DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been sorting through some emotional issues for some time now. I have come to a decision that I am frightened to make: I want to ask my dad and stepmother to join an upcoming group therapy session with me. My therapist recommended that we sit down together, as a lot of my issues stem from the way they treated me when I was younger. I’m very nervous to ask them because I’m sure they have no idea I’m feeling this way. How should I approach this? — Group Therapy
DEAR GROUP THERAPY: Be gentle as you approach your family. If possible, go to see them and bring this up in person. Tell them that you have been going through some challenges and sought therapy to address them. Explain that some sensitive topics have surfaced that include things that happened when you were younger and still living with them. Tell them that your therapist has asked for the three of you to come together to talk through these sensitive topics, and you hope that they will agree.
It is likely that they will try to get you to reveal what the topics are. This is where you would do best to stand your ground. Tell them that it has been difficult for you to get to this point in your healing process. You believe you need the therapist’s professional support to help the three of you examine what comes up. Assure them that this is not an ambush. Instead, coming together with your therapist will present a safe space for you to talk together and sort through whatever comes up. (c) DREAMLEAPERS
Harriette’s advice is always the same: sit down with [whoever] and share your feelings about [whatever] so that they’ll understand that you feel [however] about [such-and-such situation]. But this is a bad idea.
A long time ago I used to watch a show called Numb3rs. Yeah, it had a cute 3 instead of an E in its name. The show was about two brothers who worked for the FBI. Don, the older brother, was an FBI team leader. His younger brother, Charlie, was a legitimate mathematical genius who consulted for Don’s team but didn’t use a gun or go into scary situations. They’d lost their mother to cancer and were quite close to their dad, who was very fatherly. They were a really nice family.
Don started seeing a therapist. He was insanely jealous of Charlie’s genius-level abilities. What Don didn’t realize was that he, too, was a genius–just more in the FBI sense than the math sense. Hey, if you’re skilled at leading an FBI team, then you’re pretty darned smart in my book. And for seriousness, all of the characters were constantly talking over me, and I never had a clue what they were going on about. Don was highly intelligent.
So Don’s therapist got the idiotic idea for Don to bring his brother to therapy. But the therapy session was awkward, embarrassing, uncomfortable, and cringeworthy, in that order. Nothing got resolved or accomplished. In fact, it set Don and Charlie back in their otherwise solid brotherly relationship.
In my opinion, you can waste time being jealous of your prodigy brother, or you can get over it already and keep working for the FBI.
My therapist recommended that we sit down together, as a lot of my issues stem from the way they treated me when I was younger.
I just think this is a bad idea. I’m having a hard time pinpointing why, but it sounds like a bad idea. We know the letter writer is nervous about it. And Harriette can say it’s not an ambush, but from here, it looks like an ambush.
Assure them that this is not an ambush.
It seems odd that I’m siding with the parents on this, but they willl indeed be walking right into an ambush. Let’s at least be honest about that. Surely the letter writer shouldn’t lie to her parents outright, as Harriette is suggesting!
HA HA! I made a funny. “It’s not an ambush. It just looks like one.” 😀
It is likely that they will try to get you to reveal what the topics are.
I know I sure would. Am I the only person smart enough to avoid being ambushed by a therapist? I doubt it. Therapists are dreadful creatures.
Assure them that this is not an ambush. Instead, coming together with your therapist will present a safe space for you to talk together and sort through whatever comes up.
Oh, okay, so that’s what prevents it from being an ambush. Mm-hmm. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m jaded. My memoir, which I’ve been working on, has an entire chapter devoted to bad therapists. I was at a low point in my life and, out of desperation, I tried six or seven different therapists. Oh my gosh, it was disastrous.
And there was also something else that came up while penning my memoir. My mom took me to a therapist here in this neighborhood when I was a teenager. I don’t remember what the therapist and I were talking about. (It was just the two of us.) I was mortally offended, and I begged her to change the subject or backpedal or take it back, etc., etc. She flat-out refused and kept pushing me about it (whatever it was). It was sort of like she triggered me, and I begged her to be more sensitive, and she decided to go full-throttle against me. I wound up kicking a hole in her wall and then locking myself in her closet.
The funny thing is that at that point, I think she realized that she was in trouble. I wasn’t coming out, and I was wise enough to know it would make her look bad. She tried every which way to coax me out, and I was having none of it. You know you’re a bad therapist when your teen client would rather stay in the closet.
When my mother showed up to collect me, she was alarmed to find me hiding in the closet, so we fired that therapist and moved onto yet another one.
I only have a BA in psychology, but even I know that if you push too hard, you risk making the whole house of cards collapse. I also know that teenagers should be treated with kid gloves and given the benefit of the doubt about their home lives. Geez. That therapist was in the wrong line of business.
I would urge the letter writer to ask herself this question: will she feel comfortable mentioning the stuff from the past in the therapist’s presence, or will it feel like she’s onstage and about to bomb in the play? If it’s too much confrontation, it’s too much confrontation. I’d urge her to try to get closer to her parents and bring this stuff up gradually.
Confrontation (even the professional kind) can be disastrous. There was another time when I was a teenager that a boy in my class kept sexually harassing me. It got old. I told my mom, who called the (male) guidance counselor, whose office she and I wound up in. Then the guidance counselor called in the boy in question and asked him about it point-blank in front of us. The poor kid turned green. Problem solved, but I still feel sorry for him to this day. And I blame myself! Couldn’t that damned guidance counselor have a man-to-man talk with him instead? Nope, that was hoping for too much.
If the letter writer must go the family-therapy route, there should at least be some sessions of general discussion that will put everyone’s mind at ease. Of course, then, they really won’t suspect the ambush. [Facepalm.]