Frustrating Therapy Friday

Well, I’m having a bad time. I was pushing through this weekend, determined not to collapse, and yes, I got to group yesterday and did do a bunch of stuff. Maybe the group triggered me? I guess while it’s sometimes good to sit with others who are going through stuff, it can also bring up extra helpings of your own crap.

I had another argument with Ron in my session Friday and it left me kind of upset. I then sent him an email about it, which he didn’t reply to. As I didn’t take that step of asking for a response.

I was trying to explain about shutting down – how I kind of freeze, and then spend hours lying down. And he was saying…..I should fight against the shutting down. After all, I am able to show up at work consistently, and come to see him, so just keep doing that for other aspects of my life.

So I tried to explain about how too much trauma stuff makes me shut down automatically. And he was basically saying i shouldn’t be afraid to feel things, because that was what would heal me. He didn’t get the concept of it happens automatically – I don’t control that.

I think part of the problem was I was not being clear about the auto shut-down, freeze response, that happens to me when I get triggered, vs. the depression where I shut down my feelings, and don’t do much of anything. I just wish I didn’t have to fight him so much. Then we got into how I think a lot of his clients can’t feel stuff, they don’t want to, as per his group members, while I don’t really have that problem, my problem is more I get overwhelmed. So while he has to encourage those types of clients to feel, I don’t have that problem exactly. Which he didn’t agree with. He stuck to the idea that I need to feel the trauma, and implied that I’m not wanting to feel it because I’m scared of the pain.


I wish I wouldn’t dig in with him like this. Because I think mostly we do agree. Just about a few things, we don’t. But then I focus on those few things in a wish to change his point of view, which is not going to happen is it.

We did move on to other things after that though. A lot of stuff about trying not to shut down, so I can do more on the weekends. Which I took to heart, and I did do more yesterday, but today felt more and more hollow and unreal, and finally, now I’ve had some gross flashbacks so was back to lying down. They are so awful I don’t want to be alive.

I don’t know how to take care of them, but I have to try. It is like another part of me is remembering by re-experiencing, and I have to try to take care somehow.

About the session – I myself would not argue with my own clients like this, I really wouldn’t. Admittedly, dealing with bankers is different from being a therapist. However, they mostly want to do stuff I don’t agree with, but after stating my own opinion, I start trying to figure out how to give them what they want. There’s so much I don’t know about their world – the organization, the politics, the history. I used to argue more as a younger writer, but I have stopped, because I realized, I’m not the expert on what they need.

At the same time, I’m very fond of Ron. He’s been so kind. He’s replied to so many of my emails. He’s been willing to sit with me in the worst pain. He’s been non-defensive when I get mad at him, over and over. I just plain like him. He’s never condescending. He believes whole-heartedly in what he’s doing. Even monetarily – he’s never raised my hourly rate, even though I know his fees have gone up.

Anyway, in the session. We didn’t have time for much else. B and V got some time right at the end.

Oh, I did say at one point I felt bad we’d been fighting. To which Ron said it’s fine – I get to disagree if I want to. Which was reassuring at the time.

I guess I’m doing therapy ‘wrong’. Really wrong. Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.

  1. That must be a terrible way to feel–You can’t even be sick right.

    I have a few thoughts about this, having had some similar experiences (minus the arguing, because I don’t disagree well). One of them is that he is wrong. He is wrong about parts and he is wrong about how depression is working and he is wrong about the mechanism of dissociation, and this is why you can push through the depression but feel hollow and unreal instead, Depression is an emotion. it is not merely a reaction to not getting to feel. And when you “push through it” you are dissociating more, and that is why the hollow and unreal. You are more dissociated. The reason you feel depressed–it seems–is that the abuse was so bad, you don’t even want to be alive. The emotion of that is despair, and that’s what you keep feeling every time there is space for that feeling to crop up. Yes, you have to take care of it. A warm bath might work, with some nice scents. Soft clothes. And, yes, maybe a cuddle in bed. Taking care of the parts is doing something. It is really, really hard work even if you aren’t physically moving. It’s going to take time, and it might require a lot of cuddles in bed, maybe some cartoons, and you’re probably going to get worse memories in the process and other really unpleasant emotions. But the pay-off is huge.

    Ron, however, believes depression comes from suppressing other emotions that aren’t depression and what you have to do is let them out and you will feel better. So he denies the validity of your actual emotion and gives you no help in dealing with the one you have. The problem is that he has believed what he believes for something like 30 years. There are stacks and stacks of books written supporting his view. And you are just you, presenting what is going on in your head and in your life. You are unlikely to change his mind anytime soon. Whatever evidence you present to him of why he is wrong, he just doesn’t see, because his whole approach to his profession is based on a view that is not correct. He would have no idea what to do if you took away this fundamental belief from him. His mind is not that flexible. He could not just start over.

    Ron is great at some other things. You trust him with your feelings. He tolerates disagreement. He doesn’t take things personally. These are all good things. It gives you space to tell him what life is like for you. And this can be part of what helps you get better. it’s not a total lost cause, and you can still work with him and still get better. But he can’t help you with this.

    You are doing therapy wrong because the way Ron conceives of therapy does not help people with dissociation due to trauma get better. It makes them worse.

    • Ellen said:

      I just want him to change his mind about me….but I know he won’t. Maybe depression is a feeling. Wouldn’t you call it sadness or despair in that case? It’s true, it crops up for me when there’s space for it. I agree Ron is not understanding dissociation very well as far as I can see – he always seems to think everyone is at bottom the same, which I don’t think is true. It makes him really authentic, because he talks from his own experience, which is actually worth a lot to me. However, he just hasn’t had the experience of dissociation himself, so things kind of fall apart there.

      I’m not sure. Sometimes I think I need to find someone who knows more about trauma, who specializes. But in the past, I’ve gone to people who said they specialized in trauma. All this stuff about grounding, and safety. It didn’t help me either. Plus I didn’t attach to them, so they just seemed lame to me.

      The problem I have here, and which I don’t think was such a big issue for you, is that I’m attached to Ron. Parts trust him a lot. If I leave, it’s going to feel catastrophic for parts especially. I do trust him a lot. For instance, I just emailed him about my flashbacks, because I know if he replies, it will help me feel better.

      The other thing is, I am argumentative. I believe I would argue with any T I was close to. So my disagreeing with Ron, in itself, doesn’t mean much. I suspect you are not like that.

      If this therapy is making me worse, then I need to suck it up and find someone else. If you feel like writing more – what kind of therapy do you think would help dissociation?

      Thanks Ashana.

      • I think you can do therapy with Ron if you take advantage of how he helps you–that he listens to your feelings and the flashbacks and things like that–and don’t expect his help with what to do about them later and work that out for yourself. The hard part is that there are feelings about that too. There is frustration and a sense of betrayal, and this conversation ends up stalled, because while he listens to the frustration, he probably won’t ever understand it. It’s not working, but he will refuse to see that (I think). He will bring it back to the idea that you need to feel more–that you’re doing it wrong, basically. But I don’t think you’re doing it wrong.

        But people cannot always be all things, even though they do have something to offer.

        I don’t think you should start with a new person just now. That’s my personal opinion. The parts trust him with at least some of their story, and they are attached to him. That’s worth quite a lot. I just think you need tools in your tool box aside from therapy.

        • Ellen said:

          The arguments with Ron really really hurt, especially during the days after sessions. I’m going to stop doing that. This seems like good advice, thank you.

          • I imagine they would, because they are like this erasure of every part of your experience that doesn’t fit with his view.

            As a thought, you might tell him what exactly you disagree with him over and that you’d like to agree to disagree over those things. Otherwise, you might end up feeling like you’ve just silenced yourself. As the topic comes up, you can use phrases like, “I don’t see it that way,” and “I see things differently.”

            My therapists didn’t argue with me either. It’s a different styel.

            • Ellen said:

              It’s actually more that I am attached to Ron, and feel we’ve had a fight, and he no longer cares, and that is devastating for me. Plus yes, he is not seeing me very well, but that seems secondary. Sure, I can use those phrases. It might help just to say that, and leave it at that. Thx.

            • Oh, that is hard then. But he does care. Then arguing is worthwhile, if you can find a way to comfort yourself afterward. You need to see he cares just as much whether you agree or disagree. Do you think this is triggering the depression (at least partly)?

            • Ellen said:

              Funny – I decided it’s then not worth while arguing. But I see it your way also. This kind of thing triggers anxiety for me rather than depression – I feel unsafe somehow. Hope you’re well Ashana – you haven’t posted lately.

    • Cat said:

      Ellen, I couldn’t agree with Ashana anymore here, especially “So he denies the validity of your actual emotion and gives you no help in dealing with the one you have” While he may tolerate the arguments and anger without taking it personally, I am beginning to wonder if this arguing with someone’s lack of knowledge will get you anywhere. I appreciate you wanting to stick with Ron and I wonder how he would respond if you blatantly told him he is out of touch with new research on trauma etc and needs to get some reading done!

      • Ellen said:

        He would not react well. He already doesn’t, and I’m not putting it like that. I think he’s good at what he does, just I’m not sure about the trauma part. Plus, I think he may be better than his theories, if that makes any sense.

        Yes, arguing is making me feel crappy and is not going anywhere, so I’ll stop it. I’m thinking of maybe getting a second opinion though.

        Thanks cat.

        • Cat said:

          That makes a lot of sense. I sometimes doubt Paul and often wonder if he’s actually keeping up. Perhaps, like life, we need to balance the good and bad-

  2. I should add that it seems clear from your blog that you are getting better.

  3. I think that perhaps at a very root level, we are all the same. But when you add in experiences that are not only extremely out of the norm, but that by their very nature change the way that the brain functions, then in that area, there are differences.

    Has he looked at all at how trauma creates changes in the way that the brain functions? A lot of it is fairly recent research, so if he isn’t seeking out new knowledge, he may not know about it. You might take take a look at look at the most recent book by Bessel Van der Kolk. I’m pretty sure that’s his name. I haven’t read it myself, but I have heard good things about it and I know that he looks at the way that the body and mind interact in regards to trauma. I would guess that there would be something that you might share with Ron that could help to expand his thinking some. I don’t know about completely changing his mind as a goal, but thinking about what sort of information might help him to expand his thinking might be useful.

    There is a lot to be said about a relationship where there is trust between the parts and the therapist, especially if you haven’t been able to find that with another therapist.

    I am convinced that it isn’t necessary to work with someone who is a trauma specialist, but that the therapist does need to both be someone that you can trust and who is willing to learn new things. Trying to convince him verbally hasn’t worked for you, but perhaps either a scientific paper or a chapter or two of a book from one of the foremost trauma experts would work better.

    I’m so sorry about the flashbacks. When they are that bad, it’s like they stain all of the rest of my life for awhile. It is possible to learn to have some control over how much you engage with them, but I couldn’t have learned that skill without a therapist who would point out every time I started to go too deeply into a memory in session and lose the ability to both be aware of the now and to feel the feelings and deal with the memories of the past. Over time, it has become easier to ‘catch’ myself.

    Sending good thoughts that you can find a way to retain your important connection to Ron and get some more effective help dealing with the trauma.

    • Ellen said:

      Yes, now that I consider, at a root level, we’re the same. Maybe it’s the mid layers that are different? lol.

      I have read around some regarding trauma, the way you do when you have a major illness say. I did read the Haunted Self, where they propose this ANP, EP concept, and found that somewhat useful. I will look for the book you recommend. The thing is, as Ron does not work in this way at all, it’s more for my own interest than anything. He will be offended if I suggest any reading to him, I know it, so I won’t do that. However, I might ask him if there’s anything on trauma he’s read and that he agrees with, that i could read. I suspect not, but I could be wrong. He does read, but I don’t know what.

      Ron is helpful overall. Arguing with him tears me apart – I feel it’s a rupture in our relationship, and it’s painful for me. He is good in so many ways. Plus I wonder if I just have a personality that argues and goes to war, more than most. Then I suffer for it.

      Thanks for the kind words re flashbacks. They are so distressing. I’m better again.

      Thanks Cat.

  4. manyofus1980 said:

    sorry about the flashbacks Ellen. vessel van der kok’s book the body keeps the score is great. he is a trauma expert. well worth a read and maybe recommend it to ron too?

    • Ellen said:

      Thanks Many. I’ll have a look for that book. Take care.

  5. Give Ron hell! He sounds a bit stuck, maybe you’ll encourage him to do some more reading or check in with some of his physician mates, get some advice. Therapy always seems to plateau. Ron got slack. He needs to work for his money

    • Ellen said:

      He he. Ron is not a doctor by the way. I don’t think doctors do therapy for PTSD the way Ron does.

      I don’t know that he’s gone slack exactly. It’s more, we have different ideas about trauma. I really want to make this work again. I do like Ron a lot and he’s helped a lot also. Thanks for the sympathy Penny.

  6. Cat said:

    While I agree with Ron that feelings do heal, I’m unsure about his attitude towards shutting down during trauma memories. Sometimes I feel these Therapists don’t quite understand the dissociation during trauma. “Fight against it” is not something I would find helpful at all. Sometimes we don’t even realise when we are shutting down or what is triggering us. The statement you made about maybe “not being clear about the auto shutdown” struck me as odd because after all this time, should you really need to explain this to Ron? Either we’re missing something or he just doesn’t get it! Nevertheless, disagreeing with Ron and expressing anger is good and you should never hold back.

    • Ellen said:

      Thanks for the support Cat. Though I intend to hold back in future on this topic – it’s too painful for me, and I’m not going to be changing his mind any time soon. take care.

      • Cat said:

        If it was me, Ellen, I would make the most of Ron for all the good things.

  7. leb105 said:

    there’s a lot going on here that I don’t know how to comment on… but something that keeps coming up is that you write to Ron, don’t ask him to reply and he doesn’t, and you’re disappointed. Why don’t you (simply) ask him to reply? I think I’d put it right in my auto-signature! Are you testing him somehow? What will it mean if he replies, even though he’s said he won’t? If he reads your mind about what you need?

    • Ellen said:

      That does seem to keep coming up. The thing is, if I ask for a reply, I feel like I’m imposing, and I want to save that request for times when I’m distressed and really need a response. He seems to be replying less to me as well – when I had those flashbacks, I really needed to hear from him, and he didn’t write back until I begged with a second email. Bottom line – I feel like I impose, and want to save the ‘i need a response’ for emergencies. I feel more free to write if I don’t ask for a reply.

      Plus, often I don’t realize I need a response until hours after I’ve sent the email.

      I don’t know – it’s hard for me.

      Thanks for the comment.

  8. leb105 said:

    Oh, and ps, it doesn’t look to me as if you’re doing therapy wrong – altho, who am I to say? If the relationship is what heals, it seems as if you have a good one, with Ron. How do you think we’re, at bottom, different? If you take away the wounds, the poor environments?

    • Ellen said:

      I have had a good relationship with Ron, until now, as now it feels broken. Thanks for seeing that it is / was good.

      I think that severe dissociation and flashbacks are a different kind of a problem from other problems, and need a different approach. We are of course all human at bottom.

      • leb105 said:

        It seems as if you are ashamed of being different – but also insistent upon it. That seems like a dilemma.

  9. Rachel said:

    Wanted to offer support. I’m not having many thoughts at the moment, but I do believe the questions you are asking yourself about therapy are important and worthy of asking. I think all therapists (and people) can meet some of our needs but never all of our needs. I do hear in your writing that some important needs are not getting met. I hope you feel better soon and with a little more clarity around how you can get the important needs and feeling seen in therapy be met.

    • Ellen said:

      Thanks Rachel. I think also I need to have other people / supports in my life, so I’m not depending so much on Ron to meet my needs. take care.

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