just happens that way. There was one time where someone came and the door was open and they were able to take the whole sheet off, like her friends and family can, after years of only seeing half the painting. That’s only ever happened once that I know of though. More than likely, one day you will come and the door will be locked and you won’t be able to get in. Even though it will be difficult, somehow you will understand that you have learned all you can from the painting and it is time to move on. That probably sounds impossible to you right now, but I have seen it happen a number of times.”

    I just stood there for a moment, trying to take in all that she was saying. I was amazed, stunned, excited, thankful and saddened somehow all at once. What I privilege that I had stumbled upon, to see this treasure that so few people got to see, and to let it change me for the better.

    “Thank you so much for explaining this all to me,” I said. “I have a feeling I will see you again soon. Now I have to find the people I came with and get on out of here.”

    “Yes, fellow traveler, I will see you soon,” the older lady said as she disappeared back into the storeroom.

    I was left alone in the hallway of the museum to ponder what had just happened. I didn’t know what would happen next, but I knew that I would never be the same.

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    • drgeraldstein

      My apologies for not getting to this sooner. The story is wonderful and captures a disorienting and painful, but necessary part of the therapy experience. Thank you for choosing to comment in this way!

      Like

    • Judy, what a wonderful story you wrote! I loved reading it, and I’m moved by it. Thank you for sharing.

      Dr. Stein, I’d like to thank you to for your blog. It was very helpful and clarifying.

      Like

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