On Doing Therapy

Posted May 27th, 2012 by June O'Hara and filed in Therapy

Fact #1. Being a therapist who puts her feet up during sessions, I hold unparalleled contempt for shoes that come with impossible-to-remove price labels on their soles. Because while I do occasionally disclose certain bits of personal information about myself, my clients need not know what I paid for my shoes. Regardless the amount, it will conjure images: Me, obsessively combing the clearance aisle at Marshalls, determined to find something attractive for under $10.99. Me, paying far too much on adorable sandals that show no sign of durability. Me, buying Anne Klein pumps that compromise my ability to walk because I found them on sale.

I repeat: No client need know what I paid for my shoes.

Fact #2. Early in my career, I was referred a client who was tortured by guilt. To the degree that she wouldn’t even tell me what the guilt was about. Her refusal to open up continued for weeks. Finally, having tried everything I could think of, I said, “Come on, how bad could it be? It’s not like you killed somebody.” The client’s eyes welled, and she burst into tears. Turns out, her guilt stemmed from an abortion she’d had in her teens.


Fact #3. Occasionally my attunement to language triggers an emotional reaction to a client.

Cheryl, a woman I saw many years ago, chronically employed the word “indicated” rather than the simpler, more standardly used, “said.” “So,” she’d tell me vehemently, “I indicated to her that it wasn’t my problem.” Or, “When we went out for lunch, I indicated that I’d moved.”

Cheryl also never “saw”, “met,” or “bumped into” anyone. Rather, she “encountered” them. She encountered this one; she encountered that one. Encountered, encountered, encountered. Cheryl’s life was an infinite string of encounters.

I did not suffer this with equanimity.

But then came the re-woo. “So,” Cheryl told me one week, “I think my ex is trying to re-woo me.” I laughed. “Re-woo?” Then, after a pause, “Now that’s funny.” Cheryl burst into laughter. “Yeah, I know.” She giggled. “Sometimes I have my own special language.”

From that moment on, Cheryl’s linguistic quirks no longer bothered me. As much.

Fact #4. It’s a special challenge to treat people who incessantly ask, “Do you know what I mean?”

Here’s the thing. If a client is genuinely interested in an answer, I’ll happily oblige. But if the question is habitual, I refuse to respond. Ever. Even just one slip sets a precedent, an expectation that I’ll be sitting on the edge of my chair, nodding vigorously after everything the client says, thrilled at how profoundly I understand exactly what is meant. I’m interactive in my work, but pressure is pressure.

I nip that shit in the bud.

Fact #5. I was seeing this 13-year-old girl. Gina. Odd, bright, funny and slightly antisocial, she reminded me of myself at her age. Intending to share this thought with our staff psychiatrist, I said, “Hey, Dr. Michaels, you see Gina B., right?” “I do,” he answered. Then, shaking his head, “A nice kid, but so disturbed.”

I gave a half-hearted smile, then excused myself to the loo.

Fact #6. One week a 10-year-old client marched into session and told me she was getting along better with her stepfather. She’d been angry at him; I asked her what had changed. She looked at me and said simply, “I decided I had to get over it.”

The kid had cured herself. I hate that. Now, how am I supposed to make a buck?


The Google Tease | Before Cell Phones

Singing The S.E.O. Blues

Okay, I admit it. I’m a hypocrite. I google stuff, and like being able to find things with ease. But when it comes to my own writing, I resent submitting to the tyranny of search engine gods.

A quirky, cantankerous individualist and psychotherapist both, I’d be equally at home leading or participating in a group for obsessive neurotics. That seemed like a good premise for a humorous memoir. So I wrote one. Now it’s time to come up with a title.

The internet, and search engine optimization, has fucked this up no end.

As one who remembers “Wonderama” and Mike Douglas (I know I didn’t just admit that), I’m wildly dismayed that choosing a title revolves around search words. It puts an effective kibosh on all of my ideas, ranging from the cute to the cryptic to the edgy. Except, of course, for the one that I hate. But I’ll return to that later.

Consider this: In today’s world of S.E.O., a book titled “Catcher in the Rye,” “The Bell Jar,” or “Wuthering Heights” would never find readers. “The Sun Also Rises” would get hits from people seeking a weather report, and “Moby Dick” would attract perverts.

Here are some of my ideas for my own book’s title, all of which have been squashed:

1. “Both Sides Of the Couch.” Can’t have it: I’m told it’s not funny, and will probably just draw people who are carpet hunting. Even with a subtitle (“Tales of a neurotic psychotherapist in need of a personality reduction”) I’m warned strongly against.

2. “Off Kilter.” This is summarily disallowed. No one googles “Off Kilter.”

3. “Striving For Kilter.” I like it, but wouldn’t dare suggest it.

4. “Askew” or “Unglued.” Disposition-wise, I generally alternate between the two. But some days I’m both. Either title would do me proud. They’re both waved out of the park.

5. “Where’s My Other Sock?” I think it’s cute, but the mere thought would give an agent or publisher night terrors.

The title I thought of but can’t stand is “Coping Is for Losers.” Amusing, perhaps, but from a literary standpoint, a sure mark of disgrace.

Search engine optimization is one of my top banes, right up there with asshole parkers, wailing babies, and the price of pretzel M&M’s.

It does, however, present one gleaming positive.

Finally, I get to throw my arms up and declare, “I can’t work like this.”

Love On the Fire Escape II | The Beet Green Incident

How Does That Make You Feel?

Posted January 22nd, 2012 by June O'Hara and filed in Therapy

I’ve been a therapist for over twenty years. Here are a few of my thoughts, experiences and observations.

I was seeing this young guy for seven months. He was coming along nicely — getting in touch with his feelings, learning to express himself, all that kind of crap — but it was his habit to run his hand over his forehead. In the process, he messed up his right eyebrow. Some hairs went right, others went left. Still others saluted the sun. Over and over, I told myself, “Put it out of your mind. That’s what you’re paid for. Put it out of your mind.”

After complimenting one client’s ivory necklace, she said, “Thank you! It’s from Africa. I’m not sure which elephant, though.”

At the end of one job interview I was asked, “What do you do for fun?” Though I’d only gone twice, I tacked skiing onto the list. And mentioned that I often used my face for brakes. I swear that’s what got me the job.

I once had a client who tried committing suicide by smothering himself with a pillow. Not once. Twice.

A seasoned therapist told me that doing therapy is a study in trial and error. It’s like when a vending machine eats your money. First you tap on the glass. Next you try to jostle the machine. Then you give it a kick. With a bit of luck, eventually something works.

I saw a nineteen-year-old girl who I thought bore a striking resemblance to Edward Norton (actor). How I wanted to ask her, “Has anyone told you that you look like Edward Norton?” She was always in a precarious emotional state, though; I knew it would throw her into a major depressive episode with mixed emotional features. I kept my mouth shut.

Far, far too often, my clients start to cry when there’s only one minute left in the session.

I was seeing an eighteen-year-old girl who’d never had an orgasm. She had never even touched herself for pleasure. My homework assignment for her that week was to “give it a whirl.” The next week she came in nonplussed. With the expression of one smelling rotten broccoli, she informed me that it wasn’t a good use of her time. I wasn’t sure if I should explore her subconscious or counsel her on time management.

Facebook keeps me in business. “He unfriended me!” “She’s already dating someone else!” “He wrote a nasty message on my wall!” I want to say, “If you got off Facebook, you wouldn’t need therapy.”

More than once, I told a client something for years, to no avail. Then she heard the exact same thing on Oprah and it changed her life.

One day last year, having heard the world was going to end in 2012, a client came in frenzied. She’d been having panic attacks and hadn’t been able to sleep. When she asked my opinion, I said, “I think it’s bullshit.” “Thank God!” she cried. “I can finally be okay again.”

Take that, Oprah.

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