Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Money Matters Again

I am aware of feeling annoyed as I go to the waiting room to greet Philip. It’s been five weeks since I’ve seen him. Each of the last four weeks he cancelled three or more days prior to our session – well within the time required by my 48 hour cancellation policy to avoid being charged – with various excuses, mostly related to business. Philip is a successful import/exporter. It’s not unusual for him to travel, but we’ve usually been able to reschedule during the week or arrange to talk by phone, even when he’s out of the country.

“It’s been a while,” he says greeting me with a broad smile that enhances his already handsome face. “I’ve been incredibly busy. Business has really picked up. Not that I’m complaining. I know lots of people are hurting, so I’m more than grateful. Other than that, not much is happening. Things are going okay with Serena, although she hasn’t been too pleased with all my traveling. I have been able to keep up with my kids, although I can find myself squeezed between time with Serena and time with the kids.” 

“And us?” I ask.


“We haven’t seen much of each other the past several weeks either and now you seem to be saying that there’s not much to talk about.”

“Truthfully, I haven’t had much time to think about myself. I just keep on truckin’.”

“Does that strike you as strange? You’re someone who usually spends a lot of time reflecting about yourself, trying to understand why you do what you do and now you’re being kind of flip and indifferent.”

“Maybe I’m just tired of spending all this time ruminating on myself. Maybe it’s time to just start living.”

“Philip, what’s going on?”

“What do you mean?”

“First you disappear for over a month …”

“I didn’t disappear,” he interrupts. “I called every time to say why I couldn’t come. Gave you enough advance notice too.”

I find myself confused, annoyed and stymied. When Philip kept cancelling, I thought about our last several sessions trying to understand what might have triggered his desire to keep away and hadn’t come up with anything. Now he’s being disinterested, dismissive and even hostile and I have no idea why. Was he feeling too close and needing to get away? And what was that comment about giving me advance notice? Philip is a wealthy man. Money never seemed to be an issue between us.

“Was it important that you gave me advance warning?” I ask.

“Yeah. Wouldn’t want you to be charging me for a session when I’m not here, especially since you just raised your fee.”

I try to keep my surprise from registering on my face. I raised Philip’s fee by $25, an amount I thought would be insignificant to him.

“Philip, what did it mean to you that I raised my fee?”

“Nothing. You’re entitled. This is your job. You deserve to make a living. And $25, it’s no big deal.”

“Seems like it is a big deal, Philip.”

“Don’t be silly. I can give $25 to the valet when I leave my car at the airport.”

“Except I’m not the valet,” I say quietly.

“I didn’t mean to insult you,” he says quickly.

“Philip, let’s stop a moment. I feel like we’ve been sparring all hour and I think I do understand what’s going on. I understand that the actual $25 an hour increase is inconsequential to you. But I think what it did is remind you that we have a professional relationship, that in addition to our human relationship, in addition to the caring interaction that goes on between us, you do pay me for my time. It reminded you, as you said, that this is my job. And I think that made you feel uncared about.”

“I never thought of that. At least not consciously. But now that you put it into words, I think you’re right.” He pauses. “Know what I just thought about? I thought about the time when I was a kid and my father and I had baseball tickets. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks. And then sometime before the game a delivery guy arrived with an electric guitar I’d been wanting and a note that said, ‘Sorry, kid, can’t make it. Enjoy. Love, Dad.’ I never did play that guitar. I realize it’s not the same thing …”

“But it felt that money, material things were taking the place of time and caring and that’s how it felt with me too.”

“I guess. I’m sorry. I know that’s not fair.”

“Nothing to apologize for. I’m glad our relationship matters to you. It matters to me too. And I’m glad we were able to figure out what was going on.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


“I could hardly wait to come today,” Laura says smiling brightly, as she settles into the chair across from me. “Although last time I felt really sad after the session. I always saw myself as having this normal, average family. You know, nice home in the suburbs, Dad commutes to work, Mom substitute teaches, everyone loves everyone else. And I guess that’s still true. But it’s more complicated. Everyone loves everyone else as much as they can, but that may not always be enough for the kids.”

“For the kids?” I ask.

“I guess I mean for me. It’s hard. It’s hard to give up the illusion that everything was just as it should have been. My mother just doesn’t have it, whatever that it is, that maternal instinct, that ability to tune into me. She always preferred being alone with her books and her crafts.” She pauses. “And I didn’t expect to be here. I come into therapy for the first time in my life at 34 to decide whether or not I want to have a child. I never thought I did. And I never questioned why I didn’t, I just didn’t. But with my biological clock getting ready to hit the alarm button and all my friends having babies, I don’t know, I just started to wonder.”

“Do you have feelings about coming into therapy to answer what you thought was a simple question and having me open up Pandora’s box?”

Her eyes twinkle in delight. “That’s why I love coming here. You’re so honest, so straightforward. You always want to know. You want to know me, want to know what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling. It’s incredibly refreshing.”
I smile back at her, thinking that she’s the one who’s incredibly refreshing. “I do want to know you, Laura. It’s a privilege to watch your journey of discovery, to watch you find yourself, discover new things about yourself, confront your pain, as well as your joy.”

She begins to cry.

I remain silent.

“I’m sorry… I know. I know. I should never apologize for my tears. It’s just that you’re so different from my mother. And your being so different makes it terribly clear what she couldn’t give me. And it’s sad. No matter what I do I’m not going to make her into you.” She pauses, then adds quietly, “And I can’t make you my mother.”

I smile inwardly. It’s such a pleasure to work with Laura. Despite her having no psychological background, despite her never being in therapy before, she intuitively grasps profound psychological and unconscious processes. Besides, she’s a warm, caring, thoughtful, loving person. We connect well together and I’m confident that I can help her more fully appreciate the fine human being she is.  

I say, “So I wonder if what you’re saying, Laura, is that as warm and positive as it feels to be in this room with me, it also mirrors the deprivation and loss you felt in your childhood. Your mother couldn’t be the mother you needed and deserved as a child and although I come closer to the mother you want, I’m not your mother – and I certainly wasn’t the mother of your childhood – which leaves you feeling sad and bereft.

“So what good are you?” Laura asks, attempting to smile through her tears.

“You’re smiling, but I bet you feel angry, angry at me, angry at your mother.”   

“That doesn’t seem fair.”  

“Feelings don’t have to be fair, Laura, they just are.”

She looks at me quizzically. “Putting my sarcasm aside, what good is it for me to feel sad and bereft all over again? And how does that help me decide about having a child?”

“Well, feeling sad and bereft with me enables you to replicate in the present the feelings you had as a child, right at this moment between us. It brings those feelings from the past into the present and allows you to feel sad and angry, sad and angry, and sad and angry and eventually to put them away with a different level of adult acceptance. It allows a mourning for that which never was and never can be.”

“And the child part?”

“I think you already know that having or not having a child is tied to your feelings about how you were mothered and how you feel about mothering another little being. I don’t think we understand it all yet, but I suspect as it becomes clearer to you, you’ll know whether or not you want to have a child.”

She sighs. “I bet if you had been my mother I would have had three kids by now.”

“That’s a really interesting statement, Laura. I think we should look at that more closely next time.”