In Treatment - Walter, week 2

Paul closes the sleep sofa while his daughter, Rosie, is talking to her mother on the phone. There is a knock -- a messenger has an envelope from the law firm for Paul. His daughter guesses that he is being sued. Rosie asks who he can talk about it with. Paul says it is under control. She says he is condemning himself to a life of loneliness and she wonders why. She refuses his hug, because she says she won't hug him until he comes home. Paul tells her that isn't going to happen and they hug. She sees the turtle on the shelf.  -- the turtle Oliver was afraid he would fail to care for.

Walter begins by saying he is sure that this week Paul has read up about him. Paul says he read about the industry but not about him. Walter believes a reporter at the Times is after him. Paul asks if it is coming from within the company. And apparently that is a possibility. He is worried that the articles are putting his daughter in jeopardy. Paul suggests maybe his anxiety is getting the better of him. Paul observes that he sounds quite confident given the circumstances.

Walter becomes quiet and Paul asks what he is thinking. He remembers the son of the founder, that they were in the Army together. The son died in a car accident and Walter thinks he might not have had he taken as good care of him as when they wee in the Army. Paul returns to the anxiety attack last week and that Walter said they always go away. Walter denies that they are panic attacks and he says he hasn't told his doctor. Paul asks if he has had another this week, after he denies they are panic attacks. Walter says yes, he did, in the elevator. Paul asks for details. Walter describes what happened and then impatiently says he can't see anything that would have caused a panic attack. Paul notes that Walter says there was a new security guard, and that the one he saw every day for 30 years died of a heart attack. Paul asks if perhaps he misses him. Walter denies any connection.

Walter asks where Paul went to school. Paul asks if he is concerned he isn't qualified to help him. Then we learn Walter has had these attacks since he was 6. Then he reveals his brother drowned when his brother was 16 and getting ready to go to college. Tommy was the golden boy. Paul asks how it was for him when he died. He says he was fine, he didn't even really know what was going on. His father told him that the brother's room was his now. Walter tells the story rather flatly. Paul asks about this. Walter says he feels sorry for his father and that his mother changed over night, her hair turned white and she changed. Paul suggests that this was a significant event, the death of his brother and his parents' grief. Paul reminds him that the panic attacks began when he started sleeping in his brother's room. Walter says they happened in his sleep so how could they be panic attacks. Walter did not come close to filling Tommy's shoes. Paul reminds him he said that when Tommy died he used the word "disappeared" and that he had expressed fear that Natalie would disappear and the security guard disappeared. Walter denies any connection.

Paul confronts Walter's resistance to any effort he makes to connect things, to go deeper, that he feels if he says something Walter doesn't like, he will leave. He says he thinks Walter doesn't trust that anyone who leaves him will be the same, be back.  Walter asks if he is saying that all this started when his daughter left for Rwanda. He asks about medication. Paul says there is medication but he thinks it is important they continue as they are. Walter asks that Paul speak to his doctor and then goes to pay him. Paul tells him he can pay at the end of the month. But Walter insists and says his father always says to pay as you go.


We see in Walter something we also saw in Tony Soprano -- a powerful man who experiences panic attacks and who is not very able to put his feelings into words or even acknowledge that he has them. Paul can feel the horror of what happened in Walter's family when his brother died -- the loss for Walter, the terrible grief of his parents, and his certainty that he can never live up to the example of the now dead perfect brother. But Walter cannot feel any of it. And when Paul presses him even a little, Walter becomes very defensive and resistant. Yet these feelings have provided the fuel for his panic attacks since the death of his brother so many years ago. And we know that Walter would far rather take the pill his doctor can offer him than feel those feelings, despite what Paul tells him.

Walter is used to getting his own way in his life. He does not much like not being able to control Paul or get him to stop pushing him. So there is, as Paul accurately identified, the constant unspoken threat that Walter will leave if he doesn't like what Paul says. It means that Paul must walk a fine line between making necessary interpretations and confrontations without going to fast and giving Walter a reason to leave. Titrating interpretations is one of those things that can only be learned through experience. Notice how Walter lets Paul know at the end that he will not commit a full month by insisting he will pay as he goes. To pay by the month would mean he is willing to commit and do the work and he is not ready for that.

© Cheryl Fuller, 2016. All  rights reserved.