In a therapist-client relationship, the client sits in a glass box, which can be large and spacious, but large and spacious ultimately don't really matter in a box, which is confined and limited, it's like saying the tiger at the zoo has a lot of space to roam around, even nice waterfalls to drink from and automated mist to luxuriate in, the space doesn't matter, the boundaries do. A therapist sits with a stoic countenance outside of the glass box, in a worn, velvet armchair, looking in, poking and prodding as she sees fit, through a food-feeding hole perhaps, reaching but not touching, in contact but not really, hovering above a life or beside it, but not in it.
The first session always begins with a homily on client-therapist confidentiality and the circumstances that demand an exception. "I am, um, a mandated, um, reporter, um, you know," she tells me." She lists the exceptional circumstances, "suicidality" being one of them, which is apparently not merely an act but a mode of being. "Self-harm," she continues, "or harm of a minor." I space out while she is talking, which I find out later is called "disassociating."
"There is um, of course, um, one thing I haven't written down in the um, contract," she adds, "which is what um happens when um we um run into each other outside um of our sessions, um you know, like at um, Bar Tartine or um, Tartine Bakery." I nod, focusing more on her stutters than on her words. "I wouldn't um acknowledge you but um if you said hi i would acknowledge you of course and um we'd say hi but um we wouldn't sit down and um share a pastry you know," she says all this tentatively, and I feel slighted by her governance over our relationship, which can only play out according these rules, which she is trying to explain to me right now. I do not like relationships governed by rules or conditions, I do not like relationships governed by propriety, but then, maybe that's what I signed up for when I called the therapist.
I'm not going to pretend that therapy isn't a transaction, which is unlike the best of friendships and often like the worst ones. I am paying to talk to this woman, I am paying her to listen, I am paying for her questions. Every transaction must be judged by its fairness: is my expenditure worth the cost? Are her questions worth my money? Is the attempt at understanding myself (improving myself?) worth my discomfort?
Someone recently called me a vulnerability junkie, which I think means that I feel most connected to someone when we are vulnerable to each other under mutually beneficial and agreeable terms, which is like therapy, I guess, my benefit being vulnerability and her benefit being money.
Within the scope of fairness, I judge her expertise as a therapist, which at the moment is at risk of failure because of a certain guttural utterance which is innocuous in small measure but becomes repulsive in hordes, like ants. Ten minutes into the session, her repeated use of "um" begins to sound like the popping of a broken record as the needle digs into the same groove over and over again. If I am paying for her words, the dilution of her language by "um" is a ripoff.
Nevertheless, she has a lovely countenance, an unblemished face and clear, glowing skin, large brown eyes with well-formed creases in her eyelids, a very distinctively sculpted and well-proportioned nose. Her clothes are plain but her trim and well-kept figure demand little adornment. She carries herself like a dancer, with her shoulders pushed back and an erect carriage, a posture I note for my helpless lack of it. Her left eyebrow is thinner with a sharper arc than her right, which--women who dote on their eyebrows know--is the result of over-attention.