Therapy Friday 1

I feel pretty awful. Today is mostly dedicated to processing yesterday’s session. So it’s OK to feel awful and to lie around also because that’s what you’re supposed to do if you feel bad, if you ever do feel bad. So it’s fine.   the kid

It’s hot and humid this May day. Two months early for this kind of weather that I just can’t warm up to. I’m not a fan  of heat. I put on a dorky looking purple t-shirt and light shorts….I hate what I’m wearing…and head out to therapy. I’ve decided as an older woman I need to wear tops that are sober with high necklines. Then I feel dorky.

Ron looks a little tired. He doesn’t do the gazing thing. All in all, he likes me less this time than last. It’s fine. I’m not there so his clients can make progress, I’m in the group to express how I feel, among other things. He actually looks unfriendly to me and I’m reluctant to talk.

E. I should talk…

Ron continues to say nothing. As usual I don’t want to talk.

To tell the truth, I can’t remember much of what was said through my present fog. I know I ended up as the kid, and left his office very abruptly. But first we discussed the group. I remember bits.

E. I know I wasn’t helpful to Z last night. I let her do exactly what she’s trying not to do – empathize with me, not talk about what she really feels.

R. You’re not there to take care of Z. The way you can best help her is to be yourself….That’s not to say we can’t be caring.

E. So Z has been in the group for three years…and she still has trouble even saying the most basic things to people? She can’t say anything faintly negative to anyone? But…you can’t work anything out if you can’t do that. So three years….so, I don’t feel that close to the group.

Ron nods and I don’t think says anything.

E. The group structure isn’t great for me. I mean, there’s no check in, nothing to be done if you’re in a crisis…It’s fine if you’re quiet and even keeled, which most of them seem to be. They’ll bring up an issue, if they really have to, and try to work on it, and that’s it….I don’t know. Like last night, I just couldn’t do it.

R. Why couldn’t you?

E. I really needed to talk. And I tried.

R. How did you try?

E. I said I needed time. I didn’t speak up right at the start because I was scared…and then Z started right in. You didn’t even acknowledge that I said anything. And then…after so long, I just couldn’t sit there anymore.

R. You could have said you needed time right now.

E. That’s true. I could have.

E. I just find it odd that things get dropped so much. Like we’ll spend the evening on a topic, then the next week, it’s as if we start all over again, as if that had never happened.

R. Like what?

E. Well, like the problem with me and E.

R. So it was Z’s responsibility to bring that in?

E. No. But we never find out where anything goes.

R. There are so many things the group could spend time on, and there is only a limited amount of time. It’s up to the members to monitor what gets talked about….

I nod. I understand the point. Of course if we delved into everyone’s issues all the time, there would be too many topics. But the interpersonal things – there are only a few of those. That’s what I think gets dropped….But, I don’t say this. Ron is persuasive, so I’m persuaded at the time that I’m wrong in what I say. I wish I could stick with my side longer though…something to work on.

to be continued.

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13 comments
  1. Laura said:

    what ever happened to therapists who would say that the group is avoiding the conflict between E and E, last week!I like the idea of being yourself, talking about what's important to you in the moment, and seeing what happens. your feelings + their feelings = relationship. abandon the helpful filter. we don't know what might be helpful – it might not LOOK helpful at the time.why don't you suggest a check-in to the group? that might lower the barrier to speaking. Set things up more to your liking?

  2. Ellen said:

    Hi Laura, Yeah, Ron doesn't make those kinds of comments at all. In general, he waits to see who will talk – he never suggests a topic unless it arises from the 'main person's' issues. Yeah, I agree with being yourself. I don't try too much to be helpful by being 'positive' or 'insightful'…I meant when I said I wasn't helpful that I really only could think about my own stuff, unrelated to Z…Now that's out of the way, I do have feedback for her about how I felt about some things she said to me. It's how I really feel, plus I think it might be useful to her. I don't think Ron is open to changing how the group operates. I've mentioned some things to him, and he never wants to try it. It's fine – he's had the experience that his way works well for most of his clients, so it's up to me to make the best of it I think. Most of his clients have much less extreme emotions than I do and they're good with how the group is working. Thanks for the input. Cheers

  3. Laura said:

    what I hear him saying is that it's up to the group. I suggest proposing your ideas to the group.You have interpreted a structure (the 'first talker' rule) – that I don't believe is there, and you're right, it doesn't make sense. this makes me edgy. I'm not sure why – I like to figure out how things work, too. it seems as if you've created a rule that restricts you, and you say you have no choice other than to accept it. somehow this makes ME feel confined.seems like what was "there" for you, when Z was talking, could have been "helpful" either to her OR to the group process – you might not see the connection until later. it's a BLIND leap of faith – that what's significant to any member is of value to the group. You're a part of group, just as your parts are part of you. Parts can be unruly, eh? (trying out my Canadian, there).this is helpful to me (BTW), anticipating being in group (in about 6 weeks). How would I think this through without watching you in group, and talking to you about it, through your blog? THANKS.

  4. Ruth said:

    I like Laura's idea of addressing the group. I also agree that I would feel very uncomfortable in the situation that you describe as how the group functions. I am with you that I like to see accountability and understanding how something works. Having such vague rules as the first person to speak controls the entire session seems a bit difficult for those that take longer to speak up. Rewards those that are more of an extrovert and silences those that are more introverts. I guess if you are learning things from these sessions it is still helpful.

  5. Ellen said:

    @ Laura – I don't hear him say it's up to the group actually. There is a 'first talker rule'. Ron says it's more subtle than that….but in most cases, he wants to plunge into the first talker's issues, otherwise he feels he sacrifices depth. Whatever anyone else says, he focuses on how the first talker feels about that. But it is Ron's group, and I am going to bow to his experience and training. I don't have that. I think your group may work quite differently. Ron didn't distribute anything like the booklet you got Laura. He never said he wants to focus on the here and now for instance, or the relationships between people. His idea on this is different. I guess I could have totally changed the subject from Z to what I needed to talk about. I know from experience Ron would not have been very sympathetic to that. I can definitely be unruly. The rest of the group so much less so. (I can hear the Canadian accent :-)I'm glad you're finding it helpful. I really suspect your group will be quite different though. Thanks for the insights.@ Ruth – It actually does reward extroverts. For instance about half the group time seems devoted to E. Also to me, because I end up not being able to cope. I am getting a lot out of the group though. It's interesting hearing what people really think.Thanks for commenting Ruth.

  6. Laura said:

    where he says it's up to the group: "…It's up to the members to monitor what gets talked about…." he suggested you could have said at any time, that you needed to talk "right now". but your idea that he's hostile to that, kept you from doing it. your ideas about reality always seem to restrict you, warn you against action….and I'd say that E holds the ribbon for 'Most Unruly' at the moment – yet you still see yourself as the black sheep and troublemaker… (and them as the sheep) your childhood role?

  7. Ellen said:

    Hmm….I took that comment to mean that it's up to members when to put themselves forward, at the start of a group session, and speak about their most important issues, rather than an invitation to switch topics to oneself at any time. I'm the only person who has ever asked for time, let alone needing to speak 'right now'. It hadn't occurred to me I could do that until Ron mentioned it in my session. I think in his groups, usually the problem is getting people to talk at all, rather than my problem, of being able to be silent so others can explore their issues. As to E holding the ribbon šŸ™‚ – well, she was perfectly able to refrain from talking about herself last time, and only giving feedback that was to the point. I on the other hand left the group half way through, and then switched topics to myself….It's true it was my childhood role to question and disturb. I may be exaggerating the situation, but it remains true that the format of the group is a certain way, and that way is painful for me. I do take action by the way, just mostly wish I didn't need to. Of course, I could be in a complete fantasy. I only have my own mind to perceive with.

  8. Laura said:

    I see more what you mean by unruly… and yet,he says, 'it's up to the group to monitor what gets talked about' which (I hear as) wide open and democratic, and your translation (either one) is so restrictive! thinking in terms of The Topic, Most Important Issues, Helpful, talking About Yourself or not, First Talker rule, How Ron will React, How Ron runs the group. All are self-imposed filters (or RULES) that limit what can be said. The rules that you break sometimes, are your own – but you see them as outside yourself. You create them, you hold on to them, and yet you find them painful.A wider view (if you wanted a wider view) would be to see everything that happens in group as part of a group process. more like what goes on inside you than like what goes on in a lecture hall.What's real for you is, I'm sorry Z, I can't focus on what you're saying right now, I need to talk about what happened last week. and Z and the group can either make way, or object, or say what is coming up strongly for them. and maybe just saying that would have felt like enough, or maybe not. this would be a process that breathes, that is alive and unpredictable.I just sense this as a possibility, and it attracts me – I want to be part of that.

  9. Ellen said:

    I like your vision of a good group Laura! It could be I am imagining some of these negative rules. I do tend to take a dark view of things and also of Ron at the moment. I'm going to keep this in mind for next session for sure. You wouldn't consider me a narcissist then for this behaviour? I do fear that is what Ron thinks I am – unable to hear other people, always needing the limelight. Though if that is my problem, it would be best to become aware of it, so I can tackle it somehow….

  10. Laura said:

    I should say that this sense of what a group could be comes in part from things that Ron has said to you about your group.looking for the rules would be a way of staying safe, I would think. And I sense a certain smug satisfaction in knowing how things really (secretly?) operate. In unflinchingly facing up to the darkness. It's a little scary when it seems like you're living in a world of your own creation. the closed system. And you keep it hidden from Ron. (I'm not sure how this diverges from what I do – if it does at all!) I've seen Ron pushing you to let in what people say – I didn't get the impression he thinks you're narcissistic (another dark interpretation?). I was thinking along the lines of perhaps you think they have nothing of importance to tell you, or perhaps it causes anxiety, so he's going to want you to sit with the anxiety a bit more, and learn more about it.I remember a long time ago with Howard, that I got the impression that he didn't want to talk about emotions. He set me straight, because I let him know. Perhaps you could make a list of "regulations" and check them out with Ron and/or with group?

  11. Ellen said:

    Actually, Ron agrees that he focuses on the first person who talks.It's true Ron wants me to take in what people, and he, say. And i agree – it's a great thing to work on. When people say things that hurt, I think it's natural to deflect them….but it would be good to try and not do that. I think Ron wants it both ways – he has this romantic idea that there are no rules in his groups, that everyone is free….Yet he does have this 'first talker' rule, or guideline. He says that's the only way he can build depth – not be carried away by this and that, but really go into one person's issues beyond their natural resistance and hesitations. That's what he wants to do. It's different from focusing on interpersonal issues, where it then is more valuable to have people interrupt, etc. I'm more interested in the second possibility, because I think individual therapy is best for in depth exploration of personal issues. Ron doesn't agree with that. Any group is going to have guidelines for what is expected and what it is trying to do. Ron's group is no exception, and yours won't be either Laura. From the guidelines you sent me, I think your group's focus will be a little different. Ron argues his case for 'no rules', and I faithfully write it down here, but i don't agree that it is the truth. And it helps me to know about the 'first talker' guideline, because then I don't have to take it personally when I say something personal and painful, and Ron's only response is to ask the first talker how they feel about what I said. He's just following his own guideline not to veer from the main person's issues.That being said, I will try interrupting and such a little more, if I feel I must, and see what happens.

  12. Laura said:

    "Ron argues his case (or has a "romantic idea") for 'no rules', and I faithfully write it down here, but i don't agree that it is the truth."this is where you think you have an inside track on the truth – despite lip service to his training, etc. "And it helps me to know about the 'first talker' guideline, because then I don't have to take it personally when I say something personal and painful, and Ron's only response is to ask the first talker how they feel about what I said."the problem with creating this rule, an effort as you say to protect yourself against possible pain, is that it warns you against doing X because Y will happen. And your experience hasn't been that black and white. the rule is a distortion of your experience, and it works to restrict you to a safety zone. You've done Y and had good experiences AND bad experiences. You've asked for support and you've gotten it. so, in my vision of group, when you "butt in" and (if) Ron turns to FT, you might say OW! that hurt! I need you to look at me right now, Ron! I predicted you would turn away! staying with what you are feeling and dealing with it in the moment, in the open.easy to say, hard to do.

  13. Ellen said:

    Ouch – I think I have the inside track on truth. Despite 'lip service to his training'. Well. OK then.It's true my experience hasn't been all one way with this. Ron is making an exception for me only actually, no one else. It is so true, staying with my experience, especially if it's needy or in some way 'negative', is very very hard to do. I agree, it would be a great learning experience to try. cheers

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