In Treatment -- Sophie, week 7

Sophie is waiting when Paul opens the door. She is texting someone, then she tells Paul it's her father, that he is in Boston and she may go see him next week.

Sophie starts by saying she had a dream that her father was in danger. So she called her father and he tells her that someone had broken into their hotel room and stolen his favorite camera. Sophie asserts that this is proof positive of their connection. Paul asks if going to Boston will interfere with her Olympic training. Sophie says it is not a big deal. 

Paul asks when was the last time she saw her father. She says 6 months ago, that they went to a fancy restaurant with his girlfriend. He flirted with a waitress and his girlfriend got angry so they left. Sophie is unclear which girlfriend he is with now. She says she took a trip with her father to Paris when she was 13 and she lights up as she describes it. 

Paul asks about the dream. But she says she doesn't want to say more about it. She says the important part is that she felt he was in danger, that they are linked. She says it was a terrible a dream, a nightmare. She asks Paul if he has nightmares. He tells her one he has had since he was a kid. She asks him what he thinks it means and Paul says he thinks it means he was going to disappoint his mother. She asks if he did and he says he doesn't think so.

Sophie tells the dream -- that she was in a hotel room and a man knocks on the door and is looking for her father. She realizes after he comes in that he is a serial killer and will kill her father as soon as he comes in. Paul asks about the hotel room, if she has been in it before. She describes a room with lots of wood. Sophie says the man in her dream was wearing shoes like Paul's, that they were Paul's shoes. Then she says the man was Paul, that he was waiting to kill her father. Sophie says her father doesn't appear, that she and Paul just sat there making small talk. Sophie says it makes sense doesn't it , because he thinks her father crossed the line with her. She says that his work and Sophie are the only important things in his life. 

Paul asks what she thinks about his photographs. She says she likes him, that he loves the human form. She tells Paul that her father thinks a lot of shrinks are failed artists or writers. Paul asks how it was for her that his father was always surrounded by beautiful women. She says it was okay, he was an artist and she was used to nudity.

Paul asks if it was normal for her to be around nude women then? He asks if Sophie was naked around the house and she says no, of course not. Paul asks if both her father and mother were naked around the house. She says her mother was never naked, that she was clueless. Then she says that the nudity was only during the day when her mother was at work. Sophie says her mother was a fool for not seeing they were having sex, her father and the models. She says she saw them. Paul asks if her father knew and she says yes, he did. Afterwards he shut and locked the door. She says she was around 7. She repeats that he is an artist and that artists must be unconventional. 

Paul asks if she ever told her mother about it and she says no. She again accuses Paul of suggesting she was sexually abused. He asks if she thinks something happened to her. Paul says he doesn't think she was sexually abused. Then asks why she never told her mother what she saw. Sophie says she never speaks to her mother, that she is pathetic, that she didn't see what was right in front of her eyes. Sophie says it is not her job to wake her up, that her father does not care about her.  Paul suggests that she didn't tell her mother because she was afraid it would end their marriage, like she was afraid for Sy and his wife. Paul says her father burdened her with his secret. And that she is afraid that if she reveals his secret he will leave her. And that her parents will never get together again.

Paul says her father left her as well as her mother, that he left and moves around. He asks why she can't let herself be angry with him. Sophie says it's her mother she is angry with. Paul says because she is always around. Paul says she is angry with her mother for being there, for being persistent. Sophie falls silent and slumps down.

She says there is something she hasn't told him. She says she is not really interested in gymnastics anymore. That she doesn't know why. Paul says he thinks there weren't enough boundaries around when she was growing up and sports became the perfect outlet for her where there were rules and boundaries. It was a place she could run away to . And maybe she doesn't need to run away to that world now. She says she'll never make the Olympic team now. Paul asks if she has ever failed before. Never she says. 

Sophie says their time is up but she doesn't move to leave. They look at each other and smile just a little. There is a look of sad relief on her face. Then she goes to the door and leaves.

Once again, Paul is at his very best with Sophie and gently moves her into dealing with the very difficult issue of her father and her mother. And helps her to begin to understand why she has been so angry with her mother. 

It is a relief to know, in all probability, that Sophie is not the victim of incest, at least not physically, but the sexualization of the atmosphere around her father and his casual inclusion of her in his adult world has been damaging to her. That Paul has become an adult she can lean on, reveal herself allows her have a new safe place, one with rules and boundaries that she can depend on, and so her need for gymnastics declines. 

Contrast how easy Paul is with Sophie to how strained he becomes with his own children. Without the role to define him, without the boundaries that being a therapist provides for him allows him to be more relaxed and to listen far better than he does to his own kids. Of course, with his own kids, he has to contend with his feelings and needs as well as theirs. He attempts to deal with the turmoil in his domestic life by donning his therapist manner with his kids and it doesn't work. 

There are those who would say that Paul should not have offered Sophie an example of his own nightmare, and we do not know if in fact what he told her was a recurrent dream of his or one he invented. Nevertheless, doing so does free Sophie to tell him her dream and to get t the point of recognizing who the man in the dream is and thus opens the way to looking at her history with her father and mother.

How much to disclose, and where to draw the line, is always difficult to define. There are those who believe the therapist should be as completely blank a slate as is possible. But we always reveal more to our patients by our manner, our dress, accent, choice of words, books, and other elements n our environment than we know. So attempting to reveal nothing is a fruitless quest. On the other hand it is important to have some sense of why we chose to reveal things about ourselves and when or to try as best we can to be aware. In situations where we have doubt about disclosing, it is a better course to dodge the question a bit by saying it is important first to look at why it is important to the patient to know something. The way is left open to reveal if it then seems appropriate and also to go deeper into what underlies the curiosity. But with Sophie, that likely would not have worked. So Paul's disclosure seems well placed.


© Cheryl Fuller, 2007. All  rights reserved.