The Therapist’s Office as a Refuge

Therapy sessions have changed. Or perhaps I should say, they are the same as always, but the world isn’t. The consulting room remains a quiet place for quiet conversation. Everywhere else is noisier and more crowded, with fewer spaces of refuge and much distraction. Almost nowhere are you (and you alone) the sole concern of someone who is not your small child.

You are worse for this, but something can be done. More on taking action later.

First, let’s look back before the advent of cell phones. I’m speaking of the days prior to elevator music (unless you brought a violinist with you), TV, and radio. In other words, less than one hundred years ago.

If you don’t live a rural life or reside away from flight paths and railroads, you probably don’t know what has been lost.

Where else, other than in therapy, do you obtain the undistracted concentration of another? Not over dinner if the TV is on or music is playing. Not if your phone is on. Not if you or your partner are reading or looking out the window.

I recall a single-cell cartoon showing a middle-aged couple over coffee. He is reading the newspaper and his partner is talking.

“I’m sorry dear, I wasn’t paying attention. Can you repeat everything you’ve said since we married?”

The draw of the personal phone is powerful. According to a 2013 survey, “At least 9 percent (of those surveyed) admitted to grabbing the phone while having sexual relations. Among those 18 to 34 years-old, the number climbs to 20 percent.”

This finding gives new meaning to the word “threesome” and the phrase ménage à trois.

Some patients might benefit from a public address announcement requesting them to turn off electronic devices. Would they want their surgeon to take calls while operating on their brain? For much of my career I made sure I couldn’t be summoned instantaneously. Patients understood I checked messages a few times a day. The ER was available if they needed urgent care. Nobody died.

Many of us complain of lacking intimacy, but the little bugger in our pocket mocks those complaints. Should you wish someone’s full attention, start by giving it.

Why must the TV be on during dinner, creating a hurdle to conversation? How many TVs do you own? The husband of a friend installed a television in every room of their home, including the bathrooms. He was neither a patient nor a patient man, by the way. I recall a famous therapist who carried two cell phones. I once saw him holding conversations on both simultaneously.

I’d guess, for some of you at least, the unconscious draw of counseling is not only your therapist’s help, but that the time is yours, yours alone, without disturbance: a refuge.

I realize a few of you need noise — the hum of things — to distract you: the radio or TV chatter makes you feel secure and reduces your loneliness.

However, if you don’t fear the stillness, and want greater relationship intensity and intimacy, here is some guidance: an antidote for the monstrous, electronically hectored life you live.

First, acknowledge that your life is partly of your making.

Then, take control. Make the days what you wish them to be, don’t simply endure them.

You need not tolerate people who invite their phone to dinner with you. You can say, “I thought this was for the two of us alone,” nodding in the direction of the inanimate third-party on the table. Smile sweetly when you do.

Sell or junk all but one or two TVs. Exclude electronics from dinner at home.

The family will not cheer this: “Mom! Dad! This is the 21st century! Everyone else does this. Why are you punishing me?”

Turn off the music. Sound proof your room. Get ear plugs. Go to quiet restaurants. Spend time in the country. Alert companions that you are no longer a slave to your phone, the Twitter account, and the latest update on their visit to the w/c.

If you struggle to do these things, perhaps you need to talk with a therapist about self-assertion.

Whose life is it? Who’s the boss, applesauce?

Have a nice day!

No. Make a nice day.

Rant over.