Richard paced nervously outside in the waiting room. The blue walls and minimalist style were clearly designed to be soothing, but Richard didn’t feel comforted. Why had he let Marissa talk him into going to therapy anyway? He felt ashamed of asking for this kind of help. He wasn’t crazy or anything- he just needed to figure some things out. Ever since Marissa had broken up with him, Richard had felt lost and unconfident. It had been over two years already. He needed some perspective.
Dr Eleanor had been recommended to Richard by his friend Jon who had seen her previously. “She won’t bullshit you,” he had said, “she just gets right to the roots of your issues and helps you solve them.” He must have known what he was talking about- a year after visiting Dr Eleanor, Jon had recently married a wonderful woman. He was also running marathons and succeeding professionally. There were worse people to listen to, Richard thought.
So Richard booked an appointment. Some of the questions on Dr Eleanor’s website had seemed a bit odd- there was a surreal one where she asked him to imagine a beach and indicate if he could picture the sand, hear the waves, or feel the sun better- but he was here. Ready to be thereapized. Ready to feel better.
“Richard?” called a voice from the office. Dr Eleanor looked very similar to her website picture- older and stylish with cat eye glasses and dark greying hair. She smiled at him. “Come in!”
Her therapy office was a little darker than he expected, but it felt comfortable and was tastefully-decorated. He sank slightly more than he expected into the large plush chair as he sat down. He noticed the position of the blinders and the way their positioning directed light onto him and his chair.
Dr Eleanor offered to make them some tea, which Richard accepted. While she was working, he tried to identify what the office smelled like. There was a dark, musty smell that was almost a little overpowering- not like the patchouli he had vaguely been anticipating. It wasn’t unpleasant necessarily but- odd. He’d have to ask her about it later- maybe even politely request that she not use it during future sessions.
If there were future sessions, that is.
Dr Eleanor gave him some tea and watched expectantly as he took a sip. Then she started out the session by explaining her therapeutic style. She stated that a lot of her clients suffered from problematic relationship patterns and, thus, she liked to use the therapist/client relationship as a model for examining and learning how to better navigate others. She indicated that she would ask a lot of questions even from the beginning about the relationship between herself and Richard. She also wanted to let him know that she used a lot of visualization and meditation practices in her work. Based on his intake, she thought Richard would respond very well to these.
After getting his consent, Dr Eleanor asked him to tell her a little about his history of confidence issues. He started by detailing his relationship with his mother. She had been a classic over-protective single mother who limited his ability to explore as a kid. He grew up relatively sheltered and timid but was academically successful until he went to college. There, his first taste of freedom had led to issues with alcohol and him nearly dropping out several times. He told the story of meeting his ex Marissa in the last year of school and how she inspired him to pull himself together enough to graduate. They were happy together for a few years, but she had broken up with him 2 years ago. Although they had remained friends, his life had fallen apart in the ensuing years since the breakup. He had lost his confidence and was feeling aimless.
As he talked, Richard noticed that he was beginning to feel more and more at ease with Dr Eleanor- it seemed like somehow she could truly understand and empathize with everything he was saying. He noticed a few times that she even shifted in her chair when he shifted or moved when he moved- like they were sharing the same mind for a moment. Occasionally she would interrupt his story to ask a few, sometimes unrelated questions. (Who was his favorite teacher as a child? How did he feel when she was paying attention to him? In what ways was she similar to Dr Eleanor? What drew him to his romantic interests? What had made Richard choose therapy with her?)
It was comfortable here, having this conversation with her. Almost too comfortable. He noticed the musty smell from before again, only it smelled a bit sweeter now. It was nice, he decided. Heady. The sun was setting and the light was flashing through the blinds and tiring his eyes a bit.
He didn’t mind, though. He felt good and warm and peaceful.
Dr Eleanor must have noticed. She observed that he was blinking more often. She asked him if all of this processing was making him tired.
Tired? Suddenly that seemed very true. He nodded, eyes blinking heavily.
She nodded along with him, “You know, often when people come to therapy they’re just so tired. Tired of having to cope with their life stressors on their own. Tired of trying to seek out meaning by themselves. Tired of trying to solve problems all by themselves. Are you feeling tired in that way?”
Richard nodded again, suddenly feeling too drowsy and heavy to speak. That was ok. He felt more inclined to listen right now, anyway.
Dr Eleanor leaned forward as she continued. “So- let me reflect back to you what I’ve heard so far this session. You’re someone who has been struggling, all by himself, to try and make good decisions for your wellbeing and for your future. But when you try to make those decisions independently, you find that you aren’t strong enough to carry through with them and you fail or succumb to laziness. You thrive when you have a powerful woman in your life to push you and give you guidance, but deep inside there’s a self-sabotaging part of you that rejects help and dysfunctionally seeks self-reliance. This is despite knowing that on some level that you’re the kind of person who isn’t really able to thrive alone. You feel guilty about your need for guidance and are trapped by the demands of a toxic masculinity into fruitlessly following your undisciplined urges into ruin, over and over again.” She stopped and looked at him kindly. “I can see why you’re so sad.”
How did she understand him so well after such a short time? Her analysis was incredible and felt so accurate. He wanted to tell her this, but the spinny feeling in his head had increased while she was talking and it was had to think of the words. He settled on nodding again.
She nodded along. Her tone softened more as her face took on a gentle, concerned expression. “You ARE tired. You poor thing, you’re been so alone. So helpless. You must be exhausted.”
He nodded, tears welling up in the corner of his eyes.
Her smile softened. “I want you to try something. Try saying it: ‘I need guidance’ See how it feels.”
As a small tear formed, he repeated “I need guidance.” He blinked and it fell down his cheek.
She beamed. “Good! Excellent! Now- let’s practice an important skill. I know this may be unusual for you to do but it’s really important to be able to ask for help. Why don’t you try asking me directly for guidance now?”
“Please guide me, Dr Eleanor” he asked her. He started to feel like he was floating away, far above the chair.
“Of course I will, sweet boy. Why don’t you close your eyes and we’ll do some meditation exercises.”
Richard’s eyes slammed shut and he was momentarily overwhelmed by the sweet relief of finally being able to relax and let go. Dr. Eleanor started speaking to him, guiding him through some visualization exercises. He couldn’t quite remember everything afterwards- he might have dozed- but he did have a vague fuzzy recollection of re-examining some early childhood memories. Dr Eleanor guided Richard through remembering times when he felt like he knew best but his decisions had been wrong or unwise. “The silly brashness of an ignorant boy,” she said. She noted when his mother and other women around him had guided him safely to better outcomes than he could anticipate on his own.
At one point, Richard started to have a dream about a particularly difficult moment in elementary school- only, this time, when things were hard, Dr Eleanor was there. He could feel her hand on his shoulder as she helped him through a hard time, providing the guidance and direction and care that he needed. It was so nice to re-remember his childhood this way- safe and secure and peaceful. It was nice to not have to make decisions. It was nice to let someone else be in control. It was nice to be guided.
“Well, time’s up!”
Richard opened his eyes, snapping out of his reverie.
Dr Eleanor was rapidly writing down some notes on her notepad. She looked up, briefly. “You’ll be coming back the same time next week, yes?”
Richard felt gleeful at the prospect. Finally, he was going to get the guidance he needed to get his life back on track. “Yes Dr Eleanor! Thank you Dr Eleanor!”
Her smile was business-like. “Good. You may leave.”
Richard beamed, feeling energized and fantastic leaving the office. He never imagine therapy could work this well! He understood himself so much more fully and felt so much better just from one session. Why hadn’t anyone told him it could be this effective?
As he left the office, the thought came to his mind of bringing Dr Eleanor a gift at the next session. After all, it was the least he could do to repay all her help so far. She deserved something nice.
He whistled as he made his way to the car, considering the prospect. Then he hopped in and drove away- into his new life.