Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Boredom In Psychotherapy

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 17, 2013


“Do you get bored?” many friends ask, as if this is the shameful underbelly of psychotherapy. In fact, boredom, a countertransference, is, to use an overused phrase, grist for the therapeutic mill. Boredom is the window into emotional blocking, the common way in which people check out from themselves. Bari, forty-two, starts to give a lot of details about her drive to my office. Her monotonous tone, along with my trying to understand of her need to give me so many details, makes me think about what she is not telling me. “I wonder what is going on here, between us, right now,” I say, gently trying to point her to wonder together as to why she is telling me about her traffic. It is my job to move from boredom to engagement by helping Bari see her avoidance of something that is really bothering her. Eventually Bari gets to her fight with her teenage daughter, but the shame involved in that altercation, sheds light on why her driving difficulties was an easier, less emotional, topic. Lolly, twenty-six, goes on for a long time about how her wedding plans are going. Although interesting at first, over time, my mind wonders, leading me to believe that there is some underlying emotion that Lolly is dodging. Once again, tracing my mind leaving Lolly, I have a clue, a suggestion, that maybe Lolly’s mind also left Lolly, such that she is talking, but not really caring, or feeling anything about what she is saying. Emotional connection is never boring, such that losing interest is a sign of emotional distance. So, yes, I get bored, and then I wonder how to latch back on to that privileged space of shared feelings.

2 Responses to “Boredom In Psychotherapy”

  1. Shelly said

    “Boredom is the window into emotional blocking, the common way in which people check out from themselves.” I would like to think that it is the common way in which people check out from others. As a therapist, aren’t you really checking out from the interaction with your patient and focusing more on your own thoughts? I know someone who, whenever he talks, throws in every single detailed minutiae of everything so that I get lost in his stories. I neither want to know nor do I care about the details–I just want to know the bottom line. He is so careful to tell me the intricate details, it’s as if he is afraid to lose the details and has to cram them all into the sentences until I lose patience and bring him back on track. I am so happy to hear that you are admitting that you are human and do get bored, but then wonder how to latch back into the therapeutic space. I also wonder if you ever say platitudes like, “It must be so hard,” or “Yeah, it’s tough.” Do you know that your patients think it’s condescending?

    • First, I would hope that my patients tell me that it feels condescending, if that, is what, in fact happens in our session. Yes, boredom belongs to the “third space” between patient and therapist in which both parties may be contributing. This is the question that needs to be explored and so boredom is the starting point for that curiosity. Thanks.

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