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how "to open a can of worms" during therapy?


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I've just read the thread of Goose about nondirective counselling and as you probably noticed, it has been my inspiration for the formulation of my problem, for the title of this thread. I wanted to pose a general question, probably impossible to answer, but... I suppose some of you might have useful insihgts...

For those who don't remember: goose wrote about an issue she've just began to talk about with the therapist:

<<... opens a can of worms for me which makes me scared about what happens next>>

[...] (deleted)

So... my general question is the one in the title. How to do such things? How to talk when the simple fact of talking is something "insupportable"? (I should add that an important part of "The problem/issue" is my inability to communicate about anything related to it.)

Has anybody any comments? They will be appreciated :)

Edited by LaLa3
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Good morning, LaLa3. I believe that therapy works best when there is emotional honesty with the therapist. I know how difficult it can be revealing such personal things. Sometimes I would write things out and give him the letter during session. A few times I whispered (usually while shrinking in the chair and burying my head, closing my eyes....)

All of your doubts, concerns and fears around revealing this is useful information in and of itself, LaLa. I would recommend getting your feelings out in the open with your therapist. Let him know that you are anxious about divulging this and he may offer you some thoughts that may help you proceed. The therapy is yours and this presents you with an opportunity to discuss anything and everything. Sometimes even if there are no real answers to "solving" a problem, getting it out in the open may lessen the power it has over you. If revealing this brings out other feelings or disappointment in him, as you mentioned, express this to him. Sometimes our behaviors and responses to interactions within the therapeutic relationship are patterns that we also exhibit in other relationships. Coming to understand all of this may prove to be beneficial in ways you hadn't expected. Good luck, LaLa.

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Thank you, IrmaJean :o

[...] deleted

I agree with you. Nevertheless, my question remains for others (and also for you, if you want to add something): HOW to do it? I know, I have to find my own way. But... I found it useful to ask here about some comments and advises to feel more... "supported" in doing it, in deciding. This first answer proves it was a good idea :)

Edited by LaLa3
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  • 2 weeks later...

Not useless AT ALL, Lala - do you know how many of us have been in this situation? Probably close to all of us.

Therapists are usually very glad when a client does it. It represents a breakthrough for them in that they have managed to establish sufficient trust that you feel safe enough to open up and take the risk.

I'm sorry I didn't see this earlier, but I would have echoed what IrmaJean said about writing. I commonly do this. I express myself much better in writing than verbally and the writing gives me the time to consider how to say it, how I feel anxious about saying it - all in a coherent way without bumbling through it.

I'm glad you managed to do it, well done. :D

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Thank you, Luna :)

I deleted most of my post here, but in the deleted part, I also explained that I write long letters to my therapist every week. But this "can of worms" had to be open... "face to face", because... one of the big parts of this problem is that I'm unable to talk about it. So... I wrote him a lot "about (or "aroud ;)") it" in my letters, but the time had come to talk...

And... I hope very much that my therapist was glad I've done it (he told me he was, so... I "try to" believe it... :D ), because this is the only compensation I can give him for the long and very unpleasant monologue he had to listen to, in which I tried to tell him "the thing" but was only "walking aroud" over and over, sometimes laughting at myself, sometimes calling myself names (that I'm so silly that I'm unable to tell him...), sometimes weeping, and often "guessing" what he could thing about me... I admire him - how strong he was when he was listening to me... :D

Edited by LaLa3
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Guest ASchwartz

Hi LaLa,

There are two major issues that psychotherapy patients find it difficult to talk about with their therapist: sex and money. Lots of other issues spring from that. Of course, with regard to sex, males may fall in love with their female therapist and vice versa. This is what we call transference. Even fears about talking are called transference resistance.

For some reason, and I do not know why, you are convinced that there is something unacceptable about revealing any or all of these issues to your therapist. In point of fact, it is important to talk about this not just once but many times.

Do you have confidence in your therapist and how did your therapist respond when you started talking?

One more thing: I wish you would not delete your messages. By deleting what you write you are saying that anything you have to say is unacceptable.

Allan :(

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Thank your for your post :) I'm going to try to answer.

- I'm not sure why you have mentioned the two issues and transference. Maybe because you expect me to react if "it's also my case". OK, so...

I will never "reveal" on this forum what "is in the can ;)" (it wasn't mentioned in the deleted parts of my posts), but I communicated about it with two of the moderators here by PM and it has helped me a lot.

But I don't "need" to "hide" here that I also have "a transference issue" with my therapist. He knows it already. I'm waiting for his "return" to this issue. We were talking about "our relationship" only twice, so far. But it was before I really "developed" such a strong transference (I don't feel like being in love, it's a bit different...). I write him every week, also about my relationship to him, how it changes in time and what kind of feelings "and so on" I have about him (quite a lot and very different, mostly positive). So he "is in the picture". And I'm sure once he will ask me to talk about it. For exemple 2 months ago, he asked me something like: "Why are you trying to be a kind, biddable little girl who always wants to please me?" And so we discussed this in two sessions and it was insightful. But then we discussed many other things, so there "was no time" for this, but... it's OK, because during this time, my feelings for him changed a bit, so... sometimes, I can't foresee when, he surely will ask me about these new feelings. I can't iniciate this topic, as there are so many other things I feel the need to talk about and he always says I have to talk about what I want to.

you are convinced that there is something unacceptable about revealing any or all of these issues to your therapist

This is a quite interesting remark for me. It seems strange to me that something could be unacceptable in the eyes of a therapist, the mine also explained me several times that "anything yours is not strange/unfamiliar to me" (I don't know how to translate it adequately), thus I don't suppose him somehow ... "not to accept" any issue I'd like to talk about. The problem is that I can't accept it. Or, better, I was unable to accept it; now I've been talking about it, so... I see I am able to do it. [i'm sorry; maybe you've understood from my post that I hadn't told him about "the issue" yet. But I had, it only had taken too much time...]

it is important to talk about this not just once but many times.

I'm sure we will. :) And I'm looking forward to do so.

Do you have confidence in your therapist?

Yes, of course I have. In other case I wouldn't be able, for exemple, to talk about "it". And in general; I wouldn't be able to be in treatment with a therapist I wouldn't really trust. (I know; nobody would...)

how did your therapist respond when you started talking?

It's too long to describe. He was very kind - this is true and apposite and I hope it'a a sufficient answer. :(

By deleting what you write you are saying that anything you have to say is unacceptable.

This is also interesting. I supposed I deleted it only because I felt it was all so useless. What I considered important in this thread was THE WAY one can iniciate the talk about a very, very unpleasant issue. In this regard, comments of IrmaJean and Luna were important and not my too long and complicated descriptions of my feelings about "the opening of the can of worms". So I wanted to make this thread more easy and pleasant to read by leaving here only the indispensable parts. I see it was not a good idea from one of the points of view.

Thank you again.

L.

Edited by LaLa3
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I was thinking about this all last night and... I think I should write that I don't like one thing about the Allan's post: Now it seems evident that my problem is about sex or money. (Well, I suppose Allan thinks that "the issue" I had to tell my therapist was probably about being in love with him or something similarly commun. That's why he mentioned transference. Well, this would be much easier :)...(for me)) And as I don't want to write here what my problem is about, yesterday I felt like not having the possibility to "defend" -not the right word, maybe "explain" is better - myself. But now it seems to me that I can do it even w/o revealing "the issue".

What I can do here is to write two facts:

1. This "issue" concerns health.

2. I can write here another "story" - the one which was very similarly hard to tell the therapist as the "can-of-worms-one", but I told him this-one several months ago. On this example, you can see that... "everything (of this kind) is not about sex or money".

So... This was a bit easier for me to tell him, because it's related to my childhood and it's easier for me to "accept" that I was stupid when I was a child than that I am somehow similarly stupid now.

The "story" is about my childish irrational fear of cancer and death. Once I saw a movie about a girl with a tumor and... this considerably changed my life, because I... "discovered something" I considered to be a tumor in my body, thus... I "spent" about 2 years by fearnig my soon death. I didn't tell anybody about it, I was only "waiting for my destiny". Now I know that this experience was very determinative for me. But I don't want to explain here how. It's a too long story and I've shared it already (in the last 2-3 months) with quite many people and I don't feel the need to write it here.

It was very difficult for me to tell the therapist about it, mostly because I felt so horribly stupid. But I realized (myself, it was not the therapist who said it!) that it was important for me to forgive the child I had been her "stupidity" and give her the right to have such absurd fears. This was one of the main conclusions from this "story" (the other conclusion is more important, but as it's related to the too long story I don't feel the need to mention, I omit it here).

I think this is all for now :o.

Edited by LaLa3
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Guest ASchwartz

Hi LaLa,

Yes, I do understand that YOU find somethings about yourself unacceptable and so you do not want to talk about it. Also, I am pleased, from what you said, that you may find these things about yourself more acceptable.

I only know this, from vast experience, both professional and private: that keeping things buried in the dark regions of your mind is awful and that bringing them out, into the light of day, where the therapist can see them and you can discuss them, is greatly relieving and nowhere near as bad as feared.

Also, I had no intention of making you angry. Just trying to understand.

Allan

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I'm sorry that I gave you the impression of being angry :o I was only... how to describe it? I had a dilema how to react without "saying too much", thus I was a bit confused and felt somehow "insecure"... I can't describe it very well :(

I had a session today and it was funny - the big contrast between today and the last time. Today, I was absolutely relaxed, in a good mood, even a bit "saucy" (I don't know the right word, I hope this one doesn't have to imply also arrogance! I hope I was not arrogant, only making some silly "jokes" about what the therapist said... like "How optimistic you are when you suppose me being able to tell you more about it :)" Or... he said "I can't imagine [...]" and me: "I don't understand why you should imagine this!" - But this comment was useful, because he explained me how he meant it and so I realized that I hadn't understood it well!)

So... what I'm trying to do is to use/show this as my own, personal proof of what you've written - that bringing things out is relieving and not as bad as feared :)

Thank you for enriching this thread by your comments!

Edited by LaLa3
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Thank you, LaLa, for starting the thread and allowing people to watch what growth looks like. :-)

Virtually every person who enters therapy will have things that they're reluctant to share with the therapist. It's not easy for anyone. But, as Allan points out, such secrets are often closely involved with the patient's suffering. We all make mistakes, and if the subject of that mistake feels shameful, in some way, we tend not to talk about it. But then, how do we ever discover the mistake?

You don't have to tell us what your secret was. Just by starting the thread, and letting us watch you get past it, I'm sure you've helped a lot of people realize that their own secret may not be so horrible that they can't tell it. And then their healing might begin.

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I was thinking of what, in my posts, could induce the impression of anger and I came to the conclusion that probably (?) my expression "that's interesting" seems to be ironic! :( Which is not, of course. For me, it is always interesting when I see a completely different point of view - when somebody describes what he supposes to be my intentions etc. That's what we often expect, not only from therapists, when we communicate. Thus I was surprised by Allan's interpretations and confronted them with my owns. Now I see it might seem as "written under the influence of anger" :( I'm sorry...

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Hello everybody,

It seems my therapy has brought it's fruits. It's almost funny to me, as I can't explain very well "the mechanism" behind the change, but... the change has come :) Well, there are still many things I have to work on, but... this one big challenge is already overcome (/behind me) and that's so promissing...

Thanks to all of you who contributed to this change!

Wish you all good luck and similarly pleasant achievements in your lifes!

L.

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Sorry, I'm now in a good mood and so I'm posting too much... :)

I'd just like to add that "the change" I mentioned is related to the "can of worms" topic, as you probably can easily guess... And... as far as "the mechanism" is concerned; it seems to me that the most important (-maybe I'm wrong, but... it is my feeling) contribution of my therapist was his one short and simple sentence which he said only by a "by-the-way-tone": As I said something like "I suppose it's all only a psychological problem", he said as if it was obvious: "There is no doubt it is only psychological." I was surprised by this reaction. I really didn't expect it.

Well, there are probably several other ways by which he enabled my change. I'm not sure if it's necessary to uncover and understand them all, but it would be probably interesting.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hello, FromThe Moon,

Thank you for your comments! (I remember your thread and the unresolved transference issue!) I'd just like to add, that I've mentioned some of the facts about discussing transefernce in the thread "What's he going to do?" - in the end. How we were talking about my wish to hug him and how he told me that "he's pleased that I like him so much and it's not "axiomatic" for him that I like him".

And yes; I'm very happy that he can deal with it in such a great manner (I've decsribed it like "he handles me with care" :))! His training is in psychoanalysis, so... it's logical that he has to work with transference. But what's funny: I didn't know anything about the differences between the types of therapeutical approaches and didn't know which training my therapist had when I came to him. It was a big chance! Also the fact that we "fit" so well together.

I wish everybody to find such a good therapist!!!

Edited by LaLa3
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  • 4 weeks later...

Hello LaLa. I am so glad that you feel you have been able to make progress on this matter that was causing you so much anxiety. I hope you continue to feel you are able to 'open up' to your therapist. Good luck!

Reading your posts about your therapist makes me wish I had one too...someone I could trust and that would give me feedback and perhaps point me or guide me in the right direction. I know from Moon's thread that not all therapists are great or so understanding, but I think yours sounds good. Take care.:)

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These posts remind me of parts of my own therapy. Lala, the way you talk about how hard it was to talk to your therapist about your issue sounds just like the way it is for me to talk to mine about my overeating issue. It makes me feel so ashamed, (not saying this is the feeling you had with yours), but, it makes me feel so horrible to talk to him about how I overeat. We have only talked about it a couple of times and I felt so naked, like he could see me in such an intimate way (not sexually, but like he can see inside of me with such totality). I suppose this would be a good place to reveal something that has been going on, and I know most of you would say to talk to him about it, but I never will. I have been having sexual fantasies about my therapist. I hate that it is happening and it makes life in general harder becasue now I have guilt about it. My therapist is quite a bit younger than I (I am 47 and he is 33), and not hard on the eyes and so kind and compassionate. I think about him for much of my day, mostlly not sexually, but wondering where he is and what he is doing, like wondering where he has gone on vacation, what his home looks like, what he likes to do in his spare time and wishing I was a part of his life. I understand this is all part of transference, but it is still very unsettling. I don't really know if it is getting in way of the therapy, so I will never tell him because if it does get in the way of the therapy, he will end it, as he has said the one time we talked about transference. Sometimes I wonder if it is really the therapy that seems to be helping me or just having someone to dream about. :confused:

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It's actually very normal and common to be experiencing such feelings, TBONTB. I do wish you could open the lines of communication with your therapist about this. Discussing this with him may lessen the intensity behind the feelings and offer you some relief. Everything you do within the relationship offers valuable information about you. If you're using the relationship to "escape" or as a fantasy, then this behavior means something. The trick is to not judge yourself for behaviors and feelings but think of this as ways to learn about yourself. I know that not all therapists work with transference...and this seems unfortunate to me because your behaviors, responses and feelings within the relationship hold a gold mine of information about you. I would think your not discussing this with him would interfere with the therapy whereas talking about it may help you to move through it. I do understand that a therapist would not wish for this to become all-encompassing to your therapy experience in the manner that other goals you'd set for yourself would be left aside. My thought, though, is that if anything is causing you distress then this is something you should be discussing with your therapist. Do you think you could bring it up to him and see how he responds?

When you find yourself within a relationship such as this where your feelings are being heard and you feel valued, it's very natural to have some emotions toward the person who has been offering you this safe space. I've been through this and what I came to discover about myself through this experience with my therapist directly lead to my eventual healing. Good luck, TBONTB.

Edited by IrmaJean
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Thank you for your words of wisdom, IrmaJean. I don't know if i have the guts to bring it up, though. I am an ugly, fat, 47 yr. old woman and he is a good looking 33 yr old man, what if it makes him feel disgusted? Or worse yet, what if he ends the therapy right in the middle of all of this. I have opened up to him like no other and I think it would be awful to feel the rejection (not the rejection of the sexual thing, but the rejection of him ending the therapy. I could email him about it, but it would be terrible for me, especially if he does not understand. :confused:

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Endlessnight, thank you :)... I know, he's very good (and sweet, too :(); I'm so very thankful for him!!!

Tobe, in general, I agree with IJ, but at the same time, I know how hard it's for you to open such topics, so... I don't want tell you to tell him about these fantasies! I understand why you refuse it and I accept it as your personal decision. I don't judge it; don't worry! I have, still (I've mentioned it already), one suggestion: Try to find out, what meant the comment about transference he told you once. From my point of view, your biggest problem is that you reffer all the time to the one sentence about transference he said sometimes at the beginning and you don't even know what precisely it meant!!! So... you don't have to talk about your personal transference, you can just mention that you've read several texts/books/papers... about the use of interpretation of transference in therapy and you became a bit interedted because it seemed useful to you, but you remeber him saying he doesn't work with transference, so you'd like to know if you've understood him well. That's all! And if he tells you you can discuss your putative transference, you don't have to tell him "I have sexual fantasies about you"; there are so many other things you can mention and it would be useful! Like your fear that he will leave you, related to the fact that your mom left you... and so on. And, maybe (maybe not), one day, you'll feel the need to tell or write him also about the fantasies.

By the way, I supposed myself not to be "in love" (...) anymore, but... this week, it came back. And I know it's fine. I know it's because... there are still too many things that haven't been said (in this context)! I need to tell him, finally(!), about my worries that he would refuse my "love" (I mean the fact that I have all those positive feelings about him, not any "acts" demonstrating the "love" - I imagine hugging almost "all day long", but... I know it will never happen and it's right (that it will not happen)!) and so on (I don't have time to explain all my complicated feelings here now; it's too late, I hurry...)

I have an important question for you: Why do you feel the guilt? I can imagine you feeling shame, as... it's more natural in this situation (even though you really don't have to feel ashamed - you know it!), but guilt is, in my eyes, so unrelated to what you're experiencing, that it has to indicate something very special and very important about you. Please, please, try to explain the reasons of your guilt!

Imagine: Me, I'm happily (!) married, but I never felt guilty about my fantasies of that kind (-by the way; I decided not to be explicit nor write any details about this issue, as my husband knows I'm in this community and thus he could read everything, so... you know...). Do you consider me as amoral? Maybe I am, I can't decide it, but... I think in the therapeutical relationship, it's all so different from "the real life", that... we are never "supposed to" feel guilty, ashamed or anyway bad about what we are experiencing there.

In my case, as I've mentioned in your thread, it's all mostly about my paternal deprivation and my lack of love of a man... Fortunately, my therapist is almost the same age as my mom (55) (I'm 28), so... he's really as a father to me. And... it seems I'm trying to make him like me and... he's trying to teach me to be able to accept when he makes a compliment to me or otherwise shows me he cares and ... probably also likes me... It seems my problem is I seek for love of "somebody like a father", I'd like to offer him my love, but... at the same time, I'm too afraid I will not be "accepted"... And... we've found many aspects of my transference already, many of them unrelated to my "fantasies"...

So, please, try to understand your feelings, mainly the guilt, yourself, as you can't talk about it with him, at least not now...

Edited by LaLa3
mistakes... as always...
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What presents itself as erotic may have little in reality to do with anything sexual. It may rather reflect on the intensity of a need, such as of being loved. I would think that he has been trained to recognize this and wouldn't judge you for anything. I understand your fear of being referred. I would have been equally devastated had this ever happened to me.

What if you presented your concern about this with him first? Such as telling him your are fearful of bringing up a specific subject matter with him? Maybe he could put your mind at ease. I hope so. I'm sorry this has been causing you distress.

I think I cross-posted with LaLa. Of course she is right in that bringing this up with your therapist is entirely up to you. I hope you find your way in this, TBONTB, whatever you decide. Either way, we're here to support you.

Edited by IrmaJean
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Lala: I feel guilt because a person like me, ugly and fat with bad teeth should not have feelings for someone like him, so nice and nice looking and succesfull. You and IrmaJean may be right that it is normal in a therapy situation, but, imagine he was not my therapist. He would be disgusted by me, I'm sure. I feel like some kind of stalker or something. I think I might email him and at least take your suggestion and ask him about the one statement he made about the transference not getting inthe way of therapy. Maybe ask him to be more specific. Whay do you all think? The only thing I am afraid of is that he will bring it up in our session next week.

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I wouldn't think your appearance would have any bearing on having your needs met or how you'd like to be treated in a relationship. You're a human being and you respond to kindness. Maybe try being gentle with yourself, appreciating your value as a person.

Emotional honesty with the therapist is very important in therapy, but I do understand your hesitation to bring this up. It sounds as though this is causing you distress, though. Did you decide to email him with this? I hope he is very supportive and understanding with you about this.

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