A tall, too-thin, young blonde woman looks up at me with beseeching eyes when I open my waiting room door. She does not return my smile. Slowly, tentatively she walks to my office and waits until I gesture for her to sit, which she does almost reluctantly, teetering at the edge of the chair.
Oh, oh, I think to myself. This young woman is in trouble and probably means trouble for me as well.
She looks down at the floor, pulling at her fingers. Anxiety fills the room.
“Bethany,” I begin, planning to ask what has brought her to therapy.
At the sound of her name, she flinches.
For a moment I’m confused. Did I misremember the name she gave me on the phone?
“I lied,” she says.
“You lied about your name?” I ask, surprised. In all the years I’ve been doing therapy, I don’t think anyone has lied about her name.
She nods, still looking down at the floor.
“My name’s Belinda,” she says.
Belinda I think to myself, an unusual name. Tall, thin, blonde. The pieces fall into place. “You’re Chelsea’s friend,” I say.
“You have to see me,” she says raising her head, her eyes now boring into mine. “I’ve seen lots of therapists over the years. I knew you wouldn’t see me if I told you I was Chelsea’s friend, so I lied. I planned to lie for a while, until we had a relationship going, but I was too afraid. I didn’t think I could pull it off.”
I’m swimming in conflicting thoughts and feelings, and suspect that my confusion mirrors Bethany’s – I mean Belinda’s. Why is Belinda so determined to see me? What does it mean about her
relationship to Chelsea? Why did she choose subterfuge and then immediately abandon it?
“Why don’t you say something?” she asks.
“I guess because I’m feeling confused and uncertain what to say or do, much as I imagine you often feel yourself.”
Belinda’s face lights up. “Yes! That’s exactly how I feel. I knew you’d be the only one who could understand me.”
Immediate idealization always followed by falling off the pedestal. But it can never get that far. I need to extricate myself from this situation as soon as possible for, as Belinda correctly surmised, I cannot treat both Chelsea and Belinda. They are good friends, both disturbed young women with eating disorders. They’re also extremely competitive with each other. I can just imagine the jostling that would occur as each tried to win my favor. Way too complicated for me to ever consider.
“I assume, Belinda, that Chelsea doesn’t know you came to see me,” I say.
“You’re not going to see me,” Belinda says, tearing up.
“No, Belinda, I’m not going to see you, but I would like for us to understand why it was so important that you see Chelsea’s therapist. There are many good therapists I could refer you to, why did you want it to be me?”
“It has to be you!”
“Because of how much you’ve helped Chelsea.”
“That could be one reason you want to see me. Might there be others?”
Silent tears pour down Belinda’s cheeks. In the next second she’s beating her fist into her thigh, her face contorted with rage.
“Stop it!” I say. “Stop it and tell me what you’re feeling.”
“I always, always lose. I hate myself! I hate myself! I’m never good enough!”
“Belinda, I know almost nothing about you, but I do know that today you set yourself up to lose. You knew coming in that I wouldn’t see you when I’m already treating one of your best friends.”
“We could keep it a secret,” she says interrupting.
“You know I’m not going keep a secret from a patient. You wouldn’t want your therapist to keep a secret from you. Is there something that happened between you and Chelsea that made you suddenly decide you wanted to be my patient?”
She shakes her head no.
“Is there something that happened in your life?”
“My sister got engaged.”
She nods. “But of course I couldn’t. I always lose.”
“But again, Chelsea, with me, you set yourself up to lose and I think that’s something important for you to understand. Can I give you the name and phone number of a therapist I think you’d work well with?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, why don’t I give it to you and hopefully you’ll think about it and give her a call.”