I remember the first therapist I ever had. He always wore a suit and tie and his room was full of dark leather. He used a metaphor involving a painting, with me being either in the foreground or the background. I don’t remember anything else about it, apart from it not being at all helpful, but it stayed with me.
Later, as I cycled through various relationships in therapy, picking up moments of enlightenment here and hearing myself reveal unknown secrets to myself over there the one thing which stuck more than any other was the juxtaposition between enjoying going to therapy and feeling that it was a complete waste of time.
My first experience of what its like to see someone stuck in their chaos was in hospital. We’d sit in a group and there would always be someone who, as far as I could see, was resolute about not getting better. It was either Carol, who only turned up fifty percent of the time, or Peter, so scathing about himself that there appeared no prospect of remission or John who never said anything at all.
All of them were waiting to be rescued.
So what would happen if nobody came?
Being a victim is a powerless state. It suggests that something has happened to you which it is impossible to transcend. Traumatic childhood, abusive relationships, addiction, depression, breakdown.
Therapy can’t fix you, firstly because you have to do that yourself and, second, because you are not broken.
When we lose faith in the process of therapy we have lost sight of what it is and what it is not.
Therapy is a guide but it is not a rope.
Therapy is a challenge to your dysfunction but it is not a protection from it.
Therapy is a safe space but it cannot force you to feel safe within it.
Therapy is stable ground on which you have to decide to place your feet.
Over the years I have often wondered why I remembered the picture metaphor from my first therapist, until the point I realised that it was never anyone else’s responsibility to place me, to fill in the details, to add colour or texture. My position, foreground or background, determined by me, with the help and support of my therapist, was the only thing which ever mattered to my recovery.
Sorting through some files I came across an exercise from my time in group therapy. We were to write our observations about the progress of our fellow patients from the time we’d spent in recovery.
That was when I knew that something had changed. For the first time in my life, I recognised what people had written. Instead of waiting to be affirmed, validated, rescued, I had used my therapy as a springboard, got there first and done it all myself.