In Treatment 2 -- Reflections

"It's not about you, Paul. They're human beings. They're struggling with profound problems. If only you could find courage to sit with the fact that what we do is hard, and sometimes it makes you feel like an idiot. It's a humbling profession, and if you lack anything as a therapist, it's humility." -Gina

This week is when all the chickens have come home to roost for Paul, when he hits the wall of not being able to make anyone better or happier or be in less pain. Paul would do well to heed what Gina said to him or as Jung put it:

"The principle aim of psychotherapy is not to transport one to an impossible state of happiness, but to help (the client) acquire steadfastness and patience in the face of suffering. " (Jung, CW, V. 16, p.81)

This is not a message most people want to hear. It is tough to accept that suffering is part of life, that it is meaningful and unavoidable. It is hard for patients and often hard for therapists as well to stay with what is painful, to resist the urge to dart away into what is more comfortable, soothing, or easy. This way of understanding therapy also flies in the face of a feel-good orientation which seems to dominate American culture. We want to medicate, meditate or otherwise eliminate suffering, not face into it, sit in it and explore its meaning.

But it is a doomed quest for a therapist to try to soothe away or take care well enough that his patients stop suffering. It is not what therapy is about nor can he succeed in doing it. And when he tries, he ends up as Paul has, feeling frustrated and angry with himself and with his patients for his failure to fix things for them and their failure to feel better and make him feel good in the process. 

April and Oliver wanted Paul to become the good and loving father, to keep providing for them the tender care he was able to give in the midst of crisis. He wasn't wrong to take April to the hospital or to give Oliver the sandwich. The error lies in his own belief that his action would somehow be curative and result in the patient getting better. And in his belief that he could possible meet their need from his position as therapist. He needs to feel the need, accept the need, care about them, carry the hope that they will find what they want and need, *and* resist the urge to try to make it all better for them. Because they cannot get to where they need to go without suffering and going through what is their reality. 

This is a place where this shortened season  does not serve the therapy story-lines well. That Oliver wants to live with Paul, wants him to become his parent, would in actual therapy be worked through, the desire acknowledged and explored without further enactment on Paul's part. One or both parents could be persuaded to continue to bring Oliver to see Paul while the work gets completed. Because Bess and Luke have much work to do also and their surfaces have not even been scratched yet.

For Oliver, Paul's inability to become his father is experienced as a betrayal, as it is for April in her situation. To believe that one can count on another to never hurt or betray or violate trust in any way is naïve and is to live in a bubble of unreality. Primal trust, arising from the relationship between infant and mother, even that trust, gets broken as the mother does not come immediately to soothe the infant or fails to correctly identify the source of difficulty. Development requires betrayal in order to develop tolerance for the frustration of ordinary failures in relationship and the resilience to not only survive but learn from them. This is the task of therapy, not rescuing from the feelings and suffering. But to get there requires time, time that the demands of the show do not allow. 

"We can be truly betrayed only where we truly trust – by brothers, lovers, wives, husbands, not by enemies, not by strangers. The greater the love and loyalty, the involvement and commitment, the greater the betrayal. Trust has in it the seed of betrayal; the serpent was in the garden from the beginning…Trust and the possibility of betrayal come into the world at the same moment" (Hillman)


© Cheryl Fuller, 2016. All  rights reserved.