Kleenex


Part of my clinical training required that I actually be a client seeking help. That expectation of my program was built from the idea that a better-informed therapist would be one who knew what it was like to sit in the client’s seat, to have an in-vivo (in life) educational experience. So, I sought out a therapist to fulfill my 10-hour/10 session obligation. I began by registering with the student counseling center and getting a therapist assigned to me.

“Do you have a preference?”

“A preference?”

“Oh, most folks have a preference for a male or a female therapist. Do you have a preference?”

“Can you recommend one?”

“Not sure. I think they’re all pretty much the same. Have a seat, please.  We’ll just go with the luck of the draw.  Let me see who’s available.”

****

The counseling center was as one might expect – a former Victorian style, single family home with a zillion painted-over fireplaces, retro-fitted cubby-spaces that nicely transformed the building into awkwardly meandering faculty and therapy offices. Paint peeling from the ceilings. A faint, musty odor.  A bulky staircase covered in dusty, aged yellow shag carpet hulking behind the over-sized double front doors. Posters of kittens and rainbows hung on the waiting room walls, imprinted with slogans like, “Even if happiness forgets you a little bit, never completely forget about it” and “The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer up somebody else.” Of course, there was the old standby (the emergency poster) detailing where some ethereal being carried some guy across the beach and turned two sets of footprints into one. The coffee table was strewn with old Cosmopolitan magazines: Is your Boyfriend Right for You? Find out in 5 minutes! A box of Kleenex was set precisely beside each chair.

***

The therapist began by asking me how she could help me. Her body language was somewhat animated, spirited, as if she were preparing to open a surprise Christmas present on her lap.

“I’m not really sure,” I said, “I have this class assignment to speak with a counselor for ten hours, so here I am.”  I handed her my assignment sheet.

“Oh, yes! How nice,” she said with the enthusiasm one would show when giving a dog a new toy. I moved back in my chair. “We get these all the time. I’m a student too. I’m sure we can find something to discuss. Do you have anything in mind?”

I thought for a moment, literally placing my finger on my temple. “Well, I don’t like it that I am losing my hair.  Is that worth talking about?”

The therapist immediately reached for the box of Kleenex, “That’s something,” she said and cleared her throat, “How does that make you feel?”

“I feel like an old guy.”

“You look wonderful.” She leaned forward and grasped my hand, “You’re a very handsome man . . . boy. Have you thought of wearing a cap?”

“Not really. I sweat a lot.”

“How about a hairpiece? I hear Hair Club for Men performs miracles.”

“I’m 23.”

“Wow! I had no idea.”

” . . . humph.”

She leaned forward, as if preparing to tell me I had twelve minutes to live.  She lowered her voice. “You have a self-esteem problem.  The first thing we have to do is get you to a place where you don’t care what people think of your hair.”

“Where is that place?”

“Well, silly, we have to make a list of all your positive qualities and focus more on those than on your weaker qualities.”

“I already feel pretty good about my positive qualities.”

She looked at me, troubled with my answer.  “Sounds to me like you’re in denial.”

“Goodness, really?”

“Yes!  It sounds like you might be splitting or maybe you have like a personality disorder.  Sort of like a dissociative identity disorder. It’s called DID. It’s nothing to worry about, really.”  She patted my knee.  “I’ve seen this sort of thing before.  I will have to consult with my clinical supervisor, but you might need more than 10 sessions.”

****

I remember sitting in a booth at the student center cafeteria, eating my lunch, several weeks after my first session with the therapist.  I was content that I was developing nicely as a clinician, grasping the concept of in-vivo experience, looking forward to uncovering the hidden me and replacing my former self (one driven by denial and self-loathing) with  more manageable neuroses.  I was reading a book on DID, astonished at the uncanny similarities between myself and DIDs. (Later in my education, I noticed that nearly any diagnosis I read about matched my personality; schizophrenia, borderline personality, oppositional defiance, bi-polar, etc.)  I listened to the two women sitting behind me, talking about their feelings and what one of them was doing to get over her depression, “So what’s up your ass, now?  I thought you were getting better.”

“No, I’m still depressed.”

“Again?”

“Yeah.”

“What happened to your therapist?”

“He broke up with me.”

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9 responses

  1. You’re therapist seems to be a bit “trigger happy”. You may want her to be your example of what NOT to do. As far as those diagnosis….everyone fits into those categories! I have confidence that you will have enough common sense to not be the type to diagnose your patients within fifteen minutes. I read somewhere that how they diagnose people is they have more extreme relations to the identifying factors. I hope you didn’t take this woman too seriously by what she said to you. Good luck with your training!

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