I look at the clock. Camilla is now 15 minutes late for her session. I’m not surprised. She’s been consistently late for every session since we started working together several weeks ago. She always apologizes, always has some reason – the car wouldn’t start, she got a last minute phone call, the traffic was bad.
Finally I see the red light that signals a patient is in my waiting room.
“I’m sorry,” she says, breathless. “I told myself I’d be on time today. But my Mom called and was telling me I needed to call my Grandmother. I know I should. I love my Grandmother, but I don’t like talking to her on the phone. It’s boring. She asks the same questions – how’s my job, have I met any nice boys, am I going out with my friends. Boring!”
“What makes it boring?” I ask and then immediately regret my question. I want to talk to her about her lateness. Or at least ask her what she means by boring.
“I told you,” she replies, crossing and uncrossing her legs, combing her fingers through her long brown hair. “She always asks the same questions. My job is fine, I haven’t met anyone and, yes, I go out with my friends.”
We sit in silence for a few seconds until she says, “What? You think I should call my Grandmother?”
I shrug my shoulder. “I think that’s up to you.”
She sighs. “I wish my mother felt like that.”
“What?” she asks again. “Aren’t you going to ask me anything?”
“What do you feel in the silence?” I ask.
“What do you feel in the silence?”
“Like we’re wasting time, not getting anywhere.”
“That’s what you’re thinking, what are you feeling?”
“I don’t know.” Pause. “Bored I guess.”
“Sounds like it’s easy for you to feel bored.”
“Yeah, I guess,” she says fidgeting in the chair. “I don’t like sitting still. I don’t like quiet. I need to have stuff going on. That’s why I like my job at Saks, even though my parents say they didn’t pay for me to go to college for me to work at Saks. But there are people around and all those great clothes. Even if we have no customers I can walk around picking out clothes, holding them against me, deciding if I see something I really, really want. Although that’s frustrating because I can’t afford most of that stuff anyway, even with the employee discount. Not until my parents give me an allowance again. They say they’re paying for my apartment and until I get a real job that’s all I get.” Pause. “But I’ve told you all this already. What else should we talk about?” she asks, glancing at the clock.
“Do you have any thoughts about why you looked at the clock just then?”
“I don’t know. I guess because I’m bored and because time is just crawling by.”
Ah ha, I think. “Camilla, do you think it’s possible that you’re consistently late here because 45 minutes feels like a long time to sit and talk to me?”
She looks startled. Then smiles. “Yeah! 45 minutes is a long time! I never sit for 45 minutes. It’s why I always nix going to the movies. Who can sit for two hours watching a dumb movie?”
“So you come late so you don’t have to sit so long?”
“Yeah. But it’s not like I decide to come late. It just happens.”
“I understand. But it may ‘just happen’ because you unconsciously don’t want be here for the full session.”
“Is there any other reason you might want not to come here?”
“I don’t know. What are you getting at?”
“Well, I was wondering if coming here is kind of like calling your Grandmother. You feel you should do it. You know your parents want you to do it. But maybe it’s not really something you want to do.”
“Maybe,” she says shrugging.
“You’re 25 years old, Camilla. You don’t have to be here if you don’t want to.”
“I know,” she says looking down. “But I have to do some of the things my parents ask.”
“I think it would be important for you and for us to know what it is that you want to do.”
“I don’t know what I want to do! That’s why I’m here.”
“Does that mean you’re not only being an obedient child by coming here, but that you do want help figuring yourself out?”
“That doesn’t sound too certain.”
“Can we make the sessions 30 minutes?”
“No. My schedule is based on 45 minute sessions. And, besides, if you decide you want to come, I think it would be good for us to work on what makes it so difficult for you to be still, on what you feel underneath what you call boredom. And perhaps we could look at your lateness – or being on time – as a message about how you’re feeling about me and the therapy. That’s if you decide to continue. And that’s something you will have to decide.”