Thursday, December 10, 2009

In Treatment.

I can't seem to interest anyone I know in this show, even though it's brilliant. When I bring it up, the responses range from some variation on "Sounds boring" to "I don't want to watch a show about people blathering about their problems." This latter response always confuses me, because aren't most non-comedic TV shows about other people's problems?

I haven't watched season 2 of In Treatment yet. Part of me is afraid it won't be as good as season 1. So I am re-watching season 1 first.

While watching a scene where one of the characters has a breakthrough, I asked myself whether therapy had ever really helped me. Did I ever have that fabled breakthrough, in the handful of times I sought counseling? Do those kind of moments really happen?

In Treatment doesn't glorify therapy or therapists, and that's one of the reasons I like it. It shows that therapists are as screwed up as the rest of us (which we already knew) and how thankless and treacherous their job can be (which maybe we didn't). But it also shows some pretty smart head-shrinking.

I thought about the professionals I'd seen and whether any of them really changed my life. On the "no" side, I've never left therapy because I felt like I'd worked through the problem I came there for. Usually, I left because I wasn't getting what I needed, or because life circumstances forced me to. On the "yes" side, certain comments made by these therapists have stayed with me over several years. The following are not direct quotes, but are the gist of what was said as far as I remember.

The comment: I'm not sure about this, but I think on some level, your parents don't want you to succeed. If you asked them, I'm sure they would swear up and down that of course they want you to succeed, and they would be telling the truth. But I think they don't want to lose you.
My reaction: This was shocking and offensive to me at first. I was 23 at the time and considering a move to New York, which got an unenthusiastic response at home. I remember the therapist being very tentative about sharing his theory -- he said that the idea was just occurring to him, and he didn't sound certain. This may have been a tactic, but I remember being enthralled. It made me feel like this wise person and I were figuring something out together, and it made me listen closely. Still, it was a very troubling assertion. My parents had been nothing but supportive my whole life! How could he say that? But it was a simple overstatement of a layered truth. Of course my parents wanted me to succeed. But when "success" might entail departure from the DMV... eehhhh.
Did it help? Yes. It made me realize I need to be more responsible for my own decisions and that even though my parents love me a lot, they aren't always going to know what's best for me. This sounds obvious now, but at that age it was a bitter pill to swallow.

The comment: Do you realize that when you [behave in a certain way], you are actually causing [your boyfriend] tremendous pain?
My reaction: At first, my reaction was no. I didn't think I had much of an impact on this person in general, so it seemed like the therapist was just being dramatic. On second thought, maybe my actions were causing real emotional pain. Maybe he was truly hurt after all -- but too bad. I was angry with him about some stuff, and what I felt was more important.
Did it help? Not until later. I finally realized that if you are pulling a bunch of b.s. and the other person is getting upset with you, the answer isn't to justify and/or repeat your b.s. The answer is to ask yourself why you feel the need to pull the b.s. (and deep down, we always know when we're pulling b.s.) instead of a) working out your beef with your loved one or b) cutting bait because you're in a situation that isn't working.

The comment: Can you imagine that a long-term monogamous relationship would actually deepen and get more interesting over time, as opposed to being "boring"?
My reaction: No.
Did it help? Yes and no. I have reason to understand the truth of this idea now, and I think back to that comment often, but no one can make you feel that way if you aren't in the right place with the right person.

The comment: I recommend that you read a book called The Good Marriage.
The reaction: I got the book.
Did it help? Yes. Unlike most marriage books, which focus on fixing what's wrong, this book surveys people who are happy in their marriages and classifies the unions according to four types: traditional, romantic, companionate, and rescue. It didn't give me answers for my situation, because no book can do that, but it gave me some context and perspective.

The comment: For engaged people, I usually recommend therapy, because if they are having issues with getting married those issues need to be explored. But if you're already married... I recommend the antidepressants.
The reaction: Shock, plus a desire to laugh and cry at the same time. I am not making this up, a therapist actually said that to me. She was the same one who recommended the book and said some other insightful things mixed in with dubious things, so the fact that she was batshit and a shill for pharmaceutical companies did not become undeniable until our third session, when she uttered this statement.
Did it help? It helped me avoid wasting my time further with her, yes.

The comment: What does your dad do?
My reaction: Huh?
Did it help? No. I was in college and came in to the student health service as a senior extremely Freaked Out About Life. I felt that my situation was dire, and yet every comment I made was met with an inventory-style question. I would say, for example, "I'm afraid I might be in a depression. I'm really worried about what I'm going to do when I graduate," and the counselor would go, "Mm hm, and are your parents still married?" It is the single weirdest and worst counseling experience I've ever had, and that's even counting the batshit therapist who wanted me to take drugs because I was married.

Has therapy ever helped you (or let you down)?

Music: "The Operation"


  1. lighten up while you still can
    don't even try to understand
    just find a place to make your stand
    and take it easy

  2. I saw possibly the worst therapist ever after I had my second child and could not stop crying. I quote, "You're just sad because you're depressed."

    My mother got me exercising again, and my hormones went back to normal.

  3. Good lyrics pb. KPC, sad as it is, that quotation made me laugh out loud.

  4. Anonymous10:39 AM

    Did you go to therapy just to write the funniest blog post I've ever read?

  5. Anonymous2:11 PM

    I was hesitant about watching Season 2 of 'In Treatment' also, but I did, and it's great, every bit as great. Don't delay. Although in retrospect, it's a bit like Season 1 repeated.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.