January 24, 2008
Bad therapy by troubled shrink is revealing TV
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Weston has been avoiding seeking consultation to help him deal with his feelings for Laura, his troubled marriage, his alienation from his children and especially his burnout at work. He still believes that he does not need help and moves on to his Tuesday client, Alex.
Alex is a Navy pilot who recently returned from a mission in which he bombed a target that turned out to be a school. He comes to see Weston because he needs to know whether he should be going back to Iraq to witness firsthand what happened to the children.
He mentions in passing that his picture is plastered all over terrorist Web sites. He is cocky, self-confident and needs immediate answers.
Weston agrees to give Alex advice, a major faux pas for a seasoned therapist. In this case, the danger of Weston giving Alex advice was not in conveying a presumption that he knows what is best, because by the end of the session, he realizes that Alex has already made up his mind.
The danger Weston walked into was in giving Alex the message that decisions in therapy can be made without thinking about both sides of the conflict, understanding the meaning and the feelings associated with each position and helping the client clarify what they really want.
We are not surprised then that when Weston realizes what Alex has decided to do and tries to engage Alex in thoughtful dialogue around his decision, Alex shrugs him off. After the session, Weston feels victimized, discarded and used.
The Wednesday client, Sophie, is a 16-year-old girl. Sophie comes in for an evaluation mandated by a car insurance company, suspicious about her role in an accident. Her bike suspiciously collided with a car, leaving her with two broken arms. She has already refused to speak to a social worker and is distrustful, rageful, lonely and needy.
Weston finds out that she knows his daughter but lets it slide when Sophie reassures him that they are not in the same class, although she does drop some gossipy piece of information about her, "since he would want to know."
He promises to write her an evaluation, although he tells her at their next session that it is not ready yet because he needs more time to get to know her. She becomes enraged at him and tries to leave in the middle of the session.
How can Sophie trust this therapist who breaks promises, lets her bully him, does not show respect for her and his daughter's need for confidentiality and goes along with her wish to keep her mother out of her therapy and basically out of her life?
Jake and Amy are Weston's Thursday patients. A married couple, they are seeking marital counseling, as well as advice on what to do with Amy's pregnancy. After five years of infertility treatments, Amy is finally pregnant but is no longer sure she can love another child, in addition to their toddler son.
Jake wants the baby and accuses Amy of wanting to murder their child by considering abortion. Amy is not the only one Jake accuses of murder. When Jake pushes Weston into giving them an answer and not waste their time and money, Weston succumbs and then realizes immediately his mistake. The result makes Weston feel that he has just about had enough, and he puts in a call to his ex-supervisor to schedule an appointment with her the next day.
It is the appointment with his supervisor, Gina, that saves the series. She is an older, experienced therapist, and she tells Weston exactly what he needs to hear: That his work is "impulsive, unorganized and problematic." Weston defends himself, but she does not buy any of it.
At last, a therapist that therapists can be proud of.
The real value of this series to therapists, however, comes from the show's metamessage, best summed up by one of the earliest psychologists, William Shakespeare: "This above all: To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."
Translated into modern lingo, Shakespeare is reminding all of us, but especially therapists, that our most important tool in being able to help others is knowing the contours and the depth of our own mind. As a well-tuned instrument, we can then resonate to our clients' needs, wishes, desires, fantasies and demands in the way that helps them know themselves in the deepest sense.
As a therapist, I have often encountered raised eyebrows from friends, relatives and even colleagues when I mention that I am in analysis and am getting additional supervision for my work, not because I am required for licensure, but because I feel I need it to grow as a professional.
There is an unspoken sense that "you are OK, you are a good enough professional, you have invested enough of your time and money on your profession, enjoy the fruits of your labor for a change."
Now, with the airing of "In Treatment," I, along with many others like me, can point to the man who is going to become the iconic image of a "therapist" and say to the rest of the world, "I would not want to become like Paul Weston, puh, puh."
Irine Schweitzer is a licensed clinical social worker.
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