In an age in which psychotherapy is looked upon with much disdain and bitter criticism, it’s refreshing to know that there are a few people so skilled in the art and science of therapy that, as painful as a journey through the self can be, they can make a person look forward excitedly to each and every weekly session — with a hunger for freedom that person may never have known.
What is underneath the dissatisfaction most people feel in their lives? Why is it that most people grow up chronologically; choose a career based solely on questions of money, security, and convenience; enter stultifying relationships that serve mainly to counteract feelings of incompleteness and insecurity; accept the onset of middle age at 25 or 30; and spend the rest of their lives riding into the sunset, slowly tilting over facedown into their graves, avoiding all the conflicts and fears beyond which lies the jewel inside each one of them? How have these jewels become buried so deeply? How have they become so encrusted with layer upon layer of fear, anger, frustration, and self- hate? If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, how would you feel? Would you feel that you had missed some- thing, that you hadn’t had the chance to live fully, that somewhere inside you lay that jewel that somehow was never allowed to be brought forth into the sunlight? Or would you feel that it wouldn’t matter— the sooner the better as far as you were concerned? Or would you feel that your life right now was so rich and full that you would want to live on forever?
I’d like to share some of my experiences in the last three years of psychotherapy with a psychologist who is one of those special few I described above. It has been a journey through hell and back, and it is by no means over, but the pain at this point is minor compared to what it used to be.
When I first walked into J’s office, I was in the midst of a deep depression. I had recently dropped out of graduate school and had taken on a very menial job, mainly because I didn’t feel I could do any better. As for my social life, I was unable to make any kind of contact with women. I was petrified of them, and at the same time deeply angry at them. I was incapable of dating, and my sexual experiences were limited to once every few years or so. At this particular time the few women who did manage to find their way into my bed were usually off-balance themselves; and the impotence I was experiencing only made matters worse. On top of this, I was struggling with homosexual feelings brought on by a recent confrontation with a gay friend and former employer. I was scared to death that I might be gay. I had twice taken up my friend’s invitation to bed, and had twice run away before letting myself get into anything. I occasionally had suicidal thoughts. I also had a complete collection of phobias, the most serious of which was a fear of open spaces. I would wake up in the morning, lie in bed ruminating for a few hours, get up, get dressed, run from my house to my car, drive to a restaurant, run from my car into the restaurant, eat breakfast in some corner of the place, run back to my car, drive home, run back into my house, ruminate for a few more hours, drive to work, run into the store, work, drive home, run in, go to sleep, and wake up the next morning — only to go through the same routine all over again. My car was a rolling womb, and my home was a permanent tomb. I was 3000 miles away from my par- ents, whom I believed I hated, and from whom I was rapidly withdrawing. In short, I was desperate, and there was no escape in sight.
I called J in answer to an ad he had placed in a newspaper regarding an encounter work- shop he was running. (For reasons which I’m sure the reader can understand, I have chosen to keep J’s name, as well as my own, confidential.) When I went to the workshop, it became immediately apparent that I was desperately in need of one-to-one therapy, so without further ado, we got started.
For my very first session, J took me in the back and put me into the “chairs”: two chairs face each other; the client sits in one, and in the other a per- son significant in his or her emotional life, played either by the therapist or by an imaginary partner projected by the client. On this particular occasion, J played my mother. She (J) said, “I’m your mother, Rick, and I love you.” “Bull- shit!” I said. “You never loved me; you never loved anything!” I continued on in this way, spewing out accusation after accusation for a good five minutes. Finally, Mom said, “Do you love me?” All of a sudden I felt something rise up from deep within my chest. I bent over in pain and listened in utter astonishment as an emotion-laden “Yes” worked its way up through the enormous tension in my stomach and chest...and barely squeaked out of my mouth. I was in tears. Mom said, “Say that you love me. Say that you need me.” The words came out in a whisper. “I love you. I need you. I love you, Mom...I need you.” We did the same thing with my Dad, with similar results. When I left J’s office that day, I knew that I had finally found what I was looking for. I sensed that my search was over, and that I was about to embark on a long, difficult, but fantastic journey.
The first session opened up my feelings for my parents. Within the space of one month, an enormous amount of emotional material came to the surface, accompanied by lots and lots of tears. At the end of the month my parents came out to visit me, and we all went over to J’s office for what turned out to be a seven-hour session. First my mother and I went into the chairs — this time it was the real thing. I took her hands in mine and the first words out of my mouth were, “Why did you hit me so hard?” For 20 years I had completely forgotten a segment of my childhood during which my mother had beaten me brutally with a belt, often raising welts with the buckle. Suddenly all of this had burst into consciousness, and just as suddenly the same thing happened for her. She broke down crying, begging my forgiveness, expressing terrible guilt and remorse. I told her I would try to forgive her, but I was not able to reach out to her due to the tremendous anger I still harbored inside. Then it was my father’s turn. Again I experienced a bursting into consciousness of deeply repressed material. This time I recalled that as a child I used to walk around the house all day, just waiting for him to come home. He was never around, never had much time to spend with me, and I used to occupy myself all day, waiting for him to return. We both recalled a camping trip we had taken when I was nine. This trip had been the shining moment of my childhood. By the end of the session, my Dad and I were crying in each other’s arms.