On Therapy

"My therapist, he's no bargain! When he told me I was crazy, I told him that I'd like a second opinion. He said 'Alright, you're ugly too!' And then he made me lay on the couch, face down." – Rodney Dangerfield

Alright, let's go ahead and deal with the therapy issue for a bit. When you are sick, you go to a doctor who looks at you, runs a test or two and then prescribes some drugs to treat the symptoms. When you aren't sick, you may still go in for a check-up. You pee in a cup, maybe get stuck with a needle to give some blood, the doctor probes your orifices and asks you if you have any concerns or problems since the last visit. Most medical problems are kind of obvious. Your leg is broken, you have an axe in your chest, your nose is runny or your heart rate is abnormal. X-rays, blood tests and other diagnostic equipment can yield fairly conclusive data used for diagnosis and treatment.

For mental health, this is not the case. There is no blood test, x-ray or MRI that can detect problems in thinking, emotional adjustment, social adjustment or coping skills. Psychology is considered a "soft science" in that there are few (almost none) direct measurements that can be made in order to determine an illness or a cause. That's not to say it has no value, it's just that the treatment is going to be more difficult.

There's more involved with going to a therapist than simply talking or having a general bitch session. Heck, I can do that here with all of you, my invisible internet friends, and I get a pretty decent amount of feedback. In fact, you are all pretty generous in supplying your thoughts. It also has to be more than seeking some sort of medication. I think one phone call to my doctor would accomplish that with a lot less bother.

Intervention should be based on some type of assessment. Every relationship assessment I've ever taken has produced results that showed my marriage was in trouble. Dr. Phil includes a bunch of assessments in Relationship Rescue and I reviewed many of those I did in 2002. The results still hold, 4 years later. These are nonvalidated assessments, of course, but they give a nice, general snapshot. After answering 20-30 questions in each area, you would score it. Then Dr. Phil would say, "If you scored more than 60% on this test, your marriage could be in serious trouble." I always scored 80% or greater. I always was the exceptional test taker.

So I'm beginning to think about therapy and what I might want to accomplish. I'm not going to pay someone just to listen to me bitch and moan, and then offer reassuring words. However, I will concede there being some value in getting an objective and professional perspective.

A rough outline of some possible goals:

1. Generally assess the health of my marriage with some instrument approaching validity. While every relationship is unique, it is useful to know where we are at in comparison to a "norm." This is merely an indicator as to how far off we are. Too far below the norm means that we have to devote extraordinary effort towards the marriage for improvement.

2. Gain perspective on my own maladaptive attitudes and behaviors. Yes, I'm very introspective, and you all provide good feedback. But hearing from someone who has seen other dysfunctions can help pinpoint specific issues and possible interventions; interventions that have some history of success.

3. Identify and work out any interventions towards marriage improvement.

4. Identify and work out an exit strategy should #3 fail. While I remain dedicated and loyal, Arwyn is not. Or doesn't appear to be. I need to be realistic about this, and explore these options.

5. Gain perspective on Arwyn's attitudes and behaviors. It would be good if she participated in this process, but if I decide to go, I am prepared to go at it alone.

6. Determine realistic and fair exit criteria…not exit from the marriage, but exit from therapy. Many forms of psychotherapy take years and years with few measurable results other than a fat wallet for the therapist. I understand that this may take time, but there needs to be steady progress, even if it is slow. Setbacks are allowed, but the trendline must have an upward slope.

7. Determine what realistic expectations in my marriagemight be, and learn how to enforce them. Perhaps gain strategies for not being a push over, if it turns out that is what I am.

This is a list that is in progress.

So to answer part of FTN’s question, therapy has NEVER been off the table. But it’s not something I go into lightly. I’m a thoughtful, deliberate person who is not prone to do things like this impulsively. And, I’ll go ahead and offer up the fact that there is no small amount of reservation in embarking on what could turn out to be the last gasp. In this way, it is a bit like surgery, where getting cut open exposes one to a host of new ills. And in the hands of someone who is less than skilled, it can be worse than seeing if things stabilize on their own. Therefore, I’m exceedingly picky. I’m fairly open with you folks, but am otherwise a VERY private person. I’m guarded all the time. My marriage was my shot at opening up to a real live person. And I sort of blew that, and am paying for poor choices. My head is my best and most sacred piece of real estate I possess, short of my eternal soul. Forgive me for being reluctant to let someone freely wander about. You all get some access to it, but I have some control over how much you get to see. It is exceedingly limited. Opening up is hard, and I’m not going to give up my defenses so easily.


12 Responses to On Therapy

  1. Rob says:

    “Opening up is hard, and I’m not going to give up my defenses so easily.”

    No risk, no gain is just as true as no risk, no pain. There is always risk in falling in love and marrying because two people open up their inner selves to each other in doing so. Nevertheless people like you and Arwyn did this a long time ago and got married. So to hopefully save this marriage you have to risk again, no habitual tendency to seek avoidance. To be fair of course you should, at an opportune time of course, ask Arwyn if she thinks enough about your marriage to be willing to join you, should you ever decide to seek out help of this nature. If she declines then at least your conscience is clear and you should then proceed on your own, taking whatever the next steps that you feel need to be taken.

  2. So Gone says:

    Not to sound mean but I don’t think you need Dr. Phil’s tests to let you know the marriage is out of whack. I don’t really think you need a therapist to tell you this either. What you do need is some commitment from Arywn to try to piece this marriage back together. Going it alone with a therapist may help, but really, isn’t the relationship a partnership? And therefore, wouldn’t it require that both partners work on fixing the problems? I think that if you ask Arywn to join you in therapy (or in any other way to help improve things) and she doesn’t want to, you have your answer to whether or not you need to seriously consider #4.

  3. Katie says:

    Therapy is tricky, I’m glad you already realize that. And you can’t do it alone. Sure you might fix parts of yourself but then you are just going to be running into the same walls when dealing with Arwyn. I know, I tried therapy alone for several months and finally gave up trying to fix my marriage “alone”. Ugh, this isn’t a very positive comment for therapy is it?

  4. Denise Regan says:

    You’re right to be picky. Therapists can mind-fuck you into thinking you’re more fucked up than you are. Just look at Dr. Phil’s ratings. I’m sorry, but his show is for the herd mentality.

    I went to a new one last year with my own approach; I refused to talk to him, but instead wrote everything down (responses to his questions and so forth). I had wanted to try this for a long time and was met by some opposition by him at first; he said he felt I was “giving up an ability” by refusing to talk. I didn’t feel that way at all….I felt I was being true to myself by sticking to my idea. Many times I’ve been to therapists and said things because I felt I had to have a response to their questions and then couldn’t remember later what I had said. You gotta do what’s right for you with a shrink.

    Besides, I figure they’ve got a degree in dealing with people’s extreme eccentricities, so they should be able to deal with whatever you go in there with.

    And if they try to steer you toward meds, say no!!!

  5. Cinnamon says:

    “Forgive me for being reluctant to let someone freely wander about.”

    Digger, that isn’t how it works. No therapist is a mind reader, and they can only know what you choose to tell them. Period. Your secrets are all safe, until you choose to share them. And therapy can take years, yes, if you never open up and get to the real bedrock of your psyche. The more you are open, the faster it will go – like pulling a band aid off.

    Opening up is hard, especially if you’re worried and private and distrustful, so the first 3-4 sessions will probably be “introductory” – taking care of the apppointmenst schedule and business of insurance and co-pays, and then, just to find out how the therapist works and getting comfortable with them, and giving them an overview of what you are looking for. After you do, the way to know a good one is – do they seem smart? Do they ask questions that make you think of things from different directions? Are they non-judgemental about the things you “reveal” to them?

    Here’s a joke (that has a lot of truth behind it)

    How many shrinks does it take to change a lightbulb?

    Answer: Only one, but the lightbulb has to want to change.

    If you want to change, the therapist will facilitate a period of true personal growth for you, teach you new things about yourself, and new skills for creating the life that YOU want, for the rest of your life. Try it, and stick it out, and for decades of the future you will look back and be so glad you took this step.

    I’ll pray for you, hun. And I’m proud of you.

  6. Synergy says:

    You already know my tack on therapy. Whether for the marriage or alone, if you are picky and find a good one it will be beneficial. It will do one of two things, help you learn to assert your boundaries without pushing Arwyn away, equip you with ways to communicate your needs in a non-threatening but firm manner, and if things do not work out over all it will give you the courage to explore whatever options necessary to heal or end the marriage. I do not condone or advise ending any marriage ever. However I do not condone wallowing in stagnation either.

    I think therapy will be helpful to you in giving you coping skills and confidence to deal with whatever course of action you choose eventually, whether it be to stay or go.

    As to Arwyn… it sounds as if she’s in her comfort zone, she’s safe, secure, and she scares you off with grimaces and gestures that scream rejection. I have a feeling she will be resistant to change, because at the moment this… business deal you’ve struck to co-manage a household is quite a cozy arrangement for her. Think about it… without intimacy, marriage is nothing more than a business contract, in which two parties are responsible for managing specific shares of running a household. You have a business arrangement, not a marriage.

  7. aphron says:

    Ditto Syngergy.

    Without Arwyn on board, how can therapy work? Getting Arwyn on board would be a major hurdle, I think.

    Also, I’m not convinced that therapy works, especially if the parties involved aren’t wanting to see the problem, ie. denial. Denial is tough to break through.

  8. Emily says:

    I think therapy is a good option, as long as you choose your therapist carefully. Be prepared to check out several before deciding on one.

    It would be great if Arwyn came along and also worked on things. But if she doesn’t, well, this is your life, too. It could really help you to get your thoughts together. You seem very stuck at present, and it feels like you need something from outside to push you out of your rut.


  9. Therapy can be very good for you, Digger, even if you go alone. You may find out some things that will help you deal better with A and your children and others…even if ultimately your marriage “fails,” you will have learned things that can help you in the future.

    You don’t have to open up to a therapist immediately. Think of it as getting to know a new person. Trust them a little at a time, see how their advice fits with you…go gradually. If the fit seems wrong, try someone else.

    I wish you luck.

  10. Shay says:

    When you are sick in the head (i.e. have a mental illness) –

    Psychologists and Psychiarists do go though a check list looking for symptoms, just like a body doctor. For example, the DSM IV-R.

    There’s also many many many many fancy tests that look for all sorts of things – from your need for acheivement, to your level of depression, to how much of a liar you are (yes, they can measure that).

    I guess things get a little more tricky when you go in for something “fluffy” like couples therapy because there’s not usually a specific problem or disorder that you are looking at so you don’t have a specific plan of action (unless your therapist is a structural or strategic therapist).
    So in those cases, I guess it’s like you said – your therapist is giving a more objective prespective and is helping you learn ways to help yourself.

    But I guess in a way, you still have symptoms – instead of a runny nose, you have problems with communication – and your therpist’s job is to notice that an help you fix it. So maybe their job is ever harder because instead of having their patients tell them all their symptoms, they have to observe and figure them out for themselves.

  11. C-Marie says:

    It takes 2 to tango… she needs to be on board with you. I don’t see it working any other way.

  12. Denise Regan says:

    I don’t fully agree…..I’m not an advocate for therapy, but you deserve something for yourself. Don’t try to drag Arwyn along if she doesn’t want to go, but show her you’re not willing to lay down and die just because she won’t give up her comfort zone.

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