Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for the ‘Mentorship’ Category

Piano Lessons/Psychotherapy: Striking Similarities

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on April 8, 2013


In this week’s New Yorker, Jeremy Denk writes about his piano teachers, as he also talks about in the video above. He talks about his teachers changing his life, enabling him to hold on to paradoxical advice. One teacher tells him to follow his intuition, whereas another tells him to pay attention to detail. Holding on to these notions is the challenge of creating great music, he says. So, working with the emotional interior requires working with  the same contradiction. One must learn to be free to fantasize, while at the same time, maintain the responsibility and regimentation of a civilized society. What struck me most about this article was how his mentors shaped him,but also humiliated him,  in ways which he struggles to describe, in a parallel fashion to psychotherapists who try to understand their patients, while at the same time, not shame them. Once again the relationship, the attachment, the respect, creates personal and professional growth. Although these connections often cause great inner turmoil, they also create a lasting impression of loving advice and guidance. Music is the window into the soul, so it makes sense that learning music and going to psychotherapy are strikingly similar activities.

Posted in Mentorship, music and the mind, Musings, Relationships | Leave a Comment »

The Horror Of Your Own Words

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 27, 2012

Monte and Marla, return, much to Jon’s dismay. Jon has consistently commented to these posts that Marla is one of Monte’s toxic relationship, and as such, he should move on so that Monte can develop self-esteem without the inevitable setbacks that his relationship with Marla encourages. The fictional Monte sees me, where we discuss his relationship with Marla to examine how this serves Monte on an unconscious level. At times, Monte sides with Jon, feeling like distance is the answer. Other times, Monte seeks Marla’s professional consultation for work-related dilemmas. Still other times, Marla solicits Monte’s advice about teaching opportunities and teaching experiences. Recently, Marla contacted Monte, leading Monte to remind Marla of her last interchange in which Marla said “I am willing to talk to you,” much to the horror of Monte. Marla, upon hearing her words reflected back at her, begins to understand the arrogance of her words. She is not exactly remorseful, but she is aware of the haughty nature of that comment. Marla, somehow seeming that she wants to apologize, but never quite saying that, suggests that they meet to talk about that some more. Monte comes to me with the dilemma. “She seemed upset by her words, but I know we are in a cycle of hurt followed by reconciliation followed by hurt again.” Monte says with understanding, along with wishing that their relationship could reach equanimity.  “Why do you think it is so important that you get peace with Marla?” I ask, knowing that I have inquired about this repeatedly, but also knowing that each time I ask I get a slightly different answer. “Two of my mentors have passed away recently, and so there are so few people in my life who have seen me grow professionally, that I want to hold on to Marla because of our long history.” Monte says in a way which makes me understand his yearning, but also in a way which makes me think that he is living in wishes. He seems to be yearning for a parental figure who will nurture him through his career, but he and I both know that Marla cannot be that person. “Sometimes you have to go around the block a few times with people before you really understand how they impact you,” I say, pointing Monte to the idea that we know how this tale ends. We know that Monte will get hurt again. “Yea, I do know how this tale ends, yet for reasons I don’t understand, I want to go around the block again. I am sure I will end up saying you told me so, but I still need to give Marla another chance.” Monte says to me, with both cognitive understanding and deep emotional yearning for a connection with Marla, for reasons we have yet to explore.

Posted in Mentorship, Monte Marla, personal growth, Professional Development | 4 Comments »

Losing Mentors

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 9, 2012

Tea,, just lost two of her most cherished mentors, a week apart. Leonard, age seventy-five, passed away after a five-year long deterioration, with no diagnosis. David, eighty-six, passed away after a brief episode of cardiac disease. Tea loved both of them. She believes they loved her too. “It is hard to describe my feelings,” Tea says, with some sadness, but also with a sense that she does not really know how she feels. “Their mentorship has carried me through some difficult times in my legal practice, and I will miss being able to talk to them, but I feel like I have internalized them so much that in some ways I won’t miss them.” Tea says, with a sense of guilt as though she should be having a harder time. “Maybe they mean more to you as an internal voice than they do as a physical presence.” I say, stating the obvious point that these mentors have helped give her confidence and so their day to day existence did not mean that much to her. “Yes, that makes sense, but I feel like there is something wrong for feeling this way.” Tea says with some awkwardness. “It is hard for you to give yourself permission to have your feelings without judging them.” I say, again stating the obvious point that feelings need to exist without judgment. “People in your life impact you in different ways, and it sounds that both Leonard and David have had their major impact on you through the confidence they gave you, and so it makes sense that you carry them around with you, so in that way you are not suffering a loss.” I say, reminding her that her minimal sadness does not mean that she did not care about her mentors. “Yes, I need to stop judging,” Tea says with dismay. “Both Leonard and David would have told me that too,” she says with acknowledgment to their importance in her life. “Maybe you can pay your feelings for them forward by mentoring others.” I say, suggesting that she might want to express her gratitude that way. “Maybe,” she says reluctantly. “Right now, I just want to absorb their loss.” Tea says, making a reference to the loss of her child. “That is a good idea. Loss is a big theme in your life, so I am sure we have a lot more to talk about.” I say, nodding to her struggle with losing loved ones. “Yea, that is for sure. Leonard and David both knew me when my son died, and  over the years, they were very helpful to me in so many ways, but at that time in my life they were not so compassionate. ” Tea, says, suggesting that she harbors some disappointment. “Yea, I can see how that still hurts you.” I say, thinking about how complicated relationships are, particularly long-term ones. “It is nice that you can see the layers of your relationship, and that there were supportive times, and some not-so supportive times.” I say, pointing out that she has maintained shades of grey. “Yea, that was hard on me early on, but I have gotten much better at that,” Tea, says as if to reassure me that our psychotherapy has been useful to her. “Between turning 50 and losing two of your mentors, you have been stimulated to think deeply about a lot of people in your life.” I say, bringing our sessions together. “Yea, I would like to be less stimulated,” Tea says, relaxing the mood, as she knows it is time to end.

Posted in Mentorship, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy | 4 Comments »

Monte and Marla:The Drama Returns

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 25, 2011

  Monte returns to Marla,, partly for that sense of continuity, partly for a strong desire for rapprochement, partly because Monte’s therapist took ill. Monte craves for some affirmations, some loving feelings and some mentorship. Marla craves admiration. Predictably, there was an emotional collision. Monte suddenly was confronted with Marla’s insensitivity to his struggles in his practice. Likewise, Marla was suddenly confronted with her angry feelings, stemming from not feeling appreciated. Yet, both acknowledged that there were good feelings between them and that the relationship, however one might characterize this atypical union, is worth maintaining. Monte expresses his disappointment in her. Marla expresses her inability to tolerate his disappointment in her. At the end, they set up another meeting. Both parties are confused. Yes, both are therapists/psychoanalysts with a lot of clinical experience. Some relationships defy explanation.

Posted in Mentorship, Monte Marla | 4 Comments »

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