A memorable session – Therapy with Dr. Stoneface, part V

Now after saying some general things about Dr. Stoneface´s therapeutic style , I will start to describe my actual therapy with him. I already mentioned that there weren´t many changes compared to the probationary sessions. So first I want to talk about something that happened early in January, in one of the first sessions after the Christmas break.

I have already mentioned that I have unusual sexual preferences, and as I described here, this had already lead to a heated discussion with Dr. Stoneface.  During my Christmas holidays I had attended an event by a performance artist who was experimenting with BDSM practices. Part of this event had been that members of the audience could (if they agreed, of course) have some of those practices tried on them. I had picked up all my courage and asked to participate. The experience itself was fairly disappointing – if anything, it was uncomfortable.

In retrospect, this is not much of a surprise. It was not intended that any kind of relationship or rapport would develop between me and the person who did the stuff with me; and the stuff that was done  is not necessarily what I´m into (which I couldn´t have known back then). Also, I was asked to strip to my underwear (no, this did not happen in front of an audience^^) and I hate not being fully dressed. I had decided to go along with everything, however, because, once again, I didn´t trust my instincts. I had a feeling that if I followed my instincts, I would always run away from everything that could involve feeling ashamed, and I didn´t want to live my life like that. In trying to open up to good or important experiences, I sometimes overstepped my own limits.

It needs to be said, however, that the guys in charge of this event were perfectly decent. When I at first hesitated, for example, they didn´t try to persuade me, but instead asked if I was sure and told me to not let any kind of group pressure (other members of the audience had already signed up) influence me. After the event, I got into a conversation with one of them, who patiently listened to the sudden rush of waffling I was overcome with. I guess I told him all about my failed relationship… Later, he invited me to join the performers for a drink and he asked the artist who had organized the event all those awkward things about BDSM he figured I might want to know but didn´t dare ask (he was spot on). Anyway, the evening ended with the artist asking me if I wanted to go to a scene club with him and his girlfriend the week after, and he also offered me a proper session. I told him I would think about it (which he accepted in an instance, a very good sign).

I was indeed very unsure if I should accept his offer or not. On the one hand, I wanted to make more, and hopefully more positive experiences. On the other hand the experience I had just made had not been as good as I had hoped; what I had learned was all a bit too much at once and so I didn´t feel quite up to going to a club, leave alone a session. Therefore, I felt it might be a good idea to ask Dr. Stoneface for his opinion. Maybe he could help me figure out if I was denying myself an interesting, possibly important experience if I refused the guy´s offer or if I was really not ready for it.

What I didn´t take into account, however, was that Dr. Stoneface would think living out my “perverted” sexual orientation was always unhealthy and nothing I could ever be “ready” for. I started the session by telling him about the event, which wasn´t easy. Giving him the details was embarrassing, and he reacted with a mixture of shock and pity. He couldn´t have been more dismayed if they had raped me, which really doesn´t do them justice. When I said I was considering the guy´s offer, Dr. Stoneface seemed actually alarmed. Apparently he thought I was seriously misguided. On the one hand, his reaction increased my doubts about how good an idea it had been to subject myself to this experience. On the other hand, it made me angry because I felt that he wasn´t even interesting in sorting out my feelings about this. He was so clearly biased about the whole sexual deviance thing that I didn´t feel it was safe to tell him about the emotional issues I was faced with in the aftermath of the event. I felt it was very likely he would take sides with my shame and the worries that I had participated in something shady and indecent.

And so I knew that I would have to sort out all questions pertaining to this by myself. Like with the e-mail by my former friend, the real important stuff was once again excluded from therapy. So I went home after a frustrating session and tried to figure out if I wanted to accept the guy´s offer or not.

I lost a lot of respect for Dr. Stoneface after this episode. I had assumed that you can tell a therapist everything and he will not be shocked, either because he´s heard it all, or because he himself has been down in the dark depths of his own psyche and knows what a mess we humans are. If this, however, this fairly harmless experience among consenting adults could shock him so much, then apparently he didn´t have a very strong stomach when it came to mankind´s darker side. I think I was actually disappointed in his lack of bravery. Even if he didn´t think my “deviance” was quite healthy, he could at least have been curious as to what it meant to me. This is really something that occurs to me just now: I never saw any genuine curiosity on his part. He was always calm, unenthusiastic,  though mostly mellow, as if he was an old, wise man – and this could shock him? How much trust could I then put in his alleged wisdom and maturity, leave alone in his ability to bear my perspective on things, my feelings?

In the end, let me say a few words about how my therapy experience and my experience at the BSDM/art event compare. I entered both that event and my therapy with a certain kind of deliberate stupidity, meaning that I was overriding my gut feeling because I thought it was stopping me from doing the right thing. In the case of therapy I thought my gut feeling was mere resistance, in the case of the event I thought my anxious feelings and shame were always going to be there, no matter what the circumstances, and therefore I shouldn´t let them inhibit me anymore.

The difference lies in how these experiences turned out. The BDSM guys were very anxious to not put me under any kind of pressure. They always made it clear to me that everything was up to me, that I didn´t have to do anything just because the majority was doing it, and that participating in BDSM activities was not a matter of all-or-nothing. I might not want to do specific things, I might not want to do them with certain persons, I might not want to do them now and here. And that is fine. Nobody takes offense. And this is why, eventually, I could follow my instincts and decline the artist´s offer, though in a very friendly fashion; and he wrote me an equally friendly reply saying that it was very reasonable that I didn´t rush into anything and that he himself had only started exploring his orientation in his late thirties. And a while later I started “exploring” (what a cheesy expression) all these nice possibilities in a relationship, which suited my personality much better than stranger-to-stranger experiences anyway, and we all lived happily ever after.

Now for Dr. Stoneface. Dr. Stoneface did in many ways do the exact opposite of what the artist did. Dr. Stoneface actually fostered my readiness to override my instincts. When I was skeptical about his policy of demanding a fee whenever I missed a session (even if I announced it months in advance; I´ll write about this in another entry), he coldly said that absolutely every therapist did that, implying that it didn´t matter who I consulted. Years later, when I talked to a person who was seeing a different therapist, I found out that this had been a complete misinformation. When I criticized him, he responded with a disguised insult (see the princess incident), suggesting that my observation about the depth of his “interpretations” was incorrect, a result of my arrogance. Another thing that happened at times was that he suggested I was not properly involved with the therapeutic process, claiming I was reminding him of a person saying “wash me, but don´t splash me with water”. All in all, this adds up to him suggesting that 1) I would make the same experience no matter which therapist I consulted, 2) my perception was warped and unreliable, and 3) that therapy was a matter of all-or-nothing. Either fully trust him and open up to him – or I wouldn´t get anything out of it and just waste time.

There really is this doctrine floating around in the therapeutic community, isn´t it? “You have to trust your therapist. If you don´t trust your therapist, leave and look for a therapist you trust, but if there is no trust, it is hopeless.” On the one hand, this seems to make sense.  You cannot open up to somebody if you don´t trust him. On the other hand, though, this reeks of  “love it or leave it” mentality. I don´t think that people either trust or distrust someone by default. Trust is something that develops, that has to be earned. I´m not talking about the basic trust that the guy next to you won´t rob or murder you. I´m talking about the trust that allows you to trust someone with intimate details about your inner life. I don´t think it is acceptable to demand that kind of trust from people. It is even arrogant. Just because somebody is a therapist doesn´t mean he is incapable of hurting or even damaging someone. Patients “testing” their therapists is typically frowned upon, it is even connected to certain diagnoses like Borderline, but I think it is a normal part of human interaction. Trust simply develops step by step. We might tell people one thing, see how they react and then our gut feeling might tell us that they can be trusted with something more intimate – or not.

What therapists seem to demand, however, is that we do not use the behaviors by which we normally try to avoid emotional injuries – not in their presence. In a way, they even seem to measure a person´s sanity or neuroticism by the extent to which they do or do not “open up” to them. If you are still “playing games”, that is, questioning, leave alone testing if the therapist is trustworthy, then you still have a long way ahead of you in terms of mental health. So is mental health measured in blind trust towards psychological authorities? Scary idea. Though said authorities probably don´t even think this trust is blind. They probably believe that they are objectively trustworthy, just because they are therapists. And so it is unjustified and irrational to distrust them. I don´t know if this attitude is naive or hopelessly self-righteous.

Either way, Dr. Stoneface had done everything to make me distrust him in the session described above. He had shown me, after all, that he was biased when it came to my internal conflicts, and not in a way that worked in my favor. Actually I could have known right after the probationary sessions that he was not a person I could put any trust into. By suggesting to me that I wouldn´t make a different experience with any other therapist, and also that therapy was a matter of all-or-nothing, he contributed to keeping me in a therapy that was bound for failure – for another two years.

I will continue to write about these in my next entries.






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