Friday, May 19, 2023

You’re Number Five

 “You’re number five,” Alex says upon sprawling languidly in the chair opposite me.

“Number five?” I ask. 

“Yes, you’re the fifth therapist I’ve seen. I liked your website, maybe a bit too sappy, but still pretty good.”

“What happened to the other four therapists?” I say, choosing to ignore his comment about my website.

“I fired them.”


“Because they weren’t smart enough. Well, I guess that’s not completely true. I saw the first one for maybe a year. He was pretty good, but then I moved, so that was the end of him. The other three I saw here, but like everything else in Florida, they were just too stupid.”

“You certainly sound as though you’re angry, angry and hard to please, like nothing is good enough.”

“Okay, that’s not a bad comment. You’d get about a seven out of ten for that.”

Feeling myself becoming annoyed, I say, “Why don’t you tell me about yourself and about how I can help you.”

“That’s just it, I don’t know if you can help me.”

“Then tell me what brings you here.”

“I’m not happy.”


 “Because the world is a shit place. Because people are stupid and insensitive and uncaring.”

I hesitate and then decide to say what came to mind for me. “And you see yourself as sensitive and caring?”

Alex laughs sarcastically. “I see you didn’t include smart in that and, yeah, I see myself as smart even though you didn’t ask. Sensitive and caring, not so much, but probably more than you think.”

“Alex, this isn’t a sparring contest. I imagine you are more sensitive and caring than you appear, and that your aggressive, confronting tone is more of a defense against whatever sad or scary feelings lie underneath. If I’m going to be your therapist, I need to have a sense of who you really are, so maybe you could tell me a little about those scary feelings.”

“Wow! You go right for the jugular, don’t you?”

I bite back my first impulse which is to say ‘Takes one to know one,’ assuming that would just continue the one upmanship. Instead I say, “How about telling me a story from your childhood.”

He smirks. “Yes, that’s right, you’re a psychoanalyst.”


“Silence. Another tool.”

“I understand that change is hard, Alex, but there’s nothing to be gained by your being here, unless you’re willing to give us a chance as opposed to assuming I’m the enemy or a dueling partner.”

“You’re pretty good. I can’t rile you up.”

“There are lots of clever rejoinders I could give to your statements, Alex, but this isn’t supposed to be a debate. We’re supposed to be on the same side.”

“No one has ever has been on my side.”

“That’s sad,” I say, feeling a ray of hope. “Can you tell me who particularly you were thinking of?”

“My mother died of cancer a year after I was born – although obviously that wasn’t her choice – my father hated me because he was stuck with me, my older brother hated me because he blamed me for my mother’s death, my father’s mother thought I was a nuisance, my teachers all hated me because I was such a smartass – which I was – my wife divorced me and turned the kids against me, etc., etc. Get the picture?”

“Sounds like a pretty dismal picture. But it also seems, at least in some instances, that you’ve helped the picture stay dismal by, as you said, being a smartass which only ends up driving people away. I’m sure that ‘smartass’ way of being felt essential for your survival as a kid, but now it’s a hindrance that drives people away and leads to your being alone and unhappy.”

“I’m not unhappy. I’m just not happy.”

“Not happy and alone?”


“And sad?”

Before Alex responds I rush to say, “Not a smartass response.”

He laughs. “Yes, and sad.”

“And you’ve been sad most of your life and you cover it over by being sarcastic and pretending you don’t need anyone.”


“Thank you for giving me genuine responses.”

“You’re welcome. And thank you encouraging me to make that possible.”

“You’re welcome.” 


“So are we deciding to work together?” I ask.

“Yeah, I guess I’ll give number five a chance,” he says smiling genuinely. “I promise I’ll be easier on you next time.”

“I don’t imagine you’ll be able to give up your defenses that readily, so I don’t think either one of us should expect you to be an entirely different person by next week. Maybe we’ll just be able to be lighter about your smartass responses, as opposed to thinking you won’t have any.”

“Sounds reasonable, Doc. Thanks.”