What I Was Thinking
Rated: LURB (for Language Unbecoming a Respectable Blog)
Many years ago, when I was much too young to have done so, I read Judy Blume's "Wifey." I loved the style of that book. As I recall, what the main character, Sandy, said was written in normal font, while what she was thinking was written in italics. That made a big impression on me; it is so practical. I think it is how I go through life ~ there's what I say, which is often kind and right and good, and fairly intelligent; and then there's the italicized part ~ my thoughts, which are often downright freaky! I daydream of someday writing a novel, using Judy Blume's "unspoken thoughts in italics" device, with a psychotherapist as the main character. There's what the shrink says, and then there's what the shrink thinks.
A few years ago, shortly after what was by far the single worst episode of my professional life, I answered the telephone at my office. I was in no mood to take no crap from nobody. (Yes, I'm aware of the triple negative; it was THAT bad of a time.) I was in a place of being very careful, very selective, in screening new clients; for my own well-being and for that of my clients.
There's a man on the phone. We'll call him Michael. He sounds poised and confident. My intuition picks up what my ears don't.
M: I am having a really tough time. I want to get back together with my wife. I wish I hadn't left her.
S: How did you decide to leave?
M: Our son is severely disabled, and it was really hard on me.
S: That does sound difficult; so you've been the primary caretaker for your son?
M: No, I hardly do anything with him. My wife does it all.
S: But it was really hard on YOU? Does your wife know you want to go back home?
M: Yes, but she won't take me back. Her whole family is against me.
S: Against you?
M: Yes, they've told her if she takes me back, they'll disown her.
S: They'll disown her if she takes her husband back? What the hell did you do? That sounds kind of extreme. Why do you think they're so against you?
M: It's because she and I have serious communication problems.
S: Her parents will disown her if she tries to repair the "communication problems" in her marriage? Sure, buddy. What did you do?
M: Yea, pretty much. They hate me.
S: Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining. Do I care if this person hangs up on me? Would I really mind pissing him off and having him say nasty things about me? Not. one. bit. Look, Mike. Your in-laws aren't going to disown their daughter because you and she had some communication problems. How about you tell me what they would tell me if I asked them why they hate you?
M: Well, there was an occasion . . .
S: What occasion was that, Mike? This guy is creeping me out; he's not for me and I'm not for him...
M: I had started to think that my wife didn't find me sexually attractive . . .
M: And I wanted the best for her . . . I wanted her to be with someone that she found attractive . . .
M: So I talked her into having sex with this guy that we know, after I got her to admit that she thought he was attractive . . .
S: You talked your wife into having sex with another man.
M: Yea, she didn't want to do it. It took me months, but finally she agreed.
M: Oh, and they let me watch. Well, that was my idea, too.
M: Then it was like my wife hated me . . . and she told her family, and they all hate me, too . . .
S: Ya think? Mike, in my opinion, from what you've told me, you have some work to do on your own before you can turn your attention to repairing your marriage . . .
M: See, this is what I need. I need a woman who will stand up to me and tell me how it is . . . I need someone like you . . .
S: You have no idea how much I'd like to tell you how it is . . . Actually, Mike, in my opinion, you would do better at this point with a male therapist . . .
M: Oh no, I want you. I really want to understand women. You are intelligent and insightful, and I really want to dig deep into the darkest parts of your psyche, so I can understand women better.
S: 1) Ain't no way you're digging deep into ANY part of me, and B) You want to dig, allow me to refer you to Home Depot, where you can get yourself a freakin' shovel . . . I'm going to be very direct with you, Mike. If you think I am sharp, then you might choose to listen to me. You are not ready to understand women. You need to understand Mike. If you're going to go "digging deeply" anywhere, it should be inside yourself. I believe it will be less distracting for you to do that kind of work with a male therapist. I don't want to work with you, and if you think I'm going to inflict you on another woman, you're even crazier than you appear.
M: After I see a male therapist for a while, then could I maybe see you?
S: If you see pigs flying around outside my office, you come on in. You and your therapist can decide if and when you're ready to work with a female therapist. You may call me when that time comes, and if I'm not available to see you, I'll try to help you find someone who can. Now, here are some male therapists that I think could be of some help to you . . .
Then, more recently, another gentleman caller, Tony:
T: I'm not sure I really need counseling.
S: Dude, you called me. I didn't go out recruiting. You're not sure you need to be talking to me?
T: Well, I guess it would be a good idea. But it's not like I really need it.
S: It's not like I really need this, Tony. Shit or get off the pot. Sounds like you might want to think about it some more, Tony. You're welcome to give me a call again when you decide...
T: Do you do "Anger Management" counseling?
S: OK, here' s my out; the last thing I want to do is "anger management" with someone who is not sure he wants to manage his anger. Tony, there are people who are specifically trained in that field, who specialize in that. If that is what you expect will be the focus of your therapy, I'd like to refer you to someone who is very skilled in that field . . .
T: You don't work with anger? How can you be a therapist who doesn't work with anger?!
S: Tony, right now I'm just a therapist who doesn't work with YOU. Oh, I'm sorry; I wasn't being clear. I work with whatever emotions my clients bring with them; however, since you are specifically looking for Anger Management, I think you'd be better served by someone who specializes in that field. I have some colleagues who specialize . . .
T: I DON'T NEED ANY GODDAMN ANGER MANAGEMENT THERAPY!
S: Shyeah, right. I misunderstood you, Tony. I thought that was exactly what you asked me for. . .
T: The fucking judge said I need it. I say I don't! But I can't see my kids again until I get a piece of paper signed, saying that I've had ANGER MANAGEMENT THERAPY! Are you going to HELP ME OR NOT?!
S: Heh. Eh heh heh. That would be a "not." I want to make sure I'm understanding you correctly. You have been court ordered to get anger management therapy, in order to be allowed unsupervised visits with your children. Is that right?
T: Yes! Finally, you fucking listened to what I'm saying!
S: Indeed. Now you fucking listen to what I'm saying. And you disagree with the judge's recommendation. You are really not interested in getting help with managing your anger, because you don't believe you have a problem. What you really hope to find is a therapist who will sign a form saying that you've completed a course of therapy that, in fact, you haven't completed. You really just want that paper. Am I with you, now?
T: Yes! Will you help me or not?
S: The best help I can offer you is to give you an appropriate referral . . .
T: Someone told me you were a Christian! Hah! Some Christian you are, when your fellow man needs help, and you won't even reach out to a man in need! And you call yourself a Christian?
S: Oh, cheez whiz, here we go. The universal response to the professing Christian who's telling you something you don't want to hear... "AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A CHRISTIAN?!"
Tony, my faith is not relevant here, except that my faith, combined with my ethics, absolutely prevents me from accepting you as a client when I am strongly convinced that a referral would be more appropriate to your needs; and the same things also absolutely prevent me from signing a form claiming that you've received something that you have not received. I do not have what you're looking for, Tony.
T: Bitch! Christian bitch!
S: I'm so glad you don't need anger management therapy, Tony. You're welcome to call me again to get those referrals, when you're ready, Tony. I wish you well. Click. Wonder how much dog groomers make . . .
When do you have that big chasm between what you think and what you say?