Emer McLysaght: I spend my week wondering what my therapist thinks of me

If there’s a league table of patients, then I want to be number one

‘A therapist holds space for a client to talk, to discuss problems past and present, integrates traumatic experiences, identifies coping mechanisms and encourages self-compassion. Photograph: Getty

‘A therapist holds space for a client to talk, to discuss problems past and present, integrates traumatic experiences, identifies coping mechanisms and encourages self-compassion. Photograph: Getty

 

I see a therapist once a week for an hour, affectionately referred to as my Crying Hour With Katie.

I spend the other 167 hours wondering what she thinks of me. I swing wildly between pessimism – Does she find me annoying? Am I too self-involved? Do my problems seem trivial to her? Does she close the Zoom window with big sigh and a “Thanks be to Jesus” when our sessions end? – and a kind of mooning vanity – Does she thinks I’m the saddest case she’s ever encountered? Can she fathom how I find the strength to go on? Does she keep a ranking of her favourite clients and am I at or near the top of it?

Emer McLysaght
Emer McLysaght

I’m not sure “lickarse” is a term featured in any psychotherapy textbooks but if it is then it’s definitely written in a file with my name on it because if there’s a league table of patients then I want to be number one.

I’m relatively new to the therapy game. I briefly took advantage of the complimentary college counselling on offer a decade ago when I was simultaneously doing my master’s and having a romantic crisis.

I didn’t return to The Couch until 2018 when I googled “counselling + Dublin” in a bid to get a handle on a bad spell of mental health. Since then, I’ve passed through inpatient psychotherapy and free HSE counselling – both wonderful but temporary – until recently starting with a private therapist. The monthly cost is about the same as renting a double bedroom in Galway or buying a small castle in Spain. I deleted the ASOS app off my phone in a bid to redirect some money from retail therapy to the real thing. I was on her waiting list for a year though, so I was pretty confident she’d be worth it.

I might consider for the hundredth time getting a second therapist to talk about my anxiety around what my current therapist thinks of me

It’s a therapist’s job to hold space for a client to talk, to discuss problems past and present, to integrate traumatic experiences, to identify coping mechanisms and encourage self-compassion. They’ll tell you that there is no judgment in the room and that all your experiences and feelings are valid. They’ll do it in a soft voice while an inoffensive candle burns and you clutch the yellow cushion specially chosen for its warm colour and sensory qualities. They almost always have lovely shiny hair.

However, I would put a year’s worth of therapy fees on a bet that most psychologists and counsellors suffer optic strain at least a few times a day from trying to keep their eyes from rolling off into the middle of traffic as another Poor Me story is wheeled out. If I was to offer this bet to my therapist she’d more than likely sidestep it and ask me to “stay with that feeling for a second”.

She’d lean forward with an inquisitive face and ask why I would consider anyone’s experiences to be “poor me” stories. Within minutes I’d be crying and she’d be reassuring me that my feelings and experiences are valid and before I knew it the hour would be over and I’d be back in my whirlwind of “does she hate me or does she think I’m a resilient warrior?” I might consider for the hundredth time getting a second therapist to talk about my anxiety around what my current therapist thinks of me.

Wondering what a therapist thinks of you goes beyond the words that come out of your mouth. What you’re wearing and how you look no doubt provides another layer to scrutinise. If you look too put together they might assume everything is fine and maybe you don’t even need them anymore. You could be turfed out before you even get onto that witch of a teacher who bullied you in fourth class.

Am I your favourite client? Top three even? I love you. Please like me

On the other hand, if you look a shambles then they might do the concerned lean forward while also inching their fingers towards the psych ward hotline. I’m being facetious of course, it would take a lot more than unbrushed hair to get you committed but between that and the admission about feeling homicidal towards your Aunt Siobhán and her sprout discourse on Christmas Day, you never know.

Therapy during the pandemic means a whole new set of personal traits and choices have been on display, even if your pyjama bottoms and Crocs are out of shot. Should I position some books behind me to impress her on the Zoom call? What will she think about my aggressive number of houseplants; what am I trying to compensate for? Is that a painting a psychopath might own? Therapy during the pandemic has also been a privilege, and not something that everyone can access or afford. You better believe I worry about that and bring it up in my sessions. Poor me.

I personally cannot wait to get back to the nice candle and the yellow cushion for my Crying Hour With Katie. Yes, I might crave her approval and worry she finds me annoying and self-centred and pathetic, but I also want her to admire and respect me and Katie if you’re reading this, I truly believe you’re the best and you’re worth every penny. Am I your favourite client? Top three even? I love you. Please like me.