Empowerment is better achieved by knowing yourself – Sam Voss, MSW
*(the examples provided below are composite cases, synthesizing disguised information and not any patient in particular)
Recently, a repairman visited my home, which meant that I had to shut my dog in a room during his stay. She did not like this arrangement. I did not like this arrangement. She cried a lot. I tried not to. As I watched her outpourings of emotion—and attempted to manage my own—I was reminded of my work with clients. I know—classic therapist, analyzing and making connections, but still— she was in a predicament that I could relate to, a situation that challenged her otherwise effective coping skills.
I chose a room in my home that my dog likes. I filled the space with her favorite toys and her dog bed. In spite of these comforts, the situation was overwhelming for her. She paced; she cried; she had no interest in her toys or special treats. A dog I did not recognize had emerged.
Like my dog, it can be terrifying to find ourselves in an unexpected position. We, too, might behave in ways we do not recognize or understand. We might feel more irritable with loved ones and find ourselves in tears without warning. Or we might feel unable to face the demands of the day. Our available coping skills, such as deep breathing or grounding techniques, can be incredibly useful, but we must be able to employ them. And sometimes, they are not enough. Despite our efforts to summon these coping devices, there is lingering sense that something is not right; something is still off. This is where the psychodynamic approach can be called into play.
Megan, a 23-year-old female, came to therapy in order to more effectively manage her relationship with her boss and her workload. Megan had already incorporated coping skills into her daily routine: running, using a stress ball at her desk, taking a “lap” at work when she needed a moment to herself, and spending time with supportive friends and family. In spite of these coping devices, Megan felt overwhelmed and often found herself crying in the bathroom. She couldn’t understand why she was so upset when other members of her team seemed to manage the workload and demands of their boss. Megan felt confused and was concerned about her emotional response.
In the course of her therapy, Megan acknowledged that the leadership style and personality of her boss reminded her of her father. She recalled her childhood feelings that she was good not enough for her father and recollected his criticisms of her, criticisms that still impacted her concept of self. Once she came to these realizations and understandings, she was able to separate the feelings from the past from her current situation and responses. She was able her to see her boss in a new light, giving her the ability to discuss her needs without being overwhelmed by uncomfortable feelings. Her realizations allowed her to develop more successful working relationship. The ability to differentiate between the hurtful feelings of the past and the reality of the current situation allowed Megan to communicate more clearly and to navigate her work environment successfully.
Therapy allows us to see what is operating behind the door, so to speak. We can take a deeper look at patterns that constitute the framework of our lives and recognize that these factors can impact the way we feel. Because the disruption might have occurred long ago or in incremental pieces, we might have difficulty recognizing it on our own. Therapy brings a different perspective to the events of the past as they are recollected in the present. Together therapist and patient draw the connections, allowing a more coherent understanding of how we operate day to day.
Therapy is the examination of our selves and how we function in the world. Once our patterns are recognized, then we can liberate ourselves from old responses and new ways of being in world are available to us.