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Category: From the Couch
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FROM THE PATIENT'S PERSPECTIVE

My girlfriend wanted me to have psychotherapy. We argued too much about everything and my attitudes irritated her immensely. I was also irritable most of the time.
For around 6 months she kept pushing me to have therapy; sometimes this was after an argument; sometimes the argument was as a consequence of her nagging me about therapy and me exploding.
It came to a point where she said she could not continue in the relationship with me if I did not get some psychotherapy.
I eventually gave in and agreed to consult a psychotherapist. I believed then it was for our relationship. I would have preferred to go to some form of relationship counselling and would even have preferred to go to some family or couple therapy together.
My girlfriend had had some psychotherapy herself. She is divorced and has 2 teenage children living with her. She had some therapy for a few months just after the breakup of her marriage and thought it had helped her. I found it irritating that she tended to take the view that she had 'done therapy ' and 'got herself sorted out'.
It was her opinion that it was important for the relationship that I did the same. She  often said it was not the relationship that was the problem but that I was the  problem . I would always retaliate angrily that it was the relationship where the problem lay and that it was obvious to anyone that a relationship involves two people .
She remained adamant that I was the one who had to sort himself out. As the relationship was deteriorating I decided to look for a psychotherapist. I got hold of some names and telephone numbers: one through the doctor; one from a fairly local clinic and one through personal recommendation. I chose the latter as I felt more comfortable going to someone who had apparently helped somebody I know.
I remained (stubbornly, as my girlfriend would say,) convinced that, although I probably had a few problems, it was really the relationship that needed help.
At the first appointment I remember, as well as being surprised that I had turned up, trying to explain to the therapist that I was there to try to do something about the relationship. I felt foolish and sort of exposed. I also felt shy and embarrassed.
I was afraid I was blushing. I was a bit in awe of her. She seemed clinical and rather reserved .


For the first few appointments I had to fight against not going. I was sometimes about 10 minutes late. My major preoccupation was that no-one could see any change in me so it mustn 't be working.

After about 6 appointments I plucked up the courage to stammer this out. The therapist said mildly: "Maybe it will be you who will become aware of any changes in yourself first, if there are any." I argued that I would expect it to be more important for other people to notice change in me. That way I would have some validation that the treatment worked.. I was really preoccupied with this . I had agreed to treatment for the relationship. I stuck to my point of view that if others  especially my girlfriend, could not see any difference in me and if the relationship had not improved (we were still arguing and irritating each other just as much) then
the treatment was not working.
Although I can remember believing those things firmly and can remember feeling there was no effect I did force myself to keep going.
The therapist tried gently to get me to look behind these repeated views, to try to see what I was ' really saying '. I was stuck and refused to do that. I just repeated that if no-one could see any change there wasn't any and therefore the treatment
was not having any effect.
My girlfriend made this worse as she said that she wondered if therapy was doing me any good as I had not improved in any way.
The therapist did not seem to be offended by my comments. Over the weeks I noticed that although I felt I kept repeating the same things we also looked at other things . It was often after the appointment that I would find myself beginning to think a little about what had been said and noticing that other things were beginning to come in. Sometimes I would be surprised at how certain topics had arisen. Often there would be small details that I would be surprised to find I had mentioned.
Sometimes I would think: " I wonder where that came from?" or: "I wonder why I thought about that?" or, in the case of small details from childhood: " I had forgotten that."
About the same time I also began to notice other small changes: I had my eyes tested (I hadn't done this for years) and got new glasses. I began to check my bank statements and even put them in a file. This was something I had never done. I also began to open some bills when they arrived , or at least the same or the next day.
For years I had found it difficult to do this and had left them unopened and only reacted to cut-off notices . My telephone had been cut off more than once because I hadn 't opened the letter with the bill. This time I opened the first telephone account and it was almost like watching myself in surprise going to the local post office and paying it the day the bill arrived  It wasn't that it felt particularly good. It was more that it felt simple . I found myself asking myself what all the fuss had been about.
The lethargy. or whatever it was that stopped me before, seemed such a waste of time and of effort  Yet at the time I can remember clearly that it had really felt impossible to drive myself to open a letter.
Despite these small changes I still wondered if I was wasting my time and money going to psychotherapy. I had to force myself to keep the appointments.
My girlfriend said one week-end after I had been in therapy for about a year: "Do you think that psychotherapy is doing you any good?" I felt a bit anxious and unsure. I said: "It's up to you to say that." She replied that she couldn't really see it
was doing much for me.

The following day, a Sunday, a situation which had always irritated me presented itself. We had planned to go to the cinema with some friends but my girlfriend's teenage son wanted her to so something for him so she said, as if our plans didn't count: "Robert wants me to take him over to his father's to use his printer. We'll need to cancel the cinema. Ring the others up and tell them to count us out." Until then I'd have usually said 'o.k.' and felt a bit flat. The other reaction I'd have shown would have been to become immensely irritated and to start an argument. Then I would have sulked or stormed off home. This time I spoke calmly, neither sulking nor shouting as before, and tried to find a solution which did not require us to cancel our evening together. She brushed my various practical suggestions aside impatiently and I decided to go back to my flat.
For the first time I heard something: it was of little importance to her whether I was disappointed or not. Thinking that made me feel calm. My usual reaction in such a situation would be to slump in front of the television with too much beer and popcorn. This time I was surprised to find myself taking my old sofa apart instead of subsiding on to it. It was stained and tom. I used the time after that to change the rest of the furniture and decide which type of sofa I'd buy to replace it.
That evening for the first time I noticed perhaps there was some small change. I observed that the circumstances were similar to so many previous incidents with my girlfriend and our arrangements. If the circumstances were the same I thought, almost in amazement, then the change must be in me.
I somehow believed that after that I would get on with psychotherapy and progress would be more visible or at least more apparent to me. But it was not so. Shortly after that I found it just as hard to make myself keep an appointment. I did go but began to say things like: " I' ve got nothing to say today." or "Nothing's happened this week." The therapist did not seem to be put out but replied something like: "Nothing?" The material that then came up seemed totally random and yet unexpectedly something quite specific about me would emerge. In a funny way it was often these unpromising starts that produced quite significant details. This is something that I still find impossible to make sense of.
About six months after I improved my sitting room I decided to go on a diet. I hadn't wanted to face up to the fact that I was very overweight. I drank too much beer and ate too much popcorn , chocolate, biscuits, ' fry-ups' . I checked out a local gym but was acutely embarrassed to be so fat and unfit. I didn't follow it through.
I then joined a local slimmers club and told myself if I was less fat it would be less humiliating at the gym. But the slimmers club was all women and although they were friendly they gave me too much attention and I felt like some obese toy. I didn't go back. Then I bought some books and tried to eat with a bit more regard for my own well-being. Gradually I lost some weight.
I've now been in therapy for two years . I began the diet six months ago. I'm still working on my weight and on my personality. I can see that I'm more realistic now and realize that for change to be sustainable it takes time and is seen in small ways.

The biggest change over the last six months of therapy has been that I've begun to think that my girlfriend was right when she said I should have psychotherapy to address issues of our arguments and my extreme irritability. She was wrong to say, however, that the relationship was only a problem because I was a problem. I was right to say it was for the relationship I began therapy. I did not understand then, though, that the therapy had to be about me. Now that I'm getting to know myself a little better I think I'm beginning to see my girlfriend and I are both right and both wrong. The therapy had to be about me but the relationship is not just about me. It's something for which we share responsibility.
Although I am too stubborn yet to admit it I can see I might reach a place where it's no longer about being right or wrong.
To date the only single thing my girlfriend has ever conceded about the therapy is about a month ago when she had told me about a problem she had at work. I said I was glad she felt able to talk to me about it. (Before I'd often complained that she
was closed about her problems.)
She said "You' re easier to talk to nowadays." She then added: "£80 a week is a lot of money just to be able to talk." Instead of feeling upset as before, I thought: "Why does she feel the need to put me down so much?"
The strangest thing about the whole situation is that I thought I set so much store by some acknowledgement from my girlfriend of my progress. This article is about admitting to myself that in reality I'm beginning to have more regard for my psychotherapist.
D.A. Wilson