Life of the mind

It’s got to end
September 18, 2013

I am not good at endings. During the “endings seminar” on my psychotherapy course I had to move my car, take the dog home and buy some salted dark chocolate. I was, therefore, sadly unable to attend the end. Like a lot of people, I defend myself against even the most mundane endings by getting out first, practically leaving my car running outside restaurants. A man on my course once said to me: “I have tried to talk to you but you always run away.” I was standing in a lecture theatre at the time, wearing my running gear. I smiled, put my headphones in and set off at a jog.

I spent my childhood waiting for a father who might or might not show up from a dusty war zone he was reporting from. When he did show up, he’d always leave too soon—an explosion, a martini, a woman, a sunset flight to a minaretted hell-hole. Now I have my own flight to catch, martini to drink, man to meet and… well, the explosions are more the emotional kind, but the carnage is real.

Yet therapy and psychoanalysis must end. It is almost the whole point. In therapy you recreate the childhood you never had (a good one in which you were always held in someone’s mind and you were loved even when you were awful), you integrate the “good breast” (nice and loving) with the “bad breast” (vile and rejecting) and become whole. Now you are ready to be weaned. This process is practised in “the breaks,” the time we spend without our therapist.

I am in five times a week therapy. This is a) very necessary and b) part of my training to become a psychotherapist. Every Friday my analyst says, “And of course we now have the break.” He means the weekend when I will sit all alone and he will live it up (or that’s the idea, at least). Before the summer he’ll say, “And we’ve got the very long break coming up.” Since I’m not really going to sit all alone and I don’t want to go walking in Wales (which is, I suspect, what he really does) I don’t think I mind too much. And yet I do seem to go to pieces a bit during the breaks... Start Googling Brecon Beacons...

Anyway, endings are the culmination of all this chat about breaks and the build up is intense. Of course, those of us who go on to train never completely break away, we’re never fully weaned, because we remain in contact with therapy, and possibly even our own therapist. This actually seems to me a better mock-up of an ideal parental situation—you might leave home, but you always go back for Christmas.

Analysis can go on for many years (look at Woody Allen), but free therapy on the National Health Service is exactly one year long, unless the patient backs out, or the therapist is unable to continue due to illness or something. One of my training patients fixated on the date of her ending months before we actually ended. She said that as her work is sporadic, seeing me is the only appointment in her week. I’d often felt so inadequate when faced with the enormity of her mania and despair that I hadn’t fully understood how valuable I was to her. Now ending, I felt as though we’d only just got going.

She missed two sessions before the end, something she had never done before. Though she had perfectly decent excuses, I felt she was trying my own well-worn technique of leaving her car running, making it clear to me that her trainers were on. She was attempting to take control of a situation that made her feel helpless. I hope I managed to show her that I know how that feels. Because I do.

When it came to it, she was grateful and tearful but didn’t hug me or give me a present (we were warned about both in supervision). But when she’d gone I was overwhelmed with sadness. She was not, as she imagined, one of tens of patients pouring in and out of my door. She was my first and I’m sure I learned far more than she did in our year together. I wish I could have told her that, but the last thing anyone wants is a grateful therapist.