Transference with my Therapist

Wow, this feels weird to be back in the comfort of my own blog. I’ve been on the missing list while I battled with technical issues for a few weeks. Luckily the PC is insured, but why are insurers ultra-efficient at collecting the cash and then so slow to deliver the goods.

Taking a break from writing about my therapeutic journey wasn’t such a bad thing. I didn’t have much choice because my therapist, Paul, went off sick… again. He must have cancelled between 10 & 12 sessions, which make up a significant chunk of time within an eighteen-month programme.

I last saw Paul about four or five weeks ago, but he didn’t see me. I had arrived a minute late for therapy and was dreading the wait at reception, which is a long, narrow corridor situated between three busy mental health units. Paul’s already aware of how my PTSD and agoraphobia struggle to deal with this area, but I didn’t feel confident in his attentiveness.

On this particular day, the reception was crowded with an impending drama unfolding. My first reaction was to hide in the toilet where I stood in the silence, listening to voices escalate on the other side of the door. It was four minutes into my therapy time and I had two options; leave the building or go straight to the therapy room. I chose the latter, which transpired as one of my biggest mistakes.

I approached the closed therapy room door with caution and peered through the small window. To my relief, Paul was alone, fixing something on the floor. I gently tapped on the door. His head half-turned in my direction before turning back to face the wall. I didn’t twig that he was in the middle of some kind of ritual, so I tapped on the window again.

It felt like something had just smacked me hard between the eyes. I stumbled backwards, dumfounded. Paul was bopping up and down on his knees. I returned to the reception corridor feeling humiliated, like a naughty pupil who had just witnessed his teacher in a very private moment. I couldn’t understand why Paul was doing his own thing in our therapy space, while I was on meltdown in an environment that we both know is unsafe.

I sat staring at the reception wall for eternity, but in reality, it was probably only for a minute or two. In those moments, all the previous cancellations came crashing down, one disappointment after another. I thought about Paul on his knees, while I questioned his commitment and his investment in my therapy. I walked slowly towards the exit, looking back one more time.

Over the next couple of days, I couldn’t understand why memories of childhood abuse were streaming through my mind. It became one of the most challenging times of my therapy, but it was about to get a whole lot worse. Two days later, I arrived for group therapy, hoping I might see Paul in the building. Instead, someone handed me a letter to say he was off sick for the next week, which turned into three.

Even though I am vaguely aware of transference in therapy, it took a while to realise this is what was playing out between Paul and I. At first, I was just flat_out_furious and with a raging war imploding deep within, I stomped around ruminating for days.

Transference isn’t isolated to therapy, but it can happen to each of us in different situations. It’s when a person reminds us of someone or something from the past. This might be in a positive way, or it can develop into a very distressing experience.

I blamed myself for his unreliable schedule and felt guilty for sharing my anger in group therapy, as though I had somehow deceived him. It was my fault for going to the therapy room and I was completely responsible for reacting so badly to a catalogue of events that was rocking our otherwise good relationship.

When we experience abuse in childhood, it’s difficult to understand why our caregivers would cause us so much harm. The only way a child makes sense of abuse and trauma is to shift the focus of blame from the abusers onto themselves. We internalise the belief that we are fundamentally bad and the words of our abusers become the sand and cement of our self-blame, “You deserved it… You had it coming… You brought it all on yourself…” Unfortunately, the self-blame doesn’t stay behind in childhood, but progresses into our adult lives.

In my rational mind, I know this is not my fault, but it’s difficult to unravel and dissolve a lifetime of believing I am solely to blame for just about everything. Not so long ago, I would’ve dumped Paul. Why would I want to stick with a Therapist who conjures memories of an abusive past?

Paul certainly didn’t let me down intentionally and his behaviour is not of an abusive nature. I’m quite sure he’s already aware of the impact these absences have on clients, but there are obviously some medical issues. This part of the therapeutic journey has been the hardest, but I realise that it’s also an opportunity to work with the transference. I guess self-blame doesn’t go away overnight, but one of the first steps is awareness.

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50 thoughts on “Transference with my Therapist

    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Lola, thanks for your comment. Yes, it was mighty strange to see him on his knees. I see him today, so all may be revealed 🙂

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  1. Sharon Alison Butt

    So happy to see your name come up in my inbox Cat! Welcome back!

    I’m seething, livid, furious. But adding to your anger won’t help you, so I’ll just say that I am so sorry to hear that this ‘therapist’ is still letting you down big time.

    Whether you pay for these sessions or not, he is taking the ***s! He should not be treating you like this and as Ive hinted before, it sounds like he needs therapy himself!

    I said it to you before and I’ll say it again because it is relevant: “If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”

    If his actions and manner cause you to feel worse, then he is not helping you at all. And it’s probably because he is only qualified enough to put the equivalent of a plaster over a gunshot wound.

    That is what he’s doing to you. He is not Jesus, nor does he have him guiding him, so the bandaid is trying to cover the gaping, bloody hole.

    Cat honey, whether you believe it or not, want to hear it or not, only Jesus can heal you from this trauma and leave no scars. That is what he suffered for. That is what he died for and the great news is, you are invited to come to him as you are. No need to get more perfect first – you need to cry out to him and ask for his help because humans will fail you again and again.

    He WANTS you to and is patiently waiting. Does the God who made the eye, not see? Does the God who formed the ear, not hear? How great to not have to do any explaining to him! He knows it all better than you! He knows why you think what you think and why you feel how you feel. The best therapist the world has ever had! You don’t even need to make an appointment.

    Guilt is one of our biggest enemies. There is always something to feel bad about. God doesn’t want you to be feeling so crap all the time. Please Cat, take the hand that’s reaching out to you. It holds the key to freedom.

    By the way, WHAT was Paul doing in that room? Everyone’s mind is working overtime 🙂

    Thanks for coming back Cat. I’m glad your pc is working again.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Thanks Sharon for your kind thoughts. I am also wondering what he was doing in the room. I see him this afternoon, so we shall see

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      1. Glynis Jolly

        Cat, I agree with Sharon, except for I’d leave out the religious part. That’s only because I’m agnostic though. Paul’s private moments are his own, but never ever on the time he should be addressing issues you need to conquer. In my opinion, he’s worthless garbage.

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        1. Cat Post author

          Lol don’t beat about the bush, Glynis 🙂 Yes, I am entitled to be pissed about things, but it has forced me into looking at myself. Still, not so easy and thank you for your support

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  2. Priceless Joy

    Well, to begin with, WELCOME BACK! I have missed you! I thought about writing you several times and decided you probably just needed a break. I really feel for you about Paul cancelling so many of your therapy sessions because I experienced that with one of my psychiatrists. Instead of calling me to tell me the appointment was cancelled, I would show up for my session and then find out it was cancelled. It made me feel pretty shitty after so many times of it.

    I think there really is something going on with Paul to have cancelled 10-12 therapy sessions. I can’t imagine what ritual he was doing by bopping up and down on his knees. It sounds strange but then, who am I to know?

    You’re right about transference. In my experience, my transference was, “You’re not good enough.” “You are a loser.” “See how bad you are.” blah blah blah. And yes, this has been carried into my adulthood.

    As far as you acting mad about Paul’s unreliability I think that is only normal and you shouldn’t feel bad about it or think that it is your fault. I think Paul clearly has some medical issues.I hope you and Paul have a wonderful session today and things are cleared up in your mind.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Joy, thank you for welcoming me back. I guess Paul’s bopping was praying, but it came as quite a shock because I had no idea that he even had a faith. I’ve never really been very interested in who or what he is outside my therapy hour. We had a good session. I don’t have much of a problem speaking my mind…lol… his head was probably roasting when I left.

      The self-blame is so difficult to change, Joy, my guess is that it would take a lifetime. But, awareness always helps. Thank you so much for a lovely, warm comment 🙂

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      1. Priceless Joy

        Yes, that is true. Awareness does help in resolving those type of issues but like you said, it takes a lifetime to work through them. That is nice that Paul has a faith but it seems odd to me that he chose to practice it during your therapy session time. I’m glad you had a good session with him today. And, I am also glad that you got your computer fixed! LOL!

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        1. Cat Post author

          Oh gawd, I had withdrawals without my PC. Yes, Paul agrees it wasn’t appropriate for him to pray just because I was 5min late. I mean, if he had waited 10min I would have understood more. Anyway, it’s in the past and now I need to concentrate on finishing in a few weeks. Thanks Joy

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  3. Anonymous

    Transference is a problem I still need to learn to recognize, Cat. I think it’s great that you’re taking what would have caused me to fold up and not return to the therapist to understand this transference thing. ( not that I don’t think Paul shouldn’t have to hear how damaging his actions are on a patient!) but Imagine how much grief we can save ourselves by not going to that self- blame place. I’m really proud of the work you’re doing, Cat, and then helping me to recognize some of those things I need to as well. Hope so much today’s appointment is a good one.

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    1. mandy

      There’s that anonymous avatar again. If you don’t think THAT doesn’t make me feel like I’m doing something wrong! Lol – mandy

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    2. Cat Post author

      Hi Mandy… I knew it was you! I’m only just beginning to understand the transference thing. I have bailed from therapy many times because of it and I might do again in the future. It’s a very powerful experience. We become so caught up in the memories it invokes, it’s difficult to understand what’s at play.

      Yes, if Paul didn’t realise the impact this has on clients, then he does now 🙂 We had a nice session, but his head must have been roasting (there I go with self-blame again!) The thing is, he is aware, but his illnesses have been more important. I know a couple of people who have known him as a Therapist for ten years and both said he never took take time off… so, there’s obviously a lot going on that I would rather not know. My responsibility is to focus on my own shit and leave him to deal with his own. It’s not ideal, but then shit does happen and maybe it’s good practice for stepping out into the big, bad world again. I suppose it’s about making the best out of a not so good situation. Lol…easier said than done!

      Thanks, Mandy

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      1. mandy

        That really hit me, Cat, as you said something’s really going on with him/his health, whatever, but that’s for HIM to deal with. That’s a powerful statement because those of us who take on responsibility for others problems, defer our own for sure. And we just end up angry, resentful…I do think even though Paul probably feels obligated to stick with his patients (maybe they call you clients?) because he’s been there with you so long, it’s almost like he should recuse himself and leave. I don’t know that MORE harm could come than he’s already done. But it seems your group leaders should know all this. Like I’m the big expert on therapy, LoL! Yes, you are getting really good practice living in the real (shitty) world. Luckily you can bounce it off your blog friends now and we can all laugh (or cry) together. 😀

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        1. Cat Post author

          I just hope he gets himself together for the next set of clients. I think we take on other people’s problem because we believe we’re responsible for their feelings… maybe guilt…self-blame. Self-blame seems to be getting the blame for everything lately 🙂

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  4. drgeraldstein

    It sounds like genuflection, something practiced in a number of religions. That issue, of course, is quite separate from his absences. Best of luck in your session.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi DrG. I prefer not to know personal things about my Therapist (yes, there’s a whole load of work in there as well 🙂 ), so the “genuflection” was maybe a little too much information. It probably also brought a lot of the feelings to the surface re his absences… ‘how invested is he, etc.’ He’s a qualified Psychotherapist and is very aware of how his cancellations affect clients. There’s obviously more going on that I care to know. Maybe this is good practice for the real world, eh? Many thanks for your comment.

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  5. D. Wallace Peach

    This is good, Cat, particularly that you recognize the dynamic and are willing to learn something from it. The complex thing about it, as I reflect, is that there is no single thing happening. Yes, there is likely transference occurring as a result of past abuse and that’s a good dynamic to dig through because once aired, the old threads of connection can be unraveled and severed.

    One thought I have here is that we all engage in transference all the time. We all have huge libraries in our brains where we store things that have happened to us. These past learnings become filters that we constantly yank out and apply to new situations. Growth and consciousness happen when we start evaluating the filters in our brain libraries and start making judgments about whether they’re still useful. When appropriate, we can add new data and make alternate choices about how we react and feel.

    At the same time, as humans, we will continually disappoint and feel disappointed in each other. No one is perfect, even therapists, and talking honestly about the “current” situation and feelings it evokes is part of healthy communication (which many people have a difficult time doing, by the way).

    Once you identify and acknowledge transference, you are still entitled to feelings about the current situation. I’ve been sick for a few weeks and had to bail out on babysitting for my grandson. That left my daughter in a lurch for work, and though she understands, she isn’t happy. I didn’t leave her much time to make other arrangements as I was hoping to make it. My hope actually made things worse. Shit happens. I need to communicate better for next time; she probably needs to think about a back-up plan.

    So, I guess what I’m saying is own the transference and see how it plays out in this situation, but also trust that there are valid feelings about the current situation. Though Paul has health issues, which you can sympathize with, your feelings of disappointment about missed appointments, or being left hanging in an unsafe situation, or poor communication are valid too.

    In an odd sort of way, it’s okay at this point that Paul isn’t perfect, because you get to practice with a “real” person. My gut feeling is that he’s been good for you. Your insights and growth in the short time I’ve been following your blog are amazing. Perhaps this is exactly where you are supposed to be. Trust yourself. My best to you as always.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi D… I’m sorry to hear you’ve been poorly. Are you better now?

      Awareness goes a long way in therapy. It affords us the opportunity to “change the data” (I love that). Working with Paul under these circumstances has been a challenge, but also a chance to learn to deal with what we encounter in the ‘real world’… that’s easy to see now that I’ve calmed down.

      I totally agree about the progress in recent months. The positive aspects of working with Paul far outweigh the bad. Actually, in hindsight, maybe there is no bad. As you say, it feels as though this is where I should be.

      You always offer so much insight and I’m truly grateful, thank you 🙂

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  6. Jean

    Do you remember Gilda Radner on “Saturday Night Live”? “If it isn’t one thing or another, it’s usually both.” It’s so easy to put all the feelings in the transference pile or the present pile: much harder to sort them out proportionally.

    I’m sorry about your computer. But glad that you are back on line. I missed you!

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Jean… I don’t remember Gilda, but love the quote. Yes, I agree about the proportion, that is usually the hardest thing to do when my head’s in the ‘red zone’. I’m so relieved to be back online again… thank you so much

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  7. RisingSong

    Hi Cat. It’s so good to see you writing again 🙂

    Ah, the transference…I’ve seen it…I’ve felt it…I know it…I’ve had some pretty hard sessions because of it. The best part is how self-aware you are, how you decided to take the time away from Paul to understand the transference more. As I wrote in a previous post, “You’ve come a long way, baby!”

    I’m glad you had a good session and were able to get things out in the open with him. I don’t know about that “genuflection” thing. It does seem kind of odd. At any rate, may God be with him and heal whatever ails him.

    It’s good to see you again, Cat. This is the point where I would wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, but I’m pretty sure tomorrow is not a holiday in London 🙂

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    1. Cat Post author

      And it’s good to be back… I was suffering withdrawals.

      Transference might be one of the most challenging things in therapy, but awareness does help. I do remember some of your own therapy and I do believe reading other people’s experiences helped me through my own.

      Thank you for commenting and I hope you are having a nice thanksgiving. We don’t have that in the Uk – Christmas is bad enough!

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          1. dgkaye

            Hi Cat. I just tried it here from your page. I clicked on my name and landed on my page? Have you had this problem with clicking on other commenters? Perhaps it’s a temporary glitch on your side because I didn’t have that problem?

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            1. Cat Post author

              NO, it’s odd, but as soon as I connected to your blog via the link you sent, I was then able to connect via your name. I’m sure this happened once before and is probably more to do with a ghost at many end 🙂

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  8. thehumanhurricane

    Sounds like an utter nightmare.

    Listen, I had to close my blog down and restart under another name due to a troll. Please follow me Cat, I used to have a ‘littlevoice.’ Xxxxx

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