Burning down the house

My next few sessions, after I set a boundary by telling Bea ‘no’ were all about relational stuff. After that session where I said no, I was terrified Bea was angry with me. I was so afraid she was going to leave, I couldn’t email her. So, I wrote in my notebook. I wrote a lot in my notebook. I took my notebook with me to therapy that next session. 

When I arrived, I didn’t want to walk in to her office and look at her. So I didn’t. I walked in, staring at the floor. I couldn’t find any small talk, I couldn’t even manage to say hi. Where is Ms. Perfect when you need her? I sat down and pulled out my notebook, handing it to Bea while simultaneously curling into a ball and burying my face in my knees. 

“Did you want to start with your notebook?” Bea asked. 

I nodded. 

Bea didn’t say or do anything for a few moments. It was like she was trying to decide the best way to proceed. “I’m just going to get your blanket, just so you have it if you need it. It looks like you are needing to hide today.” 

She sets the blanket down next to me. I’m glad, because I really do want to hide. 
She starts reading my notebook, where I have basically freaked out over saying no to trying a memory exercise because it would be an SP thing, imagining all the awful things that will happen, that should happen. I wrote and wrote about how this was all because of SP, and SP was the worst thing ever, and I hated it and she was turning into an SP therapist. We had talked in a session previously where she had admitted that there were things from SP that just made sense to her, and felt natural and so they had become part of her way of doing therapy. She had said that she was always careful with me, to not do those things, but as they became more ingrained in how she practiced therapy, sometimes they slipped out. I had said I felt like this issue we were having, my freaking out, was an SP thing. Bea continued to insist that is was a relational thing. She said that SP was the thing that brought out these relationship issues, but if it hadn’t been SP and her changing, it would have been something else. 

“I want to say, before I start reading, that this feeling of being on opposite teams, it feels to me like it kind of another *all or nothing* thing, that we either have to believe exactly the same thing, or we are on opposition teams. I don’t see that. To me, we are on the same team, and we agree about most things, but as separate individuals naturally we don’t agree on everything. We are looking through different lenses so of course we see our own view, and even if we can understand the other’s view, we don’t have to share it to be on the same team.” 

Now, this was almost 4 weeks ago, and looking at this again, I’ve had a something click into place for me. This feels very much like mom stuff to me. I never got to be me with my mom, I never really got to be a separate individual. There was this unspoken rule that we had to like the same things, agree on everything, that there could be no differences. Even when I moved away to college, and wanted to put pink streaks in my hair, I called my mom to ask her opinion (or rather, get permission). She said she supposed doing something wild and crazy was do be expected of a college student, so to go ahead. 

I didn’t say anything in response to Bea’s words. I wanted to believe her, but what she was suggesting was really hard to believe. It wasn’t my experience. I felt alone, and hurt, and terrified. I started crying. 

“Alice, it’s going to be okay. I know it was hard to come back today, but it is going to be okay.” Bea says softly. 

I sob harder. “It’s. Not. Going. To. Be. Okay.”

“Are you firing me?” Bea asks. She is sort of serious, and she isn’t ignoring my tears or upset, but her voice has a playful quality to it.

“N-n-nooooooo,” I sob. 

“Okay. Then whatever it is, whatever Is written here, we can work through it. Okay? We can get through this.” Her tone says she is all serious now. 

“O-o-o-okay.” Shakily, I lift up the blanket, and throw it over my head. Unfortunately, I don’t unfold it al the way, in my rush to remain hidden, and so I have to fumble with it. I end up getting myself covered and hidden with some finagling. 

Bea reads.

I feel like you are on a separate side when it comes to SP, like you are always on a separate side. I hate this. It feels like everything I was afraid of happening with SP is happening. 




“I know. I know you really feel like we are on separate sides. We can disagree and still be on the same side. I really believe that.” 

I can’t do this. I can’t make you change your beliefs, and I would never ask you to. But I can’t work with you when it feels like we are on opposite sides. 




“Well, you aren’t asking me to change my beliefs. But if you are feeling like this– that we are on such opposite sides that you can’t work with me, then it is my job to step back and see how I can help you not just feel like, but know, that I am on your side. It is my job to fix this, okay? And I do believe we can fix it.” 

I really do hate this. It’s not okay. I don’t understand why you can’t be just regular, human, therapist Bea, and if new things you learned will work or be helpful, then use that piece of it and leave the rest. CBT always felt shrinky but you just use some parts of it, like feelings aren’t facts and reality checking. It didn’t mean you had to turn the session into a set in stone CBT session, you used the relevant parts and left the rest. 




“Well here….me being just regular Bea……this is what I was saying the last time, that I can be me and use SP techniques. I really think we are on the same page about this.”

I think with SP it feels like any response you have is forced or because SP says so. I can’t trust that. It turns you into shrinky Bea who is following a set format and whose responses aren’t real but are set out guidelines designed to elicit certain reactions with the end goal of the transformation piece. 




“Ahhhh…..it is feeling very manipulative. I imagine it is hard to trust what another is saying or doing when you are afraid of being manipulated. I’m not trying to trick you, or saying something just to get you to do something. I bring things up to get you to see patterns, to try to change things that might be adding to challenges. I know it’s hard to trust that, and only time and experiencing that as true can really help. And we have time.”

But you were different. You were real, just human, flawed Bea with real emotions and your responses felt like they were you sharing your genuine response with me, not a feeling or response being dictated by the therapist part of you. That’s why I trusted you when I never trusted any other therapist. It’s why when everything seemed completely screwed up, like when you had emailed with hubby, I still trusted your respect, words.  




She laughs. “Flawed. Yup. That’s me. Flawed and human, and bound to make mistakes.”

Inside I’m having a panic attack, but outside I’m frozen and calm, and gone. I can’t do this. I don’t think this can be fixed. 

“I really do believe that as long as you stay, and we work through this together, it can be fixed. It’s only when someone leaves, when they run away, that we don’t get a chance to fix things, and they can’t be fixed then.” 

Maybe I’m a broken trauma client. I know everything in SP says that separating the meaning making narrative from body sensations and feelings. focusing on the body, on the here and now, is less overwhelming, less scary for trauma clients. But for me, it’s this black hole of danger, a not okay, pit of terribleness, it’s not okay. This is a mess. 




“You aren’t broken. I think it’s just that you have dissociated feelings and body sensation and being present from yourself that it feels very unsafe to feel those things. You have to learn to tolerate it again, just like with yoga, you had to learn to tolerate having any focus on your body, being even a little more present. It’s a process, and every time we practice, we open that window a little more. But you aren’t broken, no matter how much that it feels that way.”

Maybe I should be done. I can’t keep doing this. I hate this. I’m not okay. This is destroying me. I feel like I’m going to end up losing you no matter what, so why prolong that? Why prolong this hurt? At the end of the day, you are an SP therapist and I am not an SP client. Better to quit now than end up more hurt because we can’t be on the same side and I can’t talk to you and I’m numb and alone and not really here anyway and all I want to do is go away. 




“It really must feel horrible and lonely to feel like I’m here but you can’t talk to me because we are on different sides. No wonder it was so scary to tell me no, to feel as if you were placing yourself on a separate side.”

I know we don’t have to believe the same things to be on the same side. But this feels bigger than that. It’s like a foundation or something. It’s like we had been building a house together. Your half was different than my half, and that was okay because we had the same foundation, we each used wood to build our house. But one day, you changed out your wooden foundation for bricks. Which meant you could add brick to the rest of your house, but my house can’t support the things your house can. Maybe my house isn’t strong enough to help support the things you have added and so my house is collapsing under the weight. So, it seems like the only thing to do is burn down my half, run away, and start over. 




“You don’t need to burn down your house. You just need someone to help you renovate. I’m here. We don’t need to burn the house down. Nothing is ruined. We don’t need to start over, we just work to build and renovate the house we already have. And we don’t have separate halves of the house, there is no line splitting the house, separating us.” Bea’s voice is sort of….insistent that I don’t burn down my half of the house. She’s insisting we rebuild together.    

Knowing you are there and would respond and care about me, that just hurts. I know, it’s crazy. It’s sort of like I feel as if I’m going to lose you, or feeling this divide between us, it hurts knowing you are there. Ugh. Being and sounding like a crazy person is awful. 
This all just feels unbearable. I’m embarrassed because I can’t even figure out how to explain what exactly is so upsetting, it’s like I know some thing is painful and bad, but I can’t put my finger on it, and so I’m embarrassed to be this upset over………what? Something I can’t name. 




“It’s okay. It makes sense to me. This…..relational stuff can be so painful. Unbearably painful at times. You don’t need to be embarrassed. Really. It’s okay. I get it.” And then, she proves to me that she gets it by sharing a story about herself and her own therapist, and some painful relational attachment stuff that cropped up a long time ago. She tells me about the feelings and her reactions, her behaviors (she doesn’t t share what the attachment challenges were, or what her ‘issues’ were). She gets it. “I don’t….it’s not like that for me, now. Whatever the relational stuff was, I eventually worked through it with my therapist and now, well now, I can take him or leave him. I don’t need him like I once did. It’s nice knowing he’s there, but it’s not that painfully attached feeling. I think that does happen, eventually, if things are worked through.” 

It’s not fair, Bea. A year ago, I was terrified you were turning into an SP therapist, and I thought I’d have to leave, you reassured me, you said *i have no intention of turning into an SP therapist.* AND THEN YOU DID IT ANYWAY. You said I had a choice about SP. But you changed everything. I didn’t get a choice to have my therapist turn into an SP shrink. That is most certainly a choice I did not make. So how do we get past that? 
I hate this. I hate SP. everything is all screwed up. I can’t fix it, I can’t be a good client, I can’t do this. I shouldn’t be here anymore, I just want to disappear. I’m sorry. I’m sorry you did this for me and I, and ungrateful, bratty drama queen, who just can’t be good. I feel like this won’t be okay. I just want things to feel safe again, I want to be able to talk to you. And I am not sure that will ever happen. This hurts. 




“I know this hurts. I can see that it is hard for you to be here right now, and I can tell there is a lot of pain and sadness around all of this. I don’t see you as bratty, I see you as scared, as terrified of these changes. I can see you hating SP because it was a catalyst of these changes and it feels like SP is the cause of this pain you feel between you and I. I know it feels like I am turning into an SP therapist. I’m not. I would not call myself am SP therapist. I am just me, just Bea who is flawed and human, and real. Sometimes I use CBT or DBT strategies in therapy sessions. Sometimes I use SP stuff. Sometimes I use developmental attachment stuff from my infant mental health training. I use lots of things to work with people. I could never give up the other methods I use. I think it is hard for you because you have been here as I learned SP, and as I was unskillfully working to integrate it into my regular style of therapy. Now it’s more integrated, and I try to be very conscious of that and not use it in your sessions, but it is more natural, more mixed into my therapy bag. You don’t need to leave, and I don’t need to leave. We both can stay and we can be on the same side. I’m just me. I’m not leaving or changing who I am at my center.”

“I don’t have to leave? You aren’t leaving?” My voice is tiny and tear filled. 
“No, you absolutely don’t need to leave. I’m not leaving— well, I am leaving for vacation in a week, but I am coming back.” She says. The added part about her vacation is reluctant. 

I sob harder. “You are leaving. You are leaving because of me.” Panic is erupting within me. Bea is leaving. I was bad, and she is leaving. 

“Nope. This isn’t because of you, or because of anyone. I’m leaving to take my son back to school and then to spend a few with my husband. That’s all. It’s not because of you, you could never make me leave.” 

“You’re coming back?” Tears are still running down may face and I feel a little numb. 

“Yes. I’m coming back. I’ll be leaving on Friday after work, and I’ll be back home on Wednesday afternoon.” She says calmly. 

My heart freezes. “I won’t see you all week?” 

“Not on Monday or Wednesday, I won’t be here. I could see you Thursday morning?” She is gentle and kind with me, her voice is soft. 

“Okay. Thursday morning.” I agrees, sadly.

“We still have next week Monday and Wednesday, and you can email me. I know it’s scary to email me when I’m not here, but you can email and I will answer and I will be real and not shrinky.” She reassures me as best she can. 

Then, because I’m hiding under the blanket and I’m a little bit far away, Bea asks me how I want to come back to the real world. 

“I don’t know.” I whisper.

“What do you need to feel safe to come back?” She asks. 

I honestly don’t know, and even if I did, I wouldn’t ask. I tell her that I truly don’t know. 

“Should I leave the room?” She asks. 

I have an immediate reaction to that, and so I shake my head. No, don’t leave the room. 

“Turn around and not look at you?”

I shake my head. That feels better than her leaving but it’s not okay either. 

“Do you want me to move my chair closer?”

I shake my head. No. 

Bea suggest a few more things, and an answer to her question begins to form in my mind. “Go away, bit don’t leave. That’s what I want. How crazy is that? It makes no sense. I can’t do this.” 

“It’s not crazy. It’s that push- pull dynamic. What if I turn to the side, so I’m not facing you, close my eyes, and keep a connection by talking with you?” She suggests. 

“Okay.” I agree, feeling lame, broken, defective. Why am I acting like this? It takes me a few minutes to pull the blanket off my head and sit up. I can’t look at Bea for a long time, but when I finally peek my eyes at her, I see she is sitting side ways and has her eyes closed. 

“Would it be okay if I opened my eyes? I won’t move, I won’t leave.” 

“Yeah. You can open your eyes.” Now that I’m more present, Bea’s closed eyes feel as if she is shutting me out, like maybe she doesn’t want to see me. 

Bea opens her eyes, and I feel a bit better. I slip on my shoes, gather my things, fold the blanket. I stand up, and walk to the door. Only then does Bea turn towards me. She smiles and wishes me a good weekend. I smile too, and wish her the same. 

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