That’s not therapy. THIS is therapy.
May 28, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
The Isla Vista spree killer was in therapy since the age of eight, including almost every day while in high school. That’s total baloney. He didn’t undergo therapy. THIS is therapy, what I will now tell you about myself.
In 1998 I was at the end of my rope. My career as a music journalist had stalled, I kept becoming involved with unspeakably cruel women, and every one of my “friends” was an abusive drunk who crapped on me every chance they got. This was how I felt all the time.
I’d never considered therapy because I didn’t trust the profession. Therapist = “the rapist.” In college all the psychology majors were demented. They went into the field to find out what was wrong with themselves. I knew lots of people who’d spent years seeing therapists. They were horrifying. Therapy seemed like a complete waste of time.
Then I discovered the work of the Swiss psychologist Alice Miller. Her books The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self and Breaking Down the Wall of Silence: The Liberating Experience of Facing Painful Truth showed me that there was value in therapy.
But by that time, therapy was Oprah-ized, and I found myself turned off again. What finally made me take the plunge was my nephews and niece. Being around them was so painful that I thought I’d go out of my mind. Nobody knew, because I hid it well. These photos are from 2000.
Tori and me.
Wylie, Tori, and me.
Hunter and me.
As my first nephew, Hunter caused the most turmoil. By 1998 I knew I’d never be a parent; it was simply not in the cards. Read Hallucinabulia to see what proximity to children did to me. It was agony when Hunter was a baby. But I never let it show.
Making a child pay for my deficits and limitations would be the height of immorality. He modeled his behavior on me. When I cleared my throat, he did too. When I crossed my legs, he did too. So I ate my pain and concentrated on him. I was already a goner; he still had a chance.
By 1998 I couldn’t repress my angst anymore. I made an appointment with a psychologist named Dave, recommended by the craziest person I’ve ever known. She hadn’t shown herself to be that insane at the time. When I met Dave, I was immediately suspicious. A middle-aged man with gray hair, he had a pompadour exactly like this.
Our first session was free. It was to determine why I wanted therapy and whether or not we could work together. I decided to go for broke and tell him everything I loathed about his profession.
“I don’t like the way people get dependent on therapists,” I said. “Woody Allen saw the same therapist for forty-five years. He got to the point where he’d call his therapist to ask if he should buy cotton or percale sheets.”
Dave laughed. “I wouldn’t call that effective therapy,” he said.
“I just broke up with a woman who used to call her therapist in the middle of our fights. Sometimes it was at four in the morning. The therapist would tell her what to say to me.”
“If you call me at four in the morning, you’re going to get my answering service. I don’t give clients my personal phone number. We need to set boundaries.”
“What I don’t want,” I told him, “is to become is this sobbing heap in the corner. I’ve had people abuse me all my life, and it scares the hell out me to let you into my head.”
“Well, any sobbing you do will be your choice. I can’t wave a magic wand and reduce you to a sobbing heap in the corner.”
I didn’t like that answer. It seemed a little glib.
“But by telling you everything, I’m giving you power to really, really mess me up.”
He thought about that. “Okay. I’ll make a deal with you. If you agree to see me, when I decide I can’t help you anymore, I’ll terminate our sessions. See, I don’t have a vested interest in you getting better. If you can’t—or won’t—get better, I’m going to move on to people I can help. I don’t want you wasting my time.”
“One last thing,” I said. “I was told that the role of a therapist is to parent me. If necessary the therapist rocks you and hugs you. I can’t under any circumstances regress like that. I have to maintain my dignity. I’ve been robbed of dignity so many times in my life that I can’t allow it to happen again.”
He smiled. “Point one: You already have parents. My job isn’t to parent you. Point two: I’m not much of a rocker or hugger. Point three: I promise you with all my heart that I won’t do anything to humiliate you or wield power over you or rob you of your dignity. That would make me an evil person.”
So I agreed to see him once a week. I told him in our first formal session that I wanted to be sweating bullets by the end of each hour. He needed to go after me as hard as I could stand it. I may have been the only client who ever made that request, because when I went bankrupt after about four months and told him I could no longer afford him, he cut his fee down by two thirds.
I saw him for over a year. In every session, he did indeed make me sweat. It was the hardest, most degrading thing I’ve ever done—but degrading only in my mind. Only to me, because my ability to feel normal emotions was utterly wrecked. Dave would pause every now and then and say, “You okay? Can you continue?”
And I’d always say yes, even though I wanted to scream, “FUCK OFF, YOU BASTARD!” The transference was ghastly. I fell in love with him, hated him, got jealous of his other clients. All of that is perfectly normal. But it was so demeaning. It’s called “emotional lability” or more aptly, “emotional incontinence.” Diarrhea of the emotions.
Dave and I were scientists, trying to figure out why I was the way I was and if I could be fixed. After over a year, he told me he’d done as much for me as he could, and he stopped our sessions.
The whole time I knew him, we never touched. Never even shook hands. I told him I hate being touched, and he didn’t bother trying to change that because we both knew it would be impossible.
I’ll put my life up against that of the Isla Vista murderer. There’s no question that I’ve suffered far more than he ever did. He and his parents chose “therapists” who didn’t make him work at getting better, and he didn’t actually want to improve. I was desperate to stop feeling pain around children, to stop hating myself, and to stop hating the world. So I asked a therapist to beat the living shit out of me once a week for over a year. I told him to show no mercy and to take every session to the absolute limit of my endurance.
That’s therapy. And it worked. Not right away; I had to ruminate on everything for a long time. But I use Dave’s weapons of self-defense to this day.
He saw that I was strong enough to face every truth that he threw at me, and he paid me the supreme compliment of thinking I was worth his time.
Real therapy is deeply unpleasant. By definition it should be. Everything else is just self-indulgent histrionics.
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