The Friend Becomes A Therapist: Oh My!
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 28, 2013
Julia and Rebecca, both fifty-nine, have been friends for fifty years. Ten years ago, Rebecca, after getting divorced decided to become a psychotherapist. Now, Rebecca has a private practice, but she has noticed that her relationship with Julia suddenly took a strange turn. “You are not trying to analyze me,” Julia will say to Rebecca, with hostility and fear. Rebecca, disarmed by the comment, and scared, in turn, about the hostile feelings being transmitted, “You have known me so long, do I sound any different than I did before I became a therapist?” Rebecca asks, trying to deflate the intensity of the moment. Julia does not answer. Rebecca comes to me for help, trying to understand how her new professional identity is impacting her relationships in general, and with Julia, in particular. “I think some people forget what I do for a living, whereas other people get very anxious, as if I can read their mind, and others still, seem to hope that I will say something brilliant, even though I am tired and trying to relax. ” Rebecca says, reminding me how surprised she feels that a change in her career has this unintended consequence. “I wonder if those of your friends and family feel like you can glimpse at their unconscious, then maybe that scares them.” I say, highlighting the issue that the unconscious can rise and fall in awareness, and that Rebecca’s presence might remind them of this undulating experience. “Yes, but what am I to do?” Rebecca asks impatiently. “Maybe you need to make sure there is mutuality in the relationship so that the asymmetry of a a therapeutic relationship is not replicated in your personal relationships.” I say, knowing personally, how hard this is, and thinking about my own experiences in this regard. “Yes, but I want to listen and yes, I also want to be listened to,” but when I do listen, I feel like I am making Julia, in particular, uncomfortable.” Rebecca says with frustration and sadness. “Like any other bump in a relationship, it seems like you need to put it on the table.” I say, suggesting that an open dialogue could ease the flow. “I wish I had thought about this before jumping into this career.” Rebecca says, perhaps suggesting a major regret, but I am not sure. Here, Rebecca is a therapist, a patient, and a friend. As such, she is struggling to become comfortable or fluid within all of these relationships. This fluidity will help her balance her life in such a way that she is more comfortable in her skin. Maybe her unconscious desire to become a therapist was a search for meaning in all of her connections and so now she is despairing to think that her career path might, in fact, scare her loved ones. This discussion will be for another time.