You know you’re doing good work in therapy when your language gets really simple, almost childish. Which is ironic, because studying to be a therapist means you have to learn the pretentious jargon of a million different modalities of therapy. Therapists go to conferences and talk about Superego and Neuroses (if we’re psychoanalytic), cognitive distortions (CBT), transference and countertransference (interpersonal), or internalized objects and relational matrices (Object Relations).
But the heart’s truths are very simple. Good work in therapy often sounds like:
I am not
I don’t like
I’ve spent time in all of those categories in my therapy so far, and I seem to be drifting back into one of my least favorite: I need.
“You believe your needs are bad,” my therapist said last week. “So it must be hard to come in here and need things from me.”
Even the suggestion was terrifying. The thing I’ve been doing for 9 months, since I started working with him, is hiding my need. Or more accurately, measuring it out. Doing my best to control what need gets seen and when. Failing miserably at this, but trying.
I took a deep breath and said, unsteadily, “I know that I do need something from you. But I don’t know what it is. So I can’t ask for it. And that sucks.”
“That’s one of the more honest things you’ve said in here,” he said. “I imagine what you need is just that… for me to see your vulnerability.”
Actually, the more true thing, rather than “I need something from you,” would have been, “I need you.” And while I can put that on the internet, it will probably take me the better part of a year before I’ll be able to say it to the face of my therapist.
Poet Marge Piercy titles one of her poems after this process of naming the heart’s truths:
Unlearning to not speak
Blizzards of paper
in slow motion
sift through her.
In nightmares she suddenly recalls
a class she signed up for
but forgot to attend.
Now it is too late.
Now it is time for finals:
losers will be shot.
Phrases of men who lectured her
drift and rustle in piles:
Why don’t you speak up?
Why are you shouting?
You have the wrong answer,
wrong line, wrong face.
They tell her she is womb-man,
babymachine, mirror image, toy,
earth mother and penis-poor,
a dish of synthetic strawberry icecream
She grunts to a halt.
She must learn again to speak
starting with I
starting with We
starting as the infant does
with her own true hunger
I don’t quite know how to say this next part, but, when I got on the BART after telling my therapist that I needed [something from] him, I thought, “I wish I was a baby and he was my mom.” (You read that right).
The technical term for this is “transference,” or “maternal projection.” And had I chosen to type out those lofty words I wouldn’t be cringing in embarrassment right now. But my heart does not speak the jargon I learned in grad school. Its language is much simpler: “I need your care.” “I need your delight in me.”
Starting as the infant does, indeed.
When I’m in my therapist chair, I tend to get lost in my own love of big words. I catch myself rambling on about attachment, or good and bad objects, indoctrinating my clients into an honorary psychology degree. But then I catch myself. Their hearts don’t speak that language either. On a good day (and there have been plenty of bad days where I just keep babbling), I slow down and wait for a child’s language to emerge. Yes. No. I’m scared. I don’t like this. These are always the most true things.
And you? What is your heart’s simple truth these days?