As a therapist I get a lot of people telling me things they’re proud of. After so many years in the industry I find it pretty tedious, and if I’m honest, your petty gains fill me with rage.
Your achievements as an individual or family are unlikely to be anything I haven’t already encountered. So while you’re talking, on the few occasions I’m actually listening, I like to have a snappy therapeutic comeback to hand so that therapy continues as I wish and so that you stop harping on. Also so you don’t feel that you’re better than me, or develop that most loathsome of traits, self-worth, which invariably leads to you competing with me and my family for what are essentially limited earthly resources.
It starts as early as the initial consultation. Some of you are already bragging while we’re “getting to know each other” and “developing trust” (the fact I’m completely fabricating my personal life just a beautiful irony). Yes, yes, I’m sure you’re a truly successful human being, not at all my inferior. Then after this, the questions about my qualifications: “You’re not here to learn about me,” I’ll say. “Let’s talk about your deficiencies,” I’ll add, before they ask for their (non-refundable) five-session deposit back. And believe me, five sessions is just the beginning—therapy continues until I decide I’m sick of the sight of you.
Here is a list of common ordinary happenings that I suppose I’m meant to get excited about:
- (of a couple) We’ve been together for (x) years!
Usually a high number, this is meant to be impressive, but when you think about it, it’s only impressive if at least one of you hates the other one. If you love being together, how is that an achievement? So what are we really celebrating here? Chronic defeated acceptance? Masochism? Sadism? Lack of get-up-and-go? At best this is just shameless bragging. Would you like to compare penis-size as well?
In any case, I usually avoid this thorny issue by replying either:
– God, you must be incredibly bored.
– You do both look quite old.
That tends to arrest the progress of that little line of unhelpful narcissism.
- I love my job…
I think for a lot of people this usually comes before a “but”—“but” I don’t usually let the client get that far, as I yell,
– WHAT? Nobody likes their job? What’s wrong with you? This doesn’t sound healthy. I’m going to need to see you for quite some time.
You can see in this way that I, the master therapist, guide you, the client, to defensively talk about what’s good about your job, without you even being aware. It’s called leading, and I am an expert at it.
Similarly I am superb at role-play. If I want to make you hate me, no problem! It’s good for transference. I can be your detached mother, your stern father, or your detached, stern therapist.
- I think I’m showing real progress with (x).
With “x” being something utterly trivial or ludicrously normal. Anyway this is generally my turn to get pretty defensive with:
– You? You’re showing real progress? I think you mean, thank you doctor, you have helped me to be better at (x)!
If I don’t put you in your place, therapy is over, it’s ruined. Like when you don’t train a dog—it’ll do its stuff in your shoes and bite you in the crotch. You, the client, are not on the same life-level as me—that’s why you’re the client!
Just accept it. Or don’t—a little free therapy for you here. Suggestion this time.
- I haven’t done (x) for (y) now.
With “x” being some repulsive, harmful/illegal habit or behaviour, and “y” being a pitifully-low total of elapsed time. This is the point at which I like to remind you, again, that you are a client, that what you were doing is not normal, and that maybe you should be ashamed of your past rather than talking big about your (neutral) present:
– Yes? Well I never did that, so who’s better? Really, if you asked 100 people on the street, who would they say was better? Plus I’m a doctor. Are you a doctor?
The second of these choices throws them off guard — and BOOM! I’m in under the radar, doing my reconstructive therapy. It’s called disarming the client. Or distressing them. I forget. Either way, here come the tears! And…catharsis.
- I think I’m well enough to stop seeing you.
At which nonsense I usually sneer, look down at the floor and shake my head, rub my eyes as if coma-level weary, and ask my secretary to arrange more sessions.
I’m meant to be unemotional about your limited achievements. It’s the hallmark of a good therapist, certainly not the sign of an angry man who has given up on his own pursuit of happiness. You’re not smart enough to make that call—I’m the goddamn therapist here. Any of you who think or say otherwise, or write about my failings in your national column, you’re wrong. Let me remind you that I am a doctor. In a field that is definitely related to psychology.
You people make me sick. You haven’t achieved anything, and you never will. Please pay in cash or card ONLY on your way out. No checks, and for God’s sake no American Express. Thank you.