‘Should I Waste My Time in Therapy?’
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 14, 2011
Stacy, fifty-seven, has had two prior “failed” analyses, by her report. Her last treatment experience ended when she was thirty-five. Now, her kids are grown. She is married to the same man for over thirty years, and although she used to work full-time as an attorney, she is now on disability for vague, nonspecific complaints, which “over ten doctors” have not figured out what is wrong with her, but one of them, apparently, filled out the paper work for disability. She has lots of time on her hands, and she has the financial resources for psychotherapy. She also complains that her family of origin still haunts her significantly, to the point where she cannot stop thinking about how her mother, in particular, was harmful to her sense of herself. Stacy has few friends, as she considers friends a “waste of time.” She is often physically active without any limitations, but there are times she does not feel like exercising so she has periods where she is sedentary.
“Therapy is not going to help me,” she says, as if inviting me to argue with her as to how it might. I hear in that comment the narcissism in which she believes that her problems are beyond the pale-too complicated for therapy. Even in her issues, she needs to feel special, I begin to think to myself. It seems like she struggles to feel ordinary and as such, she cannot enter into the “ordinary” experience of being a patient and asking for help, even though she has some insight into her chronic suffering. “Why don’t you give it a try and see how it feels?” I ask, suggesting that therapy is not a black and white experience. “You can make of it what you want,” I say, suggesting that with all creative experiences, what you put into it, determines, in part, what you get out of it. “Yes, but maybe there is something better that I should be doing,” she says, again, inviting me to argue with her. “What would that be?” I say, wondering what she is thinking. “Oh, I don’t know,” she says with a touch of anger. “Of course, there is an opportunity cost of going to psychotherapy, if that is what you mean,” I say, highlighting the fact that I understand the risk of psychotherapy, both practically and emotionally, but I only mention the practical risk by mentioning the opportunity cost. I think as I say that, that she is scared of going into psychotherapy and that is why she is inviting me to argue with her. She wants me to reassure her that things won’t get worse, which of course, they could.
Stacy’s ambivalence about psychotherapy is utterly painful. Her tone suggests an angst of deep pain-so deep that going to psychotherapy is really scary. Now her psychological pain seems masked by her vague, non-specific physical symptoms which led to her going on disability. Therapy might uncover that her physical symptoms stem from deeper psychological wounds of feeling unloved and unloveable, thereby causing her to make decisions in her life in which she was fighting to feel loved, but it never worked. Had she felt loveable, maybe she would have taken a different path. Insights can cause deep regret. Stacy seems to know that and she is scared. At the same time, she is uncomfortable in her body and she feels lost and empty inside. I don’t think she is ready for therapy yet, but we will see.