Today I want to share the story of therapy with you all. Whilst you know that I am a psychologist, for most of you, you won’t know what a therapy session looks or feels like.
This particular therapy session happened recently. I have been working together in therapy with this person for around a year now. The client is a young woman in her thirties who looks well put together from the outside but on the inside she doesn’t always feel this way.
“Do you think that I could get out of doing this” She asked “I could come up with a good excuse, make it appear reasonable and not at all like avoidance” The client added humorously.
Avoidance and perfectionism are two topics that come up often in our sessions. One that I have no doubt we will return to again in future sessions.
“Why would you want to get out of doing this?” The therapist asked curiously.
“Because I hate doing these things.” The client replied with some ferocity “Hate is a strong word I know but the more I think about it the more that word perfectly describes my sense of loathing and dislike of it.”
Her reply was met with thoughtful silence from the therapist so the client filled it.
“I don’t come across very well. I look nervous, I am nervous. I sweat. I struggle. There are times when I can feel my heart beating in my throat. In that moment there is very little to enjoy for me”
The therapist looked at her compassionately and reflected “this sounds like a struggle not just in doing it but also in preparing for it.”
The therapist added “We have spoken about this before and you’ve always said that you wanted to improve in this space. It is seductive to think once I’ve mastered this, once I have enough skill and knowledge or when I'm perfect then I will step into the arena. But the truth is that never happens. And even if you performed as perfectly as you could and your delivery was bulletproof, do you think that's what they want to see?’
The client squirmed a little in her chair before she ventured “I can't disagree with you here. Perfection isn’t something I want to see or relate to in other people. Vulnerability is what I look for in others, but one of the last things I will show you in myself. Showing up knowing that I will be imperfect is hard for me. It’s a lesson I can never quite learn no matter how many times we recycle it in therapy.
“Imperfection is the part where my inner critic goes a bit crazy” explained the client” ‘she tells me that I am no good at this. Actually that’s not strong enough! She tells me I am terrible at this. That I don’t just feel nervous but that I look nervous too and that looks bad. Unprofessional. She tells me that no one cares about what I am saying because I have nothing of value to share. She tells me that despite my degrees and education that I don’t know more than anyone else sitting in the room and that everyone I am talking to knows this. She whispers that I am a fraud.”
Sometimes I believe her, she can be really hard to argue with. Sometimes I don’t. Today I’m struggling to take her down and balance her out”.
“Try to understand where this message comes from. Where your inner critic learned to talk to you like this” the therapist responded “what drives her? how has she protected you and kept you safe in the past?”
“The truth is…” the therapist replied “here you can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you can’t have both. If you want to be brave, to grow, to learn, you are going to stumble and you are going to fall and you are going to fail. Many times over. You don’t have to like it but you have to do it.”
This is where your window into a therapy session closes. But I want to finish by telling you that today I am choosing to lean into discomfort. Today I am choosing contribution over criticism, and courage over comfort. Because in that session it was in fact me that was the client. Therapists need therapy too.