Art: Separation, Edvard Munch, 1990

I fit in therapy this week by squashing in the appointment in the afternoon, then going back to work and staying late. It was different, going as an adult, as it were. I was busy using all my energy to cope with work and being adult, so there was not a lot left over for emotions. So in that sense, we had a very grown-up kind of a session, and didn’t get into the heavy territory we’d been in the previous weeks.

However, I learned something about Ron that threw me. One of the kid parts had asked him, last session, if he was getting his wife a present for Valentine’s. She loves all holidays, presents, etc….And Ron had kind of looked away, said no, and nothing else. After the session, I had huge anxiety, mostly about other things, but also I’d had the feeling I had offended him by my question. Not sure why, but it felt like I had. So I sent him a long email, and that was one of the things I asked. He didn’t reply to that one, so I sent him another, on a different topic, asked for a reply, and he did reply to that one. So he never replied to my question.

At my session Friday, I talked about how anxious I’d felt after the last session. Then as we were talking, it occurred to me about the Valentine’s question. So I asked – did I offend you? I didn’t mean to. At which point Ron told me he’d been separated / divorced from his wife for the last two and a half years. So he hadn’t been offended, but hadn’t been sure how to answer with more information than I wanted to know.

Um. I started seeing Ron four years ago, at which point, according to his website, he was married with children. So he’s been through a whole divorce, without me knowing a thing about it.

I was stunned actually. Ron never does chat, so I don’t find things out about his life unless I ask him directly. However, he always says he’ll answer truthfully anything I want to know. I don’t know – I have asked him about his vacations, for instance – you’d think he would have mentioned something huge like this?

So this news scared me. Not entirely sure why. I told Ron it scared me, and we didn’t really discover what the fear was about. I was allowed to ask what I wanted, so I asked how come, of course. And Ron did provide a psychological type explanation, which was pretty open, though it was obviously his side of things – they didn’t have the kind of relationship he wanted to have. He didn’t go into a lot of details, as he said, he didn’t want the session to be all about him. I asked if he’d had to move, and he said yes.

So this all happened two and a half years ago, and I was oblivious.

Here’s what’s coming up for me as I think about it. Is Ron a trustworthy person? I wonder if he met someone else, a ‘younger model’? Was that the actual reason he left his wife? If so, I don’t respect that. But does the person who is helping me have to be blameless in his personal life? Is that really necessary?

I ask if they tried couples’ therapy, and we laugh. Yes they did. Ah good, at least you believe in it. Ron says couples’ therapy only really can point out and clarify the issues – then each individual in the couple has to go off and do their own work.

I say I thought therapist were better at relationships than the rest of us. He says we’re only human.

I’m still scared. At this point, I think of some bloggers I know whose therapists have fired them. I ask Ron if he’s ever decided he can no longer work with a client? Ron says no, never. I tell him about a blogger who has stopped writing, whose only contact with the world was her psychiatrist, who inexplicably got angry with something the client wrote and terminated her treatment. The most vulnerable person in the world, and that’s what this ridiculous psych did to her. Ron says that this psych was clearly not a good therapist.

He goes on to say that he sees why this is coming up for me, but that to him, divorce and therapy are completely different issues. He has no plans to get rid of me. (He didn’t say that last phrase. But he was very reassuring.)

I went back to how much we were not getting along at the end of group, two and a half years ago, around the time of his separation. Ron says he didn’t feel that, but he knows I did.

Now I’m at home, I’m thinking that Ron is probably out there, dating women. Not like pathetic me, who hasn’t dated anyone in years. Maybe he’s living with someone already in fact, who knows. It is easier for middle aged men – they don’t have the expiration date women seem to have.

If my thoughts get darker, I wonder if he’s ever dated clients. To me, this would be the heart of darkness. If I ever found out Ron dated a client or former client, I would sever our relationship at once. But just because I have this fear of sexual misconduct, doesn’t mean it exists. It just means I am afraid.

I’m not afraid of a single Ron hitting on me. I’m not especially attractive, and I’m about three years older than Ron. If he were to act out in this way, he’d have better options for sure.

Does Ron deserve my doubts and suspicions? No. It’s not unethical to get a divorce. Or two.

I just depend on him so much. It’s a shock that something I was led to believe, that he’s married, is not the case. I’d say misled is right though. The kid asked him the same question about Valentine’s presents for his wife last year, and he said nothing. There would have been an obvious and clear place to tell me this.

So, we talked through the first half of what I thought, but not the second half. It did feel very reassuring to hear him say he had never terminated a client, and he wouldn’t terminate me either. Even that he’d never felt we’d had a rocky relationship, when we so clearly had, in my eyes. That was all reassuring.

So I feel oddly connected to Ron, probably because he said this. Plus, I have all these fears and feelings about having been misled, of someone maybe pretending something that was no longer true.

  1. If your therapist was a woman would you feel equally as betrayed/affected by this?

    • Ellen said:

      Probably not. It would still bother me though, because it’s supposed to be an honest relationship. But with Ron being a man, it has that charge for me. I think I felt he was safer married. Plus, the secrecy bothers me. There was a lot of secrecy in my past, obviously, so it bothers me.

  2. I’m surprised he even shared this much. Many therapists won’t disclose personal information about their marriage/family/etc. But it sounds like you two have a solid alliance. Either way, it’s always tricky to navigate the emotions around such a relationship.

    • Ellen said:

      Well, he only shared it to explain his reaction to my question. Which was helpful, because then I got the info that yes, my perceptions weren’t completely off, just where I saw an offended response, he was just considering how to answer because of this information. I feel like I’m the last to know this – but it could be, he doesn’t tell any of his clients anything about his life. His philosophy is I can ask him anything I want to know, but he won’t volunteer information about himself. And I don’t want to be nosy or intrusive. You said it – it’s tricky to navigate all this. Thanks for commenting.

  3. I felt unsettled when I learned something about my counselor that I didn’t know before. I felt like my counselor knows so much about me and I knew so little about him. Underlines that I depended on my counselor but I didn’t really know him. Still unsettling for me to think about.

    • Ellen said:

      Yes, unsettling is a good word for it. Sometimes our feelings about our therapists can really be about our own stuff though, so may be worth exploring for both of us. But also – I’d like to keep Ron on a pedestal in some ways, and divorce doesn’t fit well with that plan. Thanks Ruth.

  4. Ashana M said:

    I feel like–but I can’t remember–something like this has come up before, but relating to a dream. And I’m wondering somehow if infidelity was an issue in your parents’ marriage, and if you felt your dad was not the person he said he was because he had affairs. And of course all children who experience the fear of parents divorcing assume they can be divorced too. So if you were worried about your parents’ marriage, that would worry you too. It’s a hazy memory of a post, and maybe wasn’t about that anyway. It’s just a thought.

    • Ellen said:

      You are such a close reader of my blog! I also thought of that particular dream, after I wrote this out. I must have some anxiety about Ron or men, or authority figures, who have girlfriends. Interesting to me is that likely Ron does have a girlfriend, and when I dreamt the dream, I was actually dreaming of something partly true, which I didn’t consciously know about.

      I guess I’m more about the literal facts here. As far as I know, my father did not have affairs. However, the level of secrecy in our family is so high, I likely would never have been told if it was the case. However, I obviously have a high level of distrust of men and sex, just because of the abuse. I’d say my childhood was absolutely brimming with secrets, so my feelings likely stem from there.

      Thanks for your thoughts Ashana.

  5. Cat said:

    This is the main reason why I don’t want to know anything about my T, although maybe that might change with time. One day he happened to mention that he too had been in therapy and his main issues seemed to be surrounding a neglectful mother. As soon as he said it, my heart sank and the next time we were talking about my mother, I couldn’t help but wonder if his views were clouded by his own issues. For now, I prefer to work with the blank canvas.

    When I think about the client-Therapist relationship process, it sounds positive that you are able to experience this with Ron and, more importantly, to be able to talk things through with him. And I do remember you saying a while back about the difference between attending therapy when you’re out of work or in work. You seem more able to take an objective view and maybe this might be helpful for a while.

    • Ellen said:

      I believe all therapists need to have had their own therapy, in order to be effective in their jobs. Otherwise their own issues will get in the way of their responses to clients. Everyone has their own issues, with various levels of severity. I know Ron has been through his own therapy as part of his training, but I’d be a little queasy if he actually shared what his issues were. So I can see that. But aren’t you at all curious about your T’s life – whether he’s married, has kids, has hobbies? I actually am, but I don’t want to pry either. Plus as I’m paying, I want my fifty minutes to mostly be about me. Go figure.

      I agree it was positive we were able to discuss this, and will probably discuss it again next time. We rarely talk about our relationship, so it is good to do that sometimes. I actually felt good about that part of it. And yes, maybe it is good that I’m more adult in therapy for a bit. As an adult, I can understand that Ron has a whole life of his own, that doesn’t really concern me all that much.

      Thanks Cat.

      • Cat said:

        I do realise they go through their own therapy, but knowing a neglectful mother was involved, was too much info for me. I think he realised it was too much because I either accept his words with eye contact and acknowledgement, or I look away and pretend I don’t hear 😉

        I am not in the least bit interested in my Therapist. I couldn’t care less if he is married with or without children. Actually, I do know he’s married or has a partner he holiday’s with and I know he has kids, but at his age, they’re either gown up or he’s a late Dad. He volunteered all this info, but I had my ears turned off because I’m not too interested. It’s like I’m too afraid to want to know

        TBH Ellen, it makes me feel very selfish and self-centred. I am the opposite with people I meet on the outside. I am naturally nosy and interested in people’s lives, but just not with Pauls.

        I follow another blog that has really helped me in understanding the C & T relationship. Her posts are excellent. http://lifeinabind.com

        • Ellen said:

          I think that might have been too much information for me also, to tell the truth.

          But interesting that you have no interest. I don’t think that says anything about your personality, to tell the truth. I’m interested that ‘you’re too afraid to want to know’.

          I suspect, overall, that you are not attached to your T the way some of us are. I have been in therapy before myself, and never cared one bit what was going on in the T’s lives. However, I also wasn’t attached to them. I kind of liked that they seemed to care, but it was nothing like the relationship I have with Ron. It was easier, but also I made less progress.

          It makes sense though that you wouldn’t get into a full blown attachment, when you have a limited time in the therapy, because of insurance. Otherwise it would be so painful to leave before your therapy is done.

          I do follow that blog, thanks – I believe I was led to it from yours, most likely.

          My two cents. Could be entirely off base.

          • Ellen said:

            I think I’m overstepping. I just meant to say, when I wasn’t attached, I didn’t care about T’s lives. Your situation is likely different. Thanks for chatting Cat.

          • Cat said:

            HI Ellen.. I think I’m too afraid because I try not to get too close, although that is already starting to happen whether I like it or not 😉 So, maybe I will start to feel more interested. TBH, I don’t like to give him excuses to talk anymore than he already does! Of course, he always talks about me and I’d prefer this to awkward paranoid silences eek.
            Yes, the programme is 18mths group and individual sessions and another 6mth step down with Paul. We are starting to talk about our relationship because if I want to learn how to trust, I feel I need to start within this safe environment. I love to read about your interaction/relationship with Ron, it does help me a lot.
            Thank you for that feedback, even though it’s on your comment page 😉

            • Ellen said:

              Hi Cat – I’m endlessly interested also in the client/T relationship. In my case, with Ron, it was not a matter of learning to trust him. I’ve learned to trust him over time, and that trust shatters sometimes still. I don’t really get attachment – why I experience it with Ron, but didn’t with previous therapists. I hated it when I realized I was attached, because it made me vulnerable to being hurt. I just fell into it after a few months of seeing him.

              I don’t like it, mostly, when Ron talks either. 🙂 Just, I seem to want to know certain very nosy things about his personal life. Cheers.

  6. leb105 said:

    In “Your Voice In My Head” the author’s therapist contracts and dies of lung cancer, and doesn’t let her know. She was “done” and no longer in active therapy – but still. I get that they don’t want to encumber us, or the transference, with their “stuff”, but it doesn’t seem as if this is the best way to handle it. I can understand that it would rock your world – I hope you’ll continue to talk about it.

    • Ellen said:

      So you understand why it would bother me? Thanks for saying so Laura. It does, even though I also feel it shouldn’t. If Ron contracted some horrible illness, that would be even worse – I shudder to imagine. I guess it is tricky for them, what to reveal, but at some point, it starts to seem overly secretive, when they omit major milestones in their lives. I will continue to talk about it I think. Thank you.

      • leb105 said:

        I wouldn’t call it secretive – since he probably would have told you, if you’d asked. The relationship is about you, FOR you… If your boss, or doctor, told you that he was getting divorced, that would seem inappropriate, wouldn’t it? Ron would be taking your time, regardless of what you might be wanting to talk about, to talk about himself. Now that it’s come up, it’s part of your work to notice its impact and tease out what it means to you (starting with secretive), and what your expectations are.
        Howard was involved in a bizarre society child-kidnapping case that got national press coverage. He was injured attempting to prevent the kidnapping – and he cancelled his sessions that week, making an excuse. The child was recovered after a tense week, the kidnapper went to trial a year later, and Howard gave testimony. He finally told me what had happened – only because I might see his picture in the paper the next day, or see him on the news! If it hadn’t been for that, I would never have known! He was shielding our work – me and his other clients – from stuff whirling around him that had nothing to do with me. I’m sure he sees it as a matter of integrity.

        • Ellen said:

          Well – my boss, not so much. I’d expect to know something like that about anyone I knew fairly well at work. Depending on their personality. Yes, for my doctor, that would probably not be something I’d feel they’d need to share with me. But I feel a lot closer to my T than to my doctor. And what question could I have asked? Out of the blue – are you still married? But I do take your point, which other commenters are also more or less saying, that it’s par for the course for T’s not to share personal information.

          That is quite a situation you had. wow.

          I guess Ron would act similarly. Just I find that painful – not to know such major things about someone I feel close to.

          I misunderstood your comment, so thanks for clarifying.

  7. manyofus1980 said:

    Thats a shocker for sure Ellen! I’m glad you two were able to talk about it. Maybe you can talk about the feelings around feeling misled too? Sending you hugs…glad he reassured you he wouldnt ever terminate and glad you felt connected to him too after that.

  8. Therapist relationships can be tricky at times I feel. I have come to depend on my therapist. I am always hesitant to ask her personal questions. I am afraid I will cross that boundary. We have been together over 10 years and still I am afraid to confuse the relationship. They are complicated but I am glad you feel free enough to ask the questions.

    • Ellen said:

      My own view is that I ask what I feel I really want to know, and it’s up to the T to set that boundary, if they don’t want to answer a question. With Ron, he doesn’t talk about himself at all, unless I ask him a question, so I’d know nothing at all about him without that. Since I don’t quiz him on a weekly basis, that means I only know a very few things about his real life.

      There’s something tantalizing to me about having this person, who knows so much about me, and seems to accept me and value me, be such a mystery. But – that’s therapy for you. Mysterious.

      Thank you Janet.

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