A Life Apart
Chapter 8: The Therapy Session (pg. 48)
“. . . I would like you to participate freely in these sessions and to maintain regular attendance. Can you do that?”
“I don’t know.” His forcefulness had surprised her. The barrier between them, she sensed, was beginning to crumble. Opening a door just a crack, she confided, “The more I think about what happened to me the less real it seems. You speak of the psyche in terms of the subconscious. There’s a large part of it that has not yet seen the light of day, so how do we address it? What reality does it have before it manifests? Perhaps what lays below the conscious level actually envelopes us and is universal. We’re just not generally mindful of it. How can I talk with any specificity about something that haunts us like a shadow?”
“You just did. You told me how you honestly feel about the subject. So let’s talk about something that is real for you. For example, you are not very enthused about being here. Did I get that right?” Mirabelle nodded her assent. “You have already told me that much, but I wonder if there is another undercurrent to your reluctance about being here. I saw how your mother escorted you into my office. Do you feel forced against your will?”
“It’s not that. My parents often fail to respond to who I really am.”
“How did you feel when she ostensibly pushed you into my office?”
Mirabelle started to laugh. “Is this what they call clinical psychology? I ‘feel’ like a case study.” The perplexity on Dr. Grey’s face made her aware that her impulsive bout of humor was at his expense. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. Let me explain. I don’t resent my parents for the way they treat me. I love them and can empathize with their situation. It’s true I’m here against my better judgment. Nevertheless, I would not be here if I hadn’t chosen to please my mother. Whether I continue to come to these sessions will also be my decision.”
Dr. Grey rose from his desk chair. “I don’t usually conduct these sessions from behind my desk. Your mother caught me off guard by her abrupt entrance.” He sat down in one of the chairs across from Mirabelle. “May I call you Mirabelle? If you choose to, you can call me Eli. It’s short for Elijah, my mother’s idea of an appropriate name for a Jewish boy.” The doctor smiled.
Mirabelle also smiled, not in response to the name ‘Eli,’ but at his too conventional attempt at familiarity. “You can call me Mirabelle, if that will make you more at ease.”
Once again Doctor Eli Grey seemed a bit befuddled. Quickly recovering, he continued, “Mirabelle, I would like to know more about you. Do you think you could tell me about yourself? Anything at all . . . anything you feel like saying, about school, your course of studies, your friends, your interests, really anything at all.”
Instantly, Mirabelle recognized Dr. Eli Grey’s capitulation. It would be difficult, she sensed, for him to abandon his professional role. Suppressing another ‘knowing’ smile, she began to talk at some length about her overall course of study and current curriculum, revealing her knowledge of philosophy and elaborating on her personal beliefs. As she went on, she became more animated; her language, more expressive and intense.
“Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that philosophy per se is the finis suprema. Sure, it helps us discern our place in the world and form our ethical judgment so we don’t become mere automatons of our culture. But it has its limitations. Most contemporary philosophy has abandoned what used to be called rational psychology and, with it, metaphysics. And yet any honest investigation into the psyche—your area of expertise—has to admit the value of introversion and the discovery of universal themes as symbols of the transcendent.” The doctor’s blank expression warned Mirabelle that she was being too academic. She took a different tack. “You want to know what this all means to me, right? Well, I believe there’s something at the heart of our desire for truth. That same ‘something’ is also at the very root of our moral consciousness, Kant’s moral imperative. It even drives our so-called will to power—not as misconstrued ego inflation, but as a compulsion to be united with the source of all power, the very ground of our being. I feel in the very depths of my psyche not only the impetus for self-discovery, but a siren call to something much greater. So I agree with you that there are reasons to explore the psyche: therein are answers to be found and fears to be confronted. You probably see it as the covert repository of all our gods and demons, unique in each individual, though collective in its relationship to human kind. I’ll grant you that much and would expect no more out of therapy. But I also see it as the avenue of an inward journey where I might touch the transcendent and learn to instill meaning into my life. Maybe you can help me remove some obstacles in my journey. For the rest, it’s up to me to figure out my ‘truth’ and its value in the conduct of my daily life. In the end, I think how we carry out our lives determines both our fulfillment as individuals and the betterment of our community and environment. That's the wisdom I believe in. But, speaking honestly, I can’t say I’ve learned how to achieve it.”
While Mirabelle was talking, Dr. Grey was very attentive, captivated as he was by what she said and how she articulated it. Her words were affirmed by the earnestness of her expression and punctuated by graceful hand gestures. Her obvious intelligence was framed so beautifully by her physical charm and beauty that the overall impression was mesmerizing. Hesitatingly, he said, “You are an old soul in a young body.”
Mirabelle rather jumped at his remark. “Actually, I’m more a lost soul. What I just said has to do with what I’ve learned and believe. But words don’t necessarily bring meaning to a person. Philosophy—love of wisdom—seems to be more than what reasoning can achieve. I mean, all the different ‘philosophical’ systems I’ve studied disagree on many salient points. Yet many people have found meaning either with or without adherence to one of these contradictory systems of thought. So what I’ve just said may sound meaningful, may even be on the right path to wisdom. Unfortunately, it only implies that I’ve figured out how to live my personal truth. In fact, I haven’t. I think most of my life-decisions are still in the future, so most of who I really am is still a mystery to me. At times, I think I should dedicate myself to my studies and nothing else. At other times, I feel like I’m failing family and friends because I’m not doing anything for them. I can’t even find it in my heart to tell them how I really feel. But the lack of authenticity in nearly everybody I meet repulses me to the extent that I’m afraid of hurting people with my awful cynicism." She paused, seemingly lost in thought. “Am I so arrogant that I often feel like the only person that sees this?”
Finally, Dr. Grey saw an avenue of approach. “Mirabelle, I don’t believe it's arrogance you are characterizing. I think it is empathy. If you’ll forgive the biblical reference, you have found the pearl of great price—your personal truth, as you call it—and are prepared to give up everything for it. But at this point in your life, it's not yet clear how you should proceed. Maybe, what's troubling you is how to share what you’ve learned with others.”
“Yes, maybe . . . without hurting them.”
“Perhaps your fear of hurting others is a special kind of . . . let’s call it social phobia. Generally, when we feel the pain of others we try to avoid it just as we would avoid anything painful. That's why doctors sometimes put on a mask of professionalism when dealing with patients, or paramedics find ways to . . .”
“I get your point,” there was once again a touch of sarcasm in her tone, “a kind of 'social phobia,' right? And I thought social phobia was a fear of social situations, a reluctance to be in the company of others. I bet you’ll eventually come up with a more definitive diagnosis.”
“Forgive my training.” This time he would not be put off by her push-back. “Try to ignore the limitations in the words I’ve learned to describe my thoughts. I only mean to say that you’ll figure out how to relate to those you love. Even from this brief time with you, I can see that you have much to share. Your empathy for others may be holding you back now. But it's also driving you forward. I think you want to find your role in society. Maybe you will become a teacher, a social worker, a writer, or whatever will satisfy your need to communicate what you so passionately believe and what you decide might benefit others. Perhaps you need to give yourself time to find the role that fits you. Mirabelle, you're still relatively young, but, I think, quite extraordinary.”
Mirabelle blushed. It was time, she sensed, to change the subject of conversation.