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When My Therapist and I Disagree

 

My therapist and I usually agree, so when we don’t it’s jarring and upsetting, to me if not to her. Most often when we disagree it’s about how I’m doing. She generally thinks I’m further along in therapy than I think I am. And it’s annoying, because when I walk into her office feeling discouraged or overwhelmed by tasks I don’t think I can do and she says, Nah, that’s not a problem, I feel, suddenly, all alone. Because she’s not offering me any path forward. She’s telling me that I’m somewhere I know I’m not, and that means I’ll have to make the rest of the trip from A to B alone.

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“Alone?”

Usually, my therapist is able to hear me when I say that I’m struggling, and she’ll ask me questions to figure out what the real struggle is made up of. Is it a general self-esteem issue, or a wave of panic or depression? Is it a concrete problem that we can solve with some detailed plan of action, or a temporary low caused by a negative experience that will pass?

All of the years spent working through these things with her have made this process automatic for me, and I go through it a lot on my own, sitting down and going over an event to find out where the negative mood set in and why, or coming up with practical steps to address a problem that genuinely needs solving. But it still hurts when I tell her that I’m struggling and she doesn’t understand.

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“Harrumph.”

There are times when I’ve been on the other side of that kind of glitch. When I see my students struggling, part of me just wants to say – but look how smart you are! You’ll be fine! And you know who will be reassured by that? Just me. Not them. Because what I’m actually saying is: I trust you to handle this yourself, without any help from me. Why would I choose to say that? Maybe because their anxiety is scaring me, or frustrating me. Maybe because I don’t know how to help them, or I don’t really understand why they’re struggling and I don’t have the time to find out. But all of that is about me, and for me.

If Cricket, God forbid, got off leash and ran into the street, I would be terrified and I would be yelling at her and chasing her – because I wouldn’t be able to think strategically with my baby racing out in front of cars. Intellectually, I know that chasing her makes her run faster, and yelling at her makes her ignore me and act more erratically. But in my anxiety, I wouldn’t be able to think all of that through.

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“Grrr arrgh!”

I don’t know what it is that causes my therapist to not be on the same page as me sometimes. I know she always believes that she knows better than me, or has more perspective than me, because of her wider experience in life and in therapy. In those moments, she probably believes that I am temporarily thinking with the wrong part of my brain, and if she lends me her confidence then the right part of my brain will snap back online.

I think sometimes the gap opens up when my therapist is most aware of her own age, and my mom’s age, and she’s scared that I won’t be better in time to take care of myself. Her fear, for me, makes her try to push the therapy faster by brute force. But, if anything, that just scares me more and sets off my anxiety, and despair, and prevents me from seeing any path forward.

My therapist is very well trained and very experienced, but the horrible fact is that she is a human being. And it sucks. I preferred it when I believed that she was perfect and all-knowing and that I could rely on her to tell me everything I needed to know.

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“You know everything, right Mommy?”

The thing is, a lot of things are harder for me than they seem. When I tell people that I need two naps a day just to function, they think I’m kidding, or exaggerating. It used to be one nap a day, and it will probably go back to that eventually, but I’m in a two-naps-a-day phase at the moment, and it makes everything hard to do. Like laundry, or driving or teaching or writing.

I tend to schedule my naps so that I can have the most possible energy when I know I’ll need to be around people, which means that they then think I’m fine, because I look my best when they see me. And most people, including my therapist, trust what they see with their own eyes over what I tell them about myself. My therapist only believes that I’m struggling when she can see me looking exhausted or walking badly or she can hear me slurring my words or forgetting simple words in front of her.

Mom and the dogs, who see me in every mode, have a better sense of what’s going on with me, but even they get confused sometimes, between what I can do and what they want me to be able to do.

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“Huh?””

And the thing is, I don’t want people to lower their expectations of me. That’s probably why I try so hard to be at my most functional in public. I hate how it feels to be around strangers when I can barely hold my head up, and I don’t feel safe being away from home when I’m so close to the edge. I want there to be a way for people to adapt their expectations of me to fit both what I am capable of and what I want to do. But maybe, and this makes my head spin, I’m expecting other people to be able to do more than they can do, and I’m being just as unreasonable in my expectations of them as they are being unreasonable in their expectations of me.

Now my head hurts.

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“Mine too.”

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

70 responses »

  1. I felt very sad when I read your comment related to your therapist: “She’s telling me that I’m somewhere I know I’m not, and that means I’ll have to make the rest of the trip from A to B alone.” I work in the counselling field and you should never feel that way. You should feel that your therapist completely gets you, and is fully with you – lending you her support – as you make the trip from A to B.

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  2. Therapists change over time as we change. Personally I knew I was ready to move on when I didn’t feel I was getting all that I needed anymore. Maybe it was me, maybe not. I sat with my options for a long time until I made a move. I hope your therapst listens to your reality because that is where you live and need guidance.

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  3. I hope she reads your blog. That might help her understand. Remember to turn your clocks ahead!

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  4. It’s hard when you and your therapist aren’t on the same page. Good luck working through this.

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  5. I’m sorry you are going through this. You know yourself better than anyone else!! Remember that 😊

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  6. Hmmm…I hope it’s all better by now. You’re understood by this stranger. I often feel the despair and anxiety, too. A lot if us thinking humans do…it will be better and we will find peace within ourselves. It will come.

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  7. Sending kind thoughts.

    And, yes, it is hard when everyone else is human, too. Good thing there are dogs!

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  8. Maybe it’s time to try a new therapist? She might be so used to seeing you, that she goes on ‘automatic’ mode. I’m sure Cricket would love to help you with this. Nothing a good long walk and chicken treats couldn’t help.

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  9. “I know she always believes that she knows better than me, or has more perspective than me, because of her wider experience in life and in therapy”

    That suggests to me your therapist has less experience in both life and therapy than she thinks. The more you know, the more you know you don’t know squat.

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  10. I don’t know anything about this stuff but maybe just show this post to your therapist and say ” let’s talk?”

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  11. “My therapist is very well trained and very experienced, but the horrible fact is that she is a human being. And it sucks. I preferred it when I believed that she was perfect and all-knowing and that I could rely on her to tell me everything I needed to know.”

    “I want there to be a way for people to adapt their expectations of me to fit both what I am capable of and what I want to do. But maybe, and this makes my head spin, I’m expecting other people to be able to do more than they can do, and I’m being just as unreasonable in my expectations of them as they are being unreasonable in their expectations of me.”

    Seriously. You described a big chunk of my life, right there. Wow.

    Trust your instincts, you are amazing. Just being able to put all this into words is incredible!

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  12. I’m sorry that you and your therapist are not on the same page…

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  13. Awww…I can feel your frustration! Sending you bear hugs ʕ ⊃・ ◡ ・ ʔ⊃ʕ ⊃・ ◡ ・ ʔ⊃ʕ ⊃・ ◡ ・ ʔ⊃

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  14. Is it time for a new therapist and fresh perspective?

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  15. My heart aches for you as I read this article! I 100% agree with needing a distinction between “what I am capable of doing” and “what I am capable of doing at this moment”. I believe each of us has the strength inside to conquer our demons, but when you’re exhausted and frustrated and your point is just tossed aside as not worth exploring, you spend your strength combating those things, leaving you none to actually focus on what the core issue is.

    Rest assured that those we look up to as ‘mentors’ will, eventually, show us that they don’t fit on the pedestal we set them upon. Try and appreciate that they have been vulnerable enough to show you their humanness. Forgive them for being just as human as you are. Try to connect to that humanness if you can; if not, then it’s time for you to find a new mentor.

    Most of all, trust that you are not alone in dealing with your anxieties and issues. I have found that, even with the best glue, my mask occasionally slips a little bit from my face and I’m not ‘what everyone expects’ at times. The best thing for me is to embrace my own humanness, and find people in my life who truly care about the person beneath the mask.

    I wish you the best on your continued journey!

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  16. Yea, I understand that most times we expect our therapist to be all knowing even when words are not spoken.
    Sending out hugs#

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  17. I hear you Rachel. Whist we appreciate our therapists have to be positive and encouraging, sometimes it comes across as ‘jollying us long’.
    Not saying the Professionals do, but how many times have we heard people say ‘ Snap out of it’ or ‘Don’t be so silly’ when we know we can’t help it and need to get to the bottom of The Why.
    When I had my breakdown in 1988, they wanted to put me into hospital and I begged them not to. I had a good GP and my boss was my rock. I got through it with their help, medication and a lot of soul searching and self analysis. Even now there are times when I feel I can’t face something, go somewhere, or do something. Hubby is good, but sometimes comes up with the only person stopping you is you and I want to thump him for his insensitivity.
    IMO Depression never goes away and it’s an art to recognise the signs before it takes hold. Listen to your heart, but at the same time look outside yourself as if you are the therapist counseling someone else. It’s one of the reasons I write my troubles down. ❤ ❤ ❤

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  18. I tried therapy for a while. It was free, so I figured why not? After a couple of months I realized that for me, it was doing absolutely nothing. Of course I was going for completely different reasons than you are, so it can’t be compared, really. I mostly needed to solve and self-soothe before I started feeling better. I tend to do that, though. Shut myself off from the world when I need to in order to get back control. Maybe, talk to your therapist about how you feel when you guys disagree. Maybe she has a solid reason for pushing?

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  19. As a person with a dodgy past where I had to bob, weave and dodge to survive it has always been a struggle to live up to others expectations as well as my own. Add on to that the surgeries and health issues I have had and …. well …. I know what you are writing about.
    In the beginning of reading your blog (about a year and more ago) I had anxieties about your mom’s age and how will you get on with it all after …. Which is silly for me to feel that, since I only know you from what you write.
    When I saw individual clients I always had a desire to push them forward, to move along, particularly if I had them for awhile. Than I switched to only doing groups a while ago and now … I watch their peers encourage them to move along. I guess we all want to see the little bird fly.

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  20. The fact that you no longer think that your therapist is perfect, and you are seing her limitations as a human being, suggests to me that you are actually getting a lot from that therapy and are well on your way to coming out on the other side.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  21. Obviously you expect too much from a therapist. The therapist can only try to assist and be a good influence here and there. You find your own pace and comfort zone to arrive at a place that feels better.

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  22. You are strong for putting this out there.

    What an adorable story, your photos made it feel far more tangible.

    Thank you for sharing.

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  23. I can’t add anything except this – I’ve followed your journey for so long I feel like you’re one of my family – and I think you’re stronger than you know sometimes. I can’t address your therapist, but I can address what you said about losing your mind if Cricket got off leash. I think you’d surprise yourself – and I say that because I felt the same way till Maverick pulled the leash from me and ran – instinct kicked in and I ran the other way, happily calling him, and he came running back. I think you’d do the same. And THEN you’d have a melt down! (Yup, I sure did!)

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  24. Oh Rachel, how your disappointment in that session must have only fed your feelings of discouragement. I admire your self-awareness in knowing your need for two naps, making that adjustment, and scheduling them so they will be of greatest benefit to you. I’m pretty introverted and do best if any social engagements take place in the morning when I’m fresh. For those evening outings I would do so much better if I would take the time to rest up beforehand and rebuild the energy store needed to be social. If I could have it my way, Adi would be allowed to accompany me to all social outing as people would focus on her rather than me.

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  25. “My head hurts.” Yep, that sums it up. Sorry you have to go through this.

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  26. I trust your need for sleep. Our bodies are pretty good at signally that we need it. So what if at the moment you have the sleep pattern of an infant. That is what a baby needs to integrate all its experiences. I think you would enjoy the Netflix series called “Babies” in the episode about sleep.
    As for your therapist, I find that much growth comes when I share all of these kind of concerns with mine. That way it is clearer what is projection(“no one gets me”) and what is “do you understand what I am saying? It doesn’t feel that way.”

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  27. I’m so sorry you are going through this, I will be praying for you.

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  28. I am sorry that you have this struggle. You seem to know what you need, and when. And that must be respected. Maybe it’s time for a new therapist?

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  29. Nice meet your pooches Rachel can wait to read more about them…

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  30. The impressions we get of people can be strange, can’t they? You have always given me a vibe of being perfectly ‘together’ when I’ve popped in for a read. I thought it was very brave of you to be so honest about your feelings. Putting on a brave face all the time can be exhausting, I’m not surprised you need two naps a day. Actually, two naps a day sounds lovely.

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  31. Insightful about a number of things, Rachel. So much rests on expectations, and people unfamiliar with chronic pain, disease, issues, etc. typically do not grasp exactly what life entails for people dealing with such challenges. As always, you write with clarity and soul.

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  32. I, too, think your written explanation of how you feel about your therapist’s stance would give her so much insight. Maybe you communicate better via the written word because it feels safer and more thoughtful? You are so good at it! I know how important a good therapist becomes and how much you have probably invested a lot of time in the relationship already. I’m going to pray she comes around and listens to you.

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  33. I think you solved your own problem with your therapist: “My therapist only believes that I’m struggling when she can see me looking exhausted or walking badly or she can hear me slurring my words or forgetting simple words in front of her.” Don’t rest up before your appointments and she’ll see your struggle. I wish you all the best. I know your struggle.

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  34. You’re definitely a gifted writer. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. After I realized I had postpartum, I sought a counselor, and at one point she told me she thought I was nearing the end of my need for her. Wow, alarm sounded! I told her how I felt (panicky) and she was very understanding, so we kept meeting until I moved (several more months). Now that my son struggles with anxiety (also spectrum/ SPD issues), I can see myself on the other side of the scenario, too, where I’m telling him that he is smart and can figure out a way to be proactive instead of so very reactive…It’s good to have read your words and be reminded of how it feels to not feel ready. But I would take it as a vote of confidence in your skills and capability, even if you know you still need the connection/supportive relationship for now.

    Your furbabies are super cute! They add some levity and joy to hard times, don’t they?! My Kody got a haircut today and I must say, Mommy made him look a little ridiculous. Oops.

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  35. I studied psychotherapy for quite some time with high marks. Circumstances changed and I couldn’t take my final exam. Wish I did now. I do feel your therapist should maybe not push you so much. Take care. Stay calm and carry on, best you can. When under too much stress I take 5HTP to produce more serotonin.

    Reply

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