Having emotions versus therapizing emotions.

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I’m in the middle of writing a long post responding to the ideas in several articles I’ve just found on the topic of how psychotherapy and political activism (in these articles, specifically feminism, but has broader applications) have incompatible goals. I don’t agree with every single part of the articles, but I’m finding a lot of them say exactly what I’ve been thinking for a long time. And I can’t write the full post now because I’ve got a nasty migraine, so I’m settling for discussion of one part.

One of the most interesting comments someone made in one of them, was about something I’ve noticed happening to me a lot: Being accused simultaneously of being too emotional, and of not “opening up” enough emotionally. The author discussed this mainly in terms of social class, but acknowledged that many of the things she was describing were things that could happen on the basis of other differences.

Anyway, she said that the difference was between two different approaches to emotion. The more therapized version, she said, involved a totally intellectualized version of emotion in which, for instance, someone could calmly sit around and say something like “I have a lot of anger issues around that” and then go into a lot of “process” (a word I still don’t understand, but that I’ve heard a lot in these contexts) about it. The other version, her version, did not involve saying things like that, but did involve actually acting pissed off when pissed off. It was more about having emotions integrated into your daily life without necessarily going “Here, here’s an emotion, I’m going to dissect it and destroy it because it’s scary unless I can do that.”

Anyway, she said that this way of doing things could get her in a lot of trouble at political meetings of people who saw things in a very therapized light. She might raise her voice or use forceful language when she got mad about something, and people could then call her “too emotional” and tell her to “quit scaring people”. But then she would not be sitting around publicly describing every nuance of her internal emotional state — that is something she reserves for close friends, and still probably doesn’t do in a therapy-like way — and would thus be also regarded as “too guarded” and “not opening up enough”.

This explains a whole lot about how people react to me. Apparently the “I am nice” signals I’ve talked about, are partly signals of using the sorts of language accepted in the therapy culture, which is part of why I get seen as, well, not very nice. And as too emotional in various contexts. And so forth. And apparently the fact that I don’t self-therapize in public (or for that matter in private, although like the author I was reading there’s a lot I’ll discuss in private that I’ll never discuss in public) also contributes to the fact that I often get responses like “I know what you’re about, but you don’t let us know who you are” or “We’ve known you a long time but I don’t think any of us really know you” or “You need to learn to open up more about your feelings” and so forth. These things had always baffled me, especially since they’re often said by the same people who are super-uncomfortable with any actual display of emotion on my part, but who go on and on and on about their own emotions (in that detached sort of way) at length and in fairly non-productive ways.

So… this makes sense to me. It’s two different ways of experiencing and looking at emotions, and I’m far more into the “If I’m scared or mad I’m going to act scared or mad rather than talk pseudo-objectively about my ‘fear or anger issues’” range of things despite being heavily and forcibly therapized at one point in my life. (The forcibly therapized bit just means some echolalia along those lines will occasionally slip out.)

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30 responses »

  1. I had a therapist who believed that I should somehow be able to call up any emotion on cue so that we could “deal” with that emotion during our sessions. I said I couldn’t do that, and she insisted, so I just faked it. I quit seeing her as soon as I could convince my parents that I was “cured” so that I wouldn’t have to deal with that frustration and stupidity.

  2. Yes, yes, I also have a lot of DEEPLY buried yet profound issues around this therapizing of emotions. I’m working through it now with a wonderful neo-Janovian therapist using primal scream, rebirthing and bodywork. :-)

    I think that this stuff is the province of upper class educated people with too much time on their hands. I have a hard time seeing a working class person getting caught up in it.

  3. It sounds to me as if what you’re calling “the sorts of language accepted in the therapy culture” bears more than a little resemblance to the “program talk” that’s often seen among members (especially new ones) of 12-step groups, members of cults, er, excuse me, New Religious Movements, and among parents of kids sent to “therapeutic boarding schools,” “boot camps,” or the Judge Rotenburg Center (and sometimes among kids who just got out of such places, especially the ones who seem to have Stockholm Syndrome). The person’s language sounds like it’s made up almost entirely of talking points, but they can never pull it off the way a politician or skilled salesman can. And “program talkers” often do appear “emotionally off” in a rather Stepford-like way; their body language and tone of voice appears decoupled from the apparent importance they put on what they’re saying.

  4. and then go into a lot of “process” (a word I still don’t understand, but that I’ve heard a lot in these contexts) about it.

    In these contexts, “process” has to do with “processing” one’s emotions – talking through them, sorting out why they’re there, etc. – and, hopefully, coming to some resolution about part of what’s being processed.

    ***

    I waffle between the two extremes. When I’m highly stressed, I “act out” more, like when I had a tantrum at work last Monday because someone moved my fan out of my office and I couldn’t find it. Logically, it’s a fan. But with (1) lack of sleep, (2) emotional upheaval, (3) the need to find somewhere to live within the next two weeks, and (4) feeling completely unable to look after myself… well… yeah. I had a tantrum. Complete with yelling, crying, and even stomping my feet. Would’ve been better if there’d been nobody around to witness it, but you can’t have everything, I guess…

    Anyway, at other times, when my stress levels are more sane, I’m more able to just discuss my emotions and whatnot fairly clinically – more detached, I guess. And I suppose that’s not “normal”, but I’ve never been “normal”, so there’s not much to help that, now, is there?

    I find that I’m more likely to feel that I don’t know someone as well as I’d like, than to have them feel they don’t know me. Which is ridiculous, because I also often feel that others don’t know me as well as I wish they did (or as well as they think they do), while I understand other people fairly well in a short span of time.

  5. I don’t understand the perspective very well (since I don’t quite understand this with feminism) but… I’ve been told at home I was too non-chalant. They used Eeyore the donkey from Pooh to desribe. As someone who was non-confrontational. They use “level headed, good judgement”. Then again, I’m told that I’m whiney, a crybaby, etc etc. and then the opposite words. Lately, I don’t get much of any feedback. It’s kind of peaceful really although I’ve lately been tired and worried and crying more. Today has been rather calm and peaceful but I’m not getting anything done.

    In the context of psychotherapy, I think it’s an impossible stress/feat to have to sanitize emotions and force them into strings of words. That’s perhaps what happened to me. I broke down over time. After so many times when a child cries because they are punished and then yelled at to stop crying….it seldom has effect… at the time. The bottling of emotion is unhealthy. Controlling some of it in pragmatic ways is. I don’t have much interest in judging other people’s emotions. My best friend (besides my spouse), Jim Barnett IRL (who is autistic but who I see average about every other month) has a lot of emotional release at home. He sometimes knows I can be a bit exasperated too but it’s not a high priority to get into how we release our personal stresses. I notice them, but that’s the end of it. Not sure if I’m thinking along the point you bring up here but when I ponder it some more, I might have more to say. The best I can do now is to associatively share versus address. It could be deduced here that in general, I sometimes have a hard time addressing the main issues but can say, I relate to some of it. I think in institutions or based on what you are reading, there is something to understand about judging others for their emotions or how they express it. I think it’s mostly futile to do so to others.

  6. This is such an incredibly insightful entry. I’ve experienced this quite a bit through my years of “treatment”- crying, acting anxious, or getting visibly angry is seen as a sign that I’m still “very sick”, but talking calmly about strong emotions means that I’m “insightful” and “doing well”.

    Is it possible that NTs are able to intellectualize their emotions better than those of us on the autistic spectrum? Or is this dichotomy just a ridiculous invention of the “professionals” that claim to be helping us?

  7. This is about therapy is that it is, by definition, a tool to treat a problem. In circumstances where it is useful to attempt to objectify emotions, the other ways in which those emotions are manifesting are dangerous and upsetting – they are causing someone to drink heavily, for example, or stopping them from performing certain essential tasks. It can also be helpful to do this when attempting to resolve some major conflict or other.

    However, world where everyone behaves like this all the time is a world which maintains the demand for therapy since everyone is attempting to rationalise and elliminate the ups and downs of ordinary life. Passion is perfectly healthy and should be allowed to manifest from time to time.

    There is an added issue being women, as your reading has almost certainly touched upon. People are frightened of emotional women, and have been at least throughout most of Christian history. At the same time, people are frightened of unemotional women – women are supposed to be sensitive and vulnerable, just so long as we don’t exhibit too much passion.

    The therapeutic culture creates a happy medium; women can demonstrate their femininity by talking about their emotions all the time, but since they are not allowed to manifest, we’re never suspected of hysteria. This is perhaps as unhealthy as having the lot of us on mood-regulating drugs.

  8. Personally, the whole ‘therapeutic language’ always bothered me. In my experience, it’s all about power. In my experience, I have never seen it happen as an interaction among equals, as happens in other ways of talking about/expressing emotions.

    Instead, there’s one person, anyone from a designated authority to the person who’s most recently read a self-help book, who is in charge of making sure that people follow the rules of this little semantic game, and express themselves in the permissible ways.

    However, medium affects message. The ‘therapeutic language’ game can be used to control a group and stifle dissent in a few different ways.

    First, there’s the shift of focus from the issue to the person at hand. ‘I statements’ have this result. Saying ‘I feel a lot of anxiety about the prospect of being institutionalised’, or even ‘I don’t want to be locked up’ is very different from ‘locking me up against my will is wrong’. It makes your feelings the focus, and by extension the problem.

    Second, it restricts subjects. Therapeutic language provides a lot of ways to converse on personal emotional reactions, and not much leeway for anything else. It only allows a person to articulate anger, fear, or any other ‘negative’ emotion from the view that the emotion is their personal problem that needs to change. Listeners are encouraged to reflect back, ‘I hear you’ or ‘I can relate’ instead of contradicting or building on the facts and plans. A person who persists in analysing anything but herself is accused of trying to conceal the emotions on the assumption that that is what should be expressed.

    Third, a skillful manipulator can use it to make demands of other people and the group at large. The word ‘need’ gets tossed around, and the leader of the game is the one who gets to rule on weither it’s a proper need, or can be questioned. The leader can dictate exactly what is to take place, shoving certain requirements down some people’s throats as ‘needs’. She might dictate that one contreversial opinion is allowed because someone ‘needs to vent’, while at the same time insisting that someone else ‘needs to have their views challenged’ by being contradicted or told to shut up. That making the group feel ‘emotionally safe’ means mandating certain behaviors (for instance no shouting, talking in regular turns, I statments, etc.) that make it easy for some people to express themselves, and difficult for others.

    If this all sounds like a therapy group, it is. Dictating that people express themselves in ‘therapeutic language’ is a way to turn any group interaction into therapy, with one person setting herself up to make the rules, and all others regulated to the role of a patient who needs treatment.

  9. Ms. Clark: Yeah, the class thing was discussed in the third article I’m reading. I have seen poor and working-class people get into that mode, but it’s a lot rarer, and generally only after they’re in a fairly comfortable position in life. (Having been raised middle-class and in a lot of therapy to boot, clearly there’s some other factor at work in why I don’t generally act in a therapized way, but that too was acknowledged at the beginning of the third article.) One of the major factors in a lot of stuff — not just this — is probably whether anyone’s ever actually had to fight for anything necessary to survival, in a way that couldn’t be accomplished through, say, “I-statements” and politeness and therapese and so forth. Which encompasses class but also a lot of other things. That’s my current working hypothesis on what, beyond being disabled, makes me different from a lot of people I am encountering offline, in terms of how we respond ot the world.

    ebohlman: Yes, and believe it or not there was apparently a time when a lot of those things weren’t so therapized themselves. Therapy has pervaded a lot of things, including 12-step groups and cults and such, that it originally either wasn’t a part of, or not so much of a part of.

    When I was in forced therapy, including forced group therapy, I heard a lot of those words being thrown around but I didn’t understand a lot of them, which may be why I don’t incorporate a lot of the concepts into my life these days. A lot of the other people in those situations probably did absorb more of them, but either poor verbal comprehension or a working bullshit sensor (not sure which) afforded me some protection. I can remember people talking about “working through” emotions and so forth but since it was so abstract I never could totally get a grasp on the idea aside from a few going-through-the-motions things that got mostly discarded. And there was a lot of sarcasm about that from other people, now that I remember. People hissing “I have issues with you” and so forth. Or making “I-statements” into sarcastic remarks about how “I-statements” made people feel.

    Lili: I don’t know whether it’s an autistic/NT thing or something else.

    J: A lot of what you’re describing — what constitutes an actual ‘need’, what’s this whole concept of ‘emotional safety’, etc — is stuff that’s covered in the articles I’m responding to, so if I don’t get to it now, I’ll probably get to it in the longer post I’m writing.

  10. The synchronicity among blogs is always interesting. Yesterday I was considering what I felt the role of an educational psychologist / counselor should be, because I want to have a firm grip on that before I go (or may go) into such a degree program; I want to have a firm grip on what I feel is important and be able to critically examine the metatheories given. Last night I ended up blogging on the differences between good and bad counseling. I’ve had both, and they are vastly different! http://qw88nb88.wordpress.com/2006/07/23/good-counseling-bad-counseling/

    The kind of groupthink described above by ebohlman is a very specific method that can be quite pathological. Description of such at this Web page: http://perso.orange.fr/eldon.braun/awareness/pathology.htm
    Thankfully the more dangerous sort is rare. Anyway, most any comments I’d make on this topic are in my blogpost, so I won’t go repeating myself.

  11. Reactions to the idea of “good” counseling are covered in some of the articles I’ll be linking to, better than I can cover them in a comment, so read those links (once I get around to posting them) if you want some of my ideas on that.  Suffice to say it’s not just whether or not the counseling is “to solve a genuine problem” (as one person suggested) and not just whether the person going to counseling is satisfied with the solution or the power structure involved, that is the problem.

  12. Andrea,

    I haven’t read your posts yet, but I can affirm with complete confidence that dangerous counselling is not rare at all. In my own experience, while it is not as common as ineffective counselling, it is still much easier to find than good counselling.

  13. Well what worries me is the first sign to many people that I am experienceing an emotion is if I am full on yelling at them.

    Though I do laugh a lot, mostly “inapropriatly”

    I laugh at the absurdity of the human condition and frankly my own pessimistic take on the world, in that I woud probably find my own death amusing if I were to witness it :)

    Anyway I am too intellectual to have emotions, all I have is culturally constrained constructs based upon experiential necessity governed by bio chemical endocrine reactions contingent upon my particular neurology and how the heavens are ordained at that o’clock :)

    A favorite saying of mine is that the Chewong of Malaysia have only seven words for emotion and that is probably six too many.

  14. I think too I have a lot more apparatus for dealing with things than I did many years ago when I was undergoing CBT, which was probably not entirely pointless, for what I lernt from that was the vacuity of it for changing the way someone like I thought, and I was able to realise that the way I felt and acted had its own logic and funtion.

    Today I probably know as much of the lingo as any therapist and probably a great deal besides that they don’t understand.

  15. What you said about therapizing emotions is one of the reasons I’ve had trouble getting along with people in the “survivor therapy culture.” (In the sense that they make therapy, being a survivor, and doing the things they or their therapists regard as “healing” into their entire identity, not in the sense of just having survived some kind of abuse or neglect.) With some of them, I found it really hard to even have an ordinary conversation because I kept getting stopped and lectured about my unhealthy conversational habits that made people feel unsafe or triggered or violated others’ boundaries (or whatever).

    We and Astraea used to know someone who did this kind of thing fairly well, in fact, and there’s actually something I find very aggressive about it (the constant intellectualizing of emotions/reactions). It’s often a way to be very aggressive and controlling while being able to hide behind a facade of “feeling safe” and “setting boundaries” and “recovery.” All of which sound like good things that no sensible person would ever be against, so you’re automatically set up to look like the unreasonable, abusive one if you challenge anything done in the name of these things.

    There’s a kind of “survivor culture lingo,” also, where words are used to mean different things than they mean even in other therapy contexts. For instance, I’ve seen a lot of people saying “you triggered me” or “I was triggered” simply to refer to having felt any kind of negative emotion (anger, fear, sadness, etc– I don’t necessarily agree with them that these things are negative, but they seem to be regarded that way by many). People also can and do justify doing all kinds of things to you, that would be considered being a bad friend or even psychological abuse in ‘ordinary’ contexts, by saying that they’re staying safe and setting boundaries and so on. For example, they may blow up and scream at you and later on justify their actions by saying “I was triggered and my boundaries were violated so I had to express my feelings in order to re-establish a healthy boundary between us.” Another thing I’ve run into is people who respond to anything they even interpret as threatening by comparing you to their abusers, or accusing you of abuser-like behavior.

    Some people will also criticize you for lacking self-awareness, or tell you that you obviously have not healed, if you don’t talk about your emotions in survivor-therapy-lingo constantly. And yeah, the flipping out if you actually *express* those emotions rather than being all detached about it is something I’ve definitely seen. You’re supposed to say “I feel like crying right now” instead of actually crying, or something, because people find actual crying to be too intimidating.

    The other thing I noticed was unwillingness to talk about yourself this way publically being considered, in and of itself, a sign of something wrong– not just a sign of wanting your privacy. Supposedly, “healthy” people are willing to dissect their own emotions and reactions anytime, in front of everyone, and also to talk openly about past traumatic events in the same way.

  16. Wow, so many words….
    I too have been very careful in choosing the words I use to describe emotional stuff. I do a lot of analysis and intellectualization of my emotions. Often I wish I didn’t have such strong emotions. I guess I am guilty of therapizing myself, when it comes to emotions, but I fear that if I didn’t, I couldn’t concentrate on other things like school work and stuff. But the main reason is that I am frightened by my own emotions when they are powerful…..like boiling anger, extreme sadness…..
    I hope your migraine has since gone away, Amanda.

    Now, I am trying to stop hiding my emotions, the above blurb is what I used to think. But it will take time. I’ve met a therapist whom I believe will help me. I have to sort through why I don’t want or can’t deal with strong emotions well.

    ai

  17. Hierarchies seem to be central to how this works: certain people in groups where therapising goes on will have emoting privileges, and others will be undercut more or less whatever they do. I don’t know whether that’s by the nature of the thing, or whether therapising is just a very useful tool for hierarchically minded people.

    As Berke says, therapy-speak allows anything the person using it *wants to allow, but disallows anything he doesn’t. And in places where that’s the accepted mode of discourse, it becomes nearly impossible to say anything meaningful.

  18. Yeah.

    There was something in the article I was reading, that talked about how therapizing makes it impossible to differentiate between an “attack” and a “disagreement” (because it’s all about how it “makes you feel”), and then people feel justified being actually cruel to “defend themselves”.

    I’ve gotten on the wrong side of therapizers before and had them turn utterly nasty to me, saying all kinds of horrible things to and about me, but of course couching it all in “I-statements” and other therapy-talk to make it all seem okay.

    All because I had disagreed with them on something (in a few cases, disagreed on the nature and purpose of therapy-talk, which is a good way to get a vicious response, because of course within that worldview all talk other than therapy-talk is some kind of evil).

  19. Completely aside from the political uses of therapy-talk, which are real and destructive, I’m going to make a case for the ability to verbalise emotions.

    If somebody can step outside their emotions far enough to say “I feel hopeless and depressed” instead of “I am miserable and hopeless” or expressing their feelings directly, unanalysed, by jumping in front of a train, it makes a difference.

    In the first case (“I feel hopeless”) you recognise yourself as depressed, think about the last time you were depressed, and think about what you want to do about it. Maybe you’re depressed because you’re fighting an implacable enemy and you don’t seem to be getting anywhere; you might need to hang out with some other experienced militants to get reassurance and recharging so you can go back into the fray.

    In the second case (“I am hopeless”) you might take all your meds or jump in front of a train or whatever means of self-destruction is most available to you. But at least by expressing yourself verbally you let other people know how you feel so that they can intervene first.

    In the third case (not verbalising at all, to self or others, but going directly to action), you’ve jumped in front of that train as soon as your feelings develop and before anyone can offer support.

    So the ability to say that you like or dislike something, that you feel good or bad about something, whatever — this ability can come in very handy. Which is why one of the goals of therapy is often to teach this skill.

    But this is different from putting your feelings on a pedestal to control other people. If you can step outside your feelings far enough to say “I feel angry,” then you have the ability to go for a walk outside to cool off before saying something vicious and destructive. If you can recognise the need to verbalise, then you can pick an appropriate person to verbalise to — a therapist, perhaps, and not a co-worker.

    The goal is supposed to be self-control, which is not what we’re complaining about when we complain about therapy culture. Self-control is not necessarily complete impassivity, but the ability to make choices about what you’re going to do when you feel emotional.

  20. Aha! My personal bugbear is not so much therapy-speak in the big world but therapists themselves. So I was completely tickled (as in giggly-happy) to read in an advice column (I am addicted to advice columns) the following problem and answer. Problem: man’s wife is both a jerk and a therapist. Predictable answer 1): Man should get therapy. “You need to know why you accept such treatment. Why do you let her get away with it? Why don’t you stand up to her?” Less predictable answer 2): The couple should see a therapist together. “And I mean a *real* therapist. Someone who is used to working with other therapists and can see through their cons and games.”

    This column is by Cheryl Lavin, someone who presumably is quite familiar with therapist cons and games, being a therapist herself. Ah, recursivity.

  21. I heard that psychotherapy was actually started by Stalin’s secret police, I belive called the NKVD, or something like that. The head of it at the time, a man named Beria, actually gave a speech on how therapy was to be presented as scientific under medicine “psychiatry” and how “Now we can do in 5 years what used to take us 70 years.” He meant changing society and the individual in order to control both. If you don’t belive it, google it under “therapy beria nkvd control” etc etc. We have been a therapized society here on America for at least 30 years ( these ideas saturating the schools, colleges, workplaces, media, magazines etc) and society has gotten so much worse. People are ruder, stupider, less educated, more disfunctional (drugs, divorce, families dissolving. Nowdays everything is about ME ME ME!!! What do I want, What are my feelings? Forget about you!! Therapy makes people self-absorbed and terrible company as they only think of themselves. This is done on purpose. If you have ever known a man who has been therapized, and has been taught to whine about his feeeeeeeeeelings like a scare pathetic old woman it is quite horrifying and it makes you want to vomit. No woman wants a frightened little wimp, The powers that be do not want any real men in our culture who will stand up to corruption, so they are turning the males into feminized psuedo-males who are so busy “exploring their inner landscape” they don’t know what a normal man is. Yes I briefly dated one of these and it was horrible. I have also tried therapy myself for a problem, and all I can say is that these “therapists” are world class con artists, bastards, idiots, liars, and PARASITES making a dishonest living off of confused dupes. Therapy is a lie and it is POISON. It erases common sense and makes you weak. It is designed to saturate your mind with politically correct lies and control your behavior to benefit the very rich and the government, so they can exploit you. It is really all about money.

  22. Amanda

    I had some things happen recently that make me ask why people with disabilities are not allowed to have emotions at all. One person was upset because they are leaving a situation that they have known a long time, and a supervisor remarked that “THEY are just reacting to the staff’s emotions.” Like there is not thought or self involved. And then when someone was hurting and crying, they were accused by people of just trying to manipulate a situation to their advantage. It wasn’t until a “wound” was found that it was even possibly considered that the person might actually be in pain.

    These are non-verbal people, and it seems tthat because of it they are somehow seen as unable to be fully human- just input and output machines with a few quirks thrown in.

    And as a person who is working with people who dehumanize people in this manner, what is one to do? It is never said meanly, more matter of factly, and I am left to think it would be to others benefit if I just shut up and treated these people the same way others do. But, that ain’t gonna happen.

    It is just soemthing I wonder if you have written on previously and specifically.

  23. I think it’s valuable to be able to do some of both. If you intellectualize your emotions all the time, you miss out on a lot of the richness of life. You also probably make it hard to have intimate relationships, since you never feel anything in a way that other people can empathize with.

    On the other hand, I’ve found that it’s valuable for me to be able to “detach” myself from my emotions at times. This is basically as Alison Cummins describes in an earlier comment; I can recognize my feelings in a more abstract level than just feeling them. This allows me to strategize ways of changing them, if I want to. It also just plain allows me to remember that just because I happen to feel depressed, the depression is not WHO I am. Tomorrow it is possible that I can feel good. If I feel worthless, I am not worthless. I’m just having these feelings in reaction to something that happened. It’s hard to explain that in words, but it’s almost like the feelings are less damaging to your identity that way. Of course, it helps to be able to recognize when you’re “detaching” and “immediately experiencing.”

  24. On “process”–

    Another way I’ve heard people use the term “process” has to do with the relationship between the therapist and client. When there is some wierd thing going on between the therapist and client, that remains unspoken, “process work” means naming that wierd thing and talking about it and figuring out a way out of it if that thing is harmful. It can also mean taking that thing as an example of what may happen in other relationships of the clients’, and using it as “practice” to help the client figure out how to get out of the wierd thing with other people.

    It’s all kind of vague and abstract, so here’s an example. Sometimes with chronic callers (people who call once every couple of days) at the Crisis Center, there’s a thing that happens where the caller prefers to chat about superficial things than talk about emotionally-laden topics. The problem with this is that the volunteer can spend hours tying up the phone line chatting, while other people can’t get someone to talk to. So the volunteer tells the caller about this early on in the relationship. If the caller keeps slipping into “chat mode” whenever the volunteer broaches a topic that is too hard to talk about, the volunteer might make a “process statement” like this:

    “I notice that whenever I bring up This Emotional Topic you have a tendency to change the subject to something less personal. We’ve talked before about how hard it is to talk about Emotional Topic, and how you wish you had someone to chat with. However, when we’re talking, if you don’t feel comfortable talking about things that are really bothering you, then it would be better to hang up and call back another time.”

    Then the caller and volunteer might talk about WHY it’s hard to talk about personal stuff, and even possibly about how this might happen with other friends the caller talks to. They might talk about how this affects other relationships besides the one on the phone (although it is somewhat different, because it’s normal for friends to spend most of the time just chatting).

    One problem with this whole idea is that a lot of people assume that if there’s a wierd thing going on between therapist and client, it’s because of the client’s issues, not the therapist’s. Ideally, the therapist would be able to examine this and be honest if it’s some personal thing of theirs that’s contributing to it.

    Either way, the idea is that bringing these dynamics into the open in an honest, nonaccusatory way is better than letting them fester.

    I think a good therapist should be comfortable recieving negative feedback from a client, like “You seem to be trying to convince me that you’re right about Some Decision, rather than letting me figure it out for myself.”

    Finally, I think that “processing” and “process statement” is another term that gets used as a meaningless buzzword sometimes, kind of like “empowerment.”

  25. anon,

    I had the same problem when I was working at an inpatient treatment unit. I finally just quit when I realized that everything I was doing that I thought was any good was just being undone by the cruelty of other staff. I wish I had an answer for it.

  26. Were you ever interested in using art materials as a child in order to express your self: a happy dance with paint? kinesthetic scribbles? i know you don’t like to talk about yourself much but i would be so curious to know as i work with auties and art

  27. Pingback: Autismus ist keine Störung: Auswirkungen einer gestörten Welt

  28. The first words out of my fingers were “thanks so much for sharing your insight,” making realize how difficult it is to escape therapy-think. Anyway, I think you’re spot on about therapy.

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