Do-It-Yourself Psychodynamic Therapy

Over the past 10 days, I have covered quite a bit of ground in my psychodynamic history. I had no idea when I began this string of posts that I was taking this path, but I now see in retrospect that — having no guide to help me traverse the psychodynamic terrain I mapped out in therapy earlier this year — I decided to strike out alone and try to find my own way.

It now seems obvious how this happened, but again, I couldn’t see it while the process was first playing out, only now that I’m within it.. About two weeks ago, pleased at the current direction my life was taking and the course of my therapy, I took a new look at my recent attempts at psychodynamic therapy and I felt cheated. My last therapist and I covered a massive amount of ground in December and January — basically every traumatic story in my life was told and put up for initial examination. I was very comfortable with my therapist and the course of the therapy, it seemed like I was on the verge of some major breakthroughs.

My therapist and I had an interesting conversation right about that time where she mentioned her own psychodynamic work. The conversation seemed a bit out of context at the time — I wasn’t really sure why we were having it — but perhaps she was trying to tell me something important but wasn’t sure how. She mentioned some dissatisfaction with her own psychodynamic therapy. She thought something in it was unsatisfactory — that maybe because she went through the hard work when she was 25 that she had done it when she was too young. She also mentioned that her therapy set off a period in her life where she confronted a lot of family members and put them on the spot for creating unhealthy dynamics in her life. She seemed to be expressing regret for that.

These past 10 days, I have had some difficult conversations and social media encounters due to taking my psychodynamic work public and I now have a better understanding of what my old therapist meant. But I also now wonder, did she possibly have an incomplete therapy experience like I did? Was she unable to continue with my psychodynamic work because she never really completed her own and her therapist basically left her to take up some of the most difficult work alone, one to one, outside of the safety of the therapy room?

This is, of course, an extrapolation of very little information and should not be taken too far. It’s not meant to excuse how my therapy ended or the incomplete nature of our work. Rather, it’s holding out a possibility that some empathy might be in order. Just like there are cycles of abuse, where victims end up acting out their abuse on others, perhaps there are also cycles of poor or incomplete therapy, and therapists who have not received their own proper care — or completed their work at an earlier age and have not revisited it to apply it to new life experiences — may be doomed to repeat the mistakes of their therapy on their future clients.

Putting it all back into context of this cycle of posts, I came to a realization that I had unfinished psychodynamic work to do. My first thought was, I do not want to restart psychodynamic therapy from scratch. It’s too painful to go through all of these stories again and to feel safe enough with a therapist to push farther.

Having established that fact, I was left with the option of returning to a previous therapist. An old psychiatrist was an option, but I never felt a strong enough rapport with him to delve too deeply. So what about my last therapist, as absurd as that sounds? I made an initial outreach to her supervisor and the therapist herself testing the waters on that — maybe there might be a proper time to try again, to let her finish the work I thought she had a duty to complete.

This, of course, was an absurd idea, but I needed to somewhat express it before I could see how unworkable it was. Having let that play out, I was left with only one option — if I felt the need to process all of these psychodynamic stories that are front and center in my head and as alive to me as if they had just happened yesterday, I would need to take them on myself. And so I dove into the stories, attempting to take these narratives and shape them into coherence, gaining some power over them so they no longer haunted me and spilled over into my relationships and current activities.

I was also doing something else very interesting — and I’ll draw an analogy to when I first learned to play guitar. I learned to play at the Old Town School of Folk Music and, at times, grew impatient with the slow pace of learning … one or two chords at a time, all in the key of C. We learned nothing about scales. I began to wonder why it had to be so slow, can’t I do something to speed it up?

Only later did I understand the physical need to go slow. I had to build up the callouses on my fingers so that fretting the chords wasn’t so painful. I had to build up finger strength for the barre chords to come. And this past week, I have been taking a similar journey here on this blog.

This journey has returned me to the page and the word. My psychodynamic work has opened a trove of stories to me — it is now up to me to take and shape them into something else. Writing about this material will not be easy, feelings can be hurt. So first, I had to build up my emotional callouses. I’ve had to become accustomed to the effect my words can have on the people close to me.

Perhaps more of this work still has to come until I’m completely comfortable with this approach. A cousin of mine suggested yesterday — with the best of intentions — that perhaps I should wait for her mother and mine to die before wading into these stories. To that I can only laugh. I am 54 years old and have waited long enough to write of my own life honestly and completely, If others cannot handle the emotional impact of my stories, perhaps they should simply not read them.

It has reached this point, because not writing no longer feels to me like a viable option.

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