I've been a therapist for over twenty years. Here are a few thoughts, experiences and observations.
I was seeing this young guy for seven months. He was coming along nicely -- getting in touch with his feelings, learning to express himself, all that kind of crap -- but it was his habit to run his hand over his forehead. In the process, he inevitably messed up his right eyebrow. Some hairs went right; others went left. Still others saluted the sun. Over and over, I told myself, "Put it out of your mind. That's what you're paid for. Put it out of your mind."
After complimenting one client's ivory necklace, she said, "Thank you! It's from Africa. But I'm not sure which elephant."
At the end of one job interview I was asked, "What do you do for fun?" Though I'd only gone twice, I tacked skiing onto the list. And mentioned that I often used my face for brakes. I swear that's what got me the job.
I once had a client who tried committing suicide by smothering himself with a pillow. Not once. Twice.
A seasoned therapist told me that doing therapy is a study in trial and error. It's like when a vending machine eats your money. First you tap on the glass. Next you try to jostle the machine. Then you give it a kick. With a bit of luck, eventually something works.
I saw a nineteen-year-old girl who I thought bore a striking resemblance to Edward Norton (actor). How I wanted to ask, "Has anyone told you that you look like Edward Norton?" But she was always in a precarious emotional state. It would have thrown her into a major depressive episode with mixed emotional features. I had to keep my mouth shut.
Far, far too often, my clients start to cry when there's only one minute left in the session.
I was seeing an eighteen-year-old girl who'd never had an orgasm. She had never even touched herself for pleasure. My homework assignment for her that week was to "give it a whirl." (Why didn't my teachers ever give me that kind of homework?) The next week she came in nonplused. With the expression of one smelling rotten broccoli, she said, "It wasn't a good use of my time." I wasn't sure if I should explore her subconscious or counsel her on time management.
Facebook keeps me in business. "He unfriended me!" "She's already dating someone else!" "He wrote a nasty message on my wall!" I want to say, "If you got off Facebook, you probably wouldn't need therapy."
More than once, I told a client something for years, to no avail. Then she heard the exact same thing on Oprah and it changed her life.
One day last year, having heard the world was going to end in 2012, a client came in frenzied. She'd been having panic attacks and hadn't been able to sleep. When she asked my opinion, I said, "I think it's bullshit." "Thank God!" she cried. "I can finally be okay again."
Take that, Oprah.