Therapy and the OPP

Ah, therapy. It was inevitable that enlightened, sensitive souls such as we would arrive at the couch, and probably sooner rather than later. I’ve been in the Big T for about nine months now. My doctor’s name is Dr. Dickey— I don’t think doctor-patient confidentiality goes both ways, so I should be allowed to reveal that — and yes, he knows how amusing the name is, and yes, he does have a small Sigmund Freud action figure on the table next to the chair where he sits.

He also looks suspiciously like Rip Torn, right down to the goatee and the mop of reddish-brownish hair combed back and parted down the middle. He also exudes a Rip Torn-ian kind of bearish, roguish air. It’s all very reassuring (really, it is).

Jamie and I haven’t talked much, to each other, about our respective therapeutic experiences, so I can’t locate myself too precisely on his woman–> man scale of mundane –> transcendental engagement with therapy, but I suspect I’m somewhere in the middle.

I share with Jamie the basic, non-transformative but pleasantly cathartic experience of therapy, that “There’s just something about talking about your shit to someone who has no stake, who’s just a sounding board, that, in and of itself, is useful, in a similar way to how keeping a journal is useful.”

It’s like venting to a friend, but better, because even with your friends you have to keep a lot of the darkest, nastiest shit to yourself, whereas with a therapist the bad stuff is the good stuff. And it’s like keeping a journal (I imagine, though I’ve never kept one), but better, because the therapist can affirm you, and help you clarify your thoughts, and suggest alternative interpretations that frame your problems or worries in a more useful light.

It’s more than that, though. I haven’t even done the thing for a year yet, but I’ve arrived at what I’m slightly embarrassed to describe as profound insights into my psychological existence. It’s the usual stuff, of course, but it’s no less powerful for that. I’ve been too attached to my mother. I’ve suffered from having an emotionally distant father. I have a lot of anxiety. I can be obsessive in destructive ways. I don’t think highly of myself in some basic respects.

I’m normal, in other words, and normally fucked up, whereas I used to think I was better-than-normal, less neurotic than normal.

I think it’s helped me, and is helping me, a lot, though the changes are, as Jamie says, “subtle.” As I wrote the other day, describing a conversation between my Dad and me, “It didn’t suddenly tear down the walls of our German (Jewish) reserve …. It was a good moment, though.”

Dr. Dickey said to me, a few months ago, that I was very good at the therapy thing ( “it’s like you’re in advanced placement therapy,” he said, which was an awesome thing to say). I choose to believe that he was being truthful, rather than just reassuring, but even if it was mostly reassurance, it’s clearly true that I have an easy time subjecting myself, and my psyche, to intellection and analysis in a manner that is stereotypically masculine. It’s dispassionate, disinterested, clinical, logocentric, etc. I can hold up my soul, and inspect it from various angles, as if it’s separate from me, just an object presenting itself for my dissection.

The other edge of that sword, however, is that in separating my psyche for inspection, I’m also severing it from the emotional history of the pathologies, neuroses, and traumas that formed it. So I don’t feel it, when I’m therapizing it, in the way that women seem to, or at least in the way that my wife, who’s also a consumer of the therapeutic services industry, seems to.

I don’t think it’s true that women benefit from therapy more than men do, or, to put it in less gendered terms, that the emotionally expressive benefit more than the analytically powerful. I think it’s certainly true, however, that they experience it differently, and that the changes it provokes in the more analytically inclined are more gradual and subtle than they are in the emotional types, who I suspect tend to have more of a punctuated equilibrium kind of experience of therapy.

Author: Masculinity and Its Discontents

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