I thought I was a bit snippy before, but then I got some really insightful comments to my post on people “outwitting” their therapists and now I would like to bite something (not my commenters!), as people contributed a lot of great ideas about how clients get set up in adversarial relationships with their therapists.
I have this dangerous habit of naivete that’s hard to break, which is: I forget about bad therapy and people who use therapy badly. I like to relegate it to this separate place in my head and separate it from my vocation. We may have come pretty far, but psychotherapy’s roots still go back to deeply toxic structures of institutionalization and social control.
I think a really common thread to the stories I get treated to was that the person was brought into therapy as a child, often for being “weird” or “odd”. And a lot of child therapists, bless their hearts (she says through gritted teeth) actually do take it as their mission to take “odd” children and turn them into normal, happy, healthy children. And sadly, a lot of dominant discourses say that normalcy is the path to health and happiness. “If you stopped monologuing about Pokemon, then you could make friends and have a good social life!”
And, well, these conversations usually take place while at least one of us is in costume. We’re geeks. We’re odd children who grew into odd adults. We monologue at each other. “Normal” is the shoe that doesn’t fit.
Also, I did some work in my last practicum as a child therapist, and what really got to me was that all the parents assumed at first that taking your kid to therapy was like dropping your car off for an oil change. You go and someone takes the kid away, and then brings them back 45 minutes later a little bit more fixed! “Here’s your counsellor, Timmy. She’s here to make you less of a freak. I’ll be reading a magazine in the waiting room.”
The nice way to talk to the parents I worked with was, “I’m a stranger who sees your child once a week. I’m good for what I’m worth, but I am nowhere near as important as you are. You’re with him every day; you’re one of the foundations of his world. If I do work with him, unless it’s being supported by things that change at home, it won’t be nearly as effective.”
(That was also the practicum that got me a case of, “Your child’s doing amazingly well considering the circumstances, but holy hell YOU need some psychiatric services STAT. Let me write up a list of symptoms to take to your GP, and show you how to dial 211. Also: HOW many social workers, law enforcement officers, and doctors signed off on your case without noticing this? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”)
I love knowing that people like Social Jerk are slogging it out in the trenches of Child Welfare work, because when I think too much about the way our society practically enshrines a parent’s sense of proprietary ownership over their child I kind of want to swell up into a giant beast of rage and start lighting things on fire.