In Treatment- Oliver, week 2

Oliver and his parents are in the waiting room, each listening to their iPod. Alone together. And this is a good image of how they are relating to each other.

Oliver asks Paul if they are going to play another game. Paul says he has been learning about the rules of blackjack. Oliver wonders why. Paul tells him he wants to learn about the things that Oliver does and likes. Oliver says his teachers don't think he is smart, that all of them hate him because he falls asleep in class. School is boring he says. He says none of it is about real stuff. He says they are reading Lord of the Flies which is lame -- because you don't have to crash on an island for kids to be mean. Then he shows Paul the turtle he has to take home and take care of. And if he doesn't take good care of him, he will fail. And he assumes he will forget something and the turtle will die.

Paul observes his backpack is crowded. Oliver carries all of his books in case he goes to his father's, but he doesn't go there. Paul wonders why he is so tired, even at his mother's house. He says he has trouble sleeping. Paul suggests there are very stressful things in his life and wonders if there is anyone he can talk to. He says if he tells his mom, she calls his dad and then they argue. That day his mom said he isn't getting enough sleep and his dad said he isn't healthy which means fat -- because he is fat. Paul guesses he is upset about being fat. All the kids at school talk about it. They call him Piggy after the fat character in the book. Oliver tells Paul about hiding out during a party. He doesn't tell anyone about this. He says he doesn't tell his mom because she'll tell his dad and then they will fight and he doesn't want it to be his fault that they get a divorce. He wants to know if Paul can make his parents happy. Paul says he can't make them happy but he can help them to get along better. Then he invites the parents in.

Paul invites them to talk with Oliver about what is happening. Luke tells Oliver that Bess and he have decided it is best that they not live together, for good. Oliver asks why they can't live together. Luke answers that it is because they fight and Oliver assumes it is because of him. Luke says they just can't get along, that it isn't because of him. Oliver believes it is because of him, because he gets upset when they fight. Bess starts to cry and tells him they will always love him. Paul asks Oliver to wait in the waiting room. Luke says to Bess that it is no wonder he can't sleep at night. Paul says Oliver's sleeplessness and overeating is due to the stress they are all under. Paul tells them that Oliver believes he can bring them together if he behaves in a particular way. Bess guesses that Paul is saying they shouldn't get divorced. They spar. She asks Paul if he thinks they should stay together. Paul says he cares about what is best for the three of them. Bess tells Luke as bad as it was when they were together, it hasn't been better since they separated. Luke tells her they have passed the point of no return and tells her he is seeing someone else. Bess gets up and goes to the door and tells Oliver to get his things together. Oliver hears her. Luke protests that this is supposed to be his night. Paul says they won't get anywhere if whenever they get upset with each other they leave the session. Oliver asks if it isn't his night to go to his dad's and Bess says not if he isn't ready. Oliver says he is. Bess leaves. Luke suggests she walk them to the train. Luke looks happy Oliver is coming with him. They say goodbye to Paul. Oliver sees another patient waiting as they leave.

Paul sits to make a note, then sees the turtle on the floor.

A couple of points tonight--

Note how Paul slowly helps Oliver tell him about the problems at school and his anxieties about his parents. This  is very nicely done. And we see how distressed, how depressed Oliver is, so much so that he expects the turtle will die, that he will fail to give it adequate care. And this symbolically expresses his fear that his parents will continue to be so caught up in their battles that they will continue to fail to take good care of him. The turtle is left behind, unconsciously, so that Paul can care for it as Paul is now caring for Oliver while he tries to help Oliver's parents see that they need to take care of him.

Oliver sees a couple leave Paul's office just before his time and he sees someone waiting when he leaves. This is so common that many therapists don't think of it as an issue. Certainly in clinic settings where most of us get early training, it is the rule rather than the exception that sessions are scheduled close together and inevitable that patients will see each other. Robert Langs sees this as a frame violation. And I must say I agree. Look at the problems this simple thing has caused -- Alex and Laura for one and this week, the people Oliver sees shape his feelings about what therapy does.

I learned first  from my own analyst and then from a supervisor who was a student of Langs the value of creating space between patients allowing each one the privacy of their visit, the possibility to believe they are the only one, the security of a container which is not violated by others. This can be done by having patients leave by a different door than the one they enter through or by scheduling enough time between patients that they will not encounter each other.

© Cheryl Fuller, 2018. All  rights reserved.