by Sally Mynewskin
Today I had a woman client – let’s call her Priscilla – who complains about never being seen or heard – she is also very vague about what being seen or heard means – it is a lot more than someone looking at her or actively listening to her. When her partner – who came in with her – tries to “hear” or “see” her, he invariably makes a misstep and she become bitter that he’s forever clueless and “just doesn’t get it.”
I have no idea what Priscilla really means, so I ask her to move to another chair and respond as her partner would had he really heard her – I explain that this demo might be more clarifying than trying to describe what she means.
Immediately she’s annoyed with me. “Why should I have to do all the work? Why can’t he just do it? Why do I have to do it for him?
If he listens he gets clobbered for not seeing her. If he moves over to put his arm around her and console her, she objects. She can’t understand why he gets angry at her because she is a therapist and she is “careful to be very clear in all my communications.”
Apparently there is a form of empathy and compassionate contact I am not familiar with as I am not able to do it or help him do it.
Next, she wonders aloud, “Why is it so hard for therapists to be understanding? I am able to see and understand my clients.”
I act as if I haven’t heard her dig at me.
Moments later I am once again totally clueless about her needs. Foolishly, I risk asking her what kind of response from her husband would be helpful. After considerable thought she actually identifies something she wants, which neither her husband nor I would have guessed was on the menu.
I say to Priscilla, “Now that he knows what a good response would be and he actually replied to you in this manner, would you say to him that it doesn’t do any good because he had to be told what to say?”
Her response, “Of course.”
It’s hard for me to say without some sarcasm,”So let me see if I got this right. He’s an idiot if he can’t figure out what you want, and if you tell him what you want, it’s meaningless.”
So I don’t say it.
Instead I say, “It must be tough to not get what you desire yet feel frustrated if he wants you to coach him to give him more of what you desire.”
To this, Priscilla has no reply.
Brain on the Blink
Brains that don’t process energy and information very well are especially susceptible to cognitive distortions. For any variety of reasons people possessing such brains are both unable to recognize these cognitive distortions; consequently they are unable to actually take effective action to do anything about them. Here’s a handy list of 20 of more than 100 of the Most Common Cognitive Distortions. Priscilla puts many of these into play in almost every session and is clueless about their operations. It’s undoubtedly tough not being seen, and at the same time feel so much frustration when your husband needs to be coached to give you more of what you want.
And yet, providing insight, being understanding, being empathetic, clarifying her individual objectives for coming in, all go nowhere. My lizard brain wants to smack her or say something very unprofessional. With a lot of impulse control, I manage to hold my tongue.
It is a fool’s errand to ask Priscilla what she means by being understood and being seen, as it just leads to more frustration for everyone involved. The bind though, is that the work in the office will go nowhere until she is seen and understood.
Trying to understand the roots of her pain are mostly met with annoyance over us not dealing with the problem of her husband being so insensitive.
In the end, with Priscilla, I have four choices: smack, fire, refer, or plod on. What would you do?
Anybody want a referral?