The person from a patient's past whose expectations, feelings, and impressions are superimposed on the therapist, albeit most often a parent, can actually be anyone in whom the patient has invested a substantial level of emotion. They can be a sibling. They can be a child. Why not a girlfriend?
During my sessions with Dr. Phillips, I began to wonder if I reacted so adversely not because of my feelings toward her, but rather because of my feelings toward Clarice. My resistance to therapy was similar to a lack of commitment. Rather than treat my female therapist as an object of sexual fantasy, it seemed to me, I treated her as a source of emotional confusion. I couldn't become intimate with Dr. Phillips because I was afraid of intimacy with Clarice. My difficulty expressing my feelings to the latter caused my difficulty talking about them with the former.
Moreover, if it were possible to transfer emotions for someone else onto a therapist, it should also be possible, I thought, to transfer emotions for a therapist onto someone else. Consider it anti-transference. The notion that every action has an equal and opposite reaction might not just apply to classical mechanics. Maybe my outburst at Clarice in the back of the cab had been caused by my anger at Dr. Phillips during our treatment.
The question remains as to what caused my anger in the first place. Aside from the frustration I felt at having to talk about myself, Dr. Phillips didn't actually do anything that would justify or explain my anger. She was there to help me. Although at the time I wondered if it were some cycle of transference, my anger toward Dr. Phillips transferred from my difficulties with Clarice and my difficulties with Clarice transferred from my anger toward Dr. Phillips, I now understand that one crucial part was missing from my assessment. I had forgotten about my own guilt.
* * *
If we can never forgive someone for the wrongs we have done to them, as the saying goes, we can also never be forgiven by someone for the wrongs we have done to ourselves. The resolution of two arguments with my girlfriend, the one about her sexual abilities as well as the one about my female therapist, came to illustrate that point in hindsight.
I thought about how I had noticed her hair, not because I wanted to run my fingers through it, but simply because she almost always wore it up.
Our fight about whether or not it was possible for a man to get successful treatment from a woman was fueled by our unsuccessful reconciliation following my outburst in the back of the cab. In an attempt to absolve myself, I had mentioned that my therapy sessions, particularly the confusion that is said to prelude a breakthrough, might have contributed to the horrible things I had said to her.
The truce lasted a few days.
That night we were drinking wine from coffee mugs. With each sip our words became more heated, and with each word our sips became more frequent. Clarice wanted to know why, if the treatment had caused my outburst, I would continue seeing Dr. Phillips. "I mean, herro!" At times of extreme duress or levity, Clarice's vernacular gained notes of a racist comic imitating "the Asians." It was adorable.
"Your excuse just proves my point," she said, taking a seat atop the backrest of her futon, "about guys with lady head-shrinkers."
"But I don't blame her." I sat beside her feet. "I just think it's her fault."
"Stop being cute."
Of course she was right. I didn't really think it was anybody's fault but my own. Somewhere hidden in the gulag of my brain I understood that not lying to Clarice was more important than not lying to my therapist. The only way I could stay true to that sentiment, however, was by ending the argument at its peak. Without saying anything at all, I kissed Clarice in the middle of her sentence, lifted her from the futon, carried her to the bed, and took off her clothes with my teeth.
Certain things cannot be helped by words alone. They are beyond the reach of talk. Telling myself that was what I thought helped me show myself that was what I had done. In the cab I had used words as weapons because of my inability to say what I felt at the time. Discussion would not bring our fight to a conclusion. We had to fuck our way through it.
Only months later, after Clarice and I had broken up, would I realize, speaking with Dr. Phillips in her office, that I was wrong.
* * *
Nothing is beyond words. That's what I told my therapist when she asked what I'd learned during our time together. We were close to our last session.
During those 12 months in therapy, fatalism had overtaken my thoughts. America is all about being American, life is all about living, literature is all about being literary: The hell matters if I'm all about being me? Even though I was still by no means great at it, I had gotten better with talking about myself, coming to terms with the solipsism of therapy and accepting it as fundamental to the process. I was even fine with the "meta" nature of our current conversation, the kind of thing, talking about talking, that would have annoyed me earlier in our treatment.
"One of the topics we've focused on more than anything during our time together is your relationships with women," Dr. Phillips said. Her brown hair fell down her shoulders, and her sweater clung to her thin waist. She asked, "What do you feel you've learned about yourself regarding that subject over the past year of treatment?"
Self-reflexively I considered answering, 'Self-reflection.' I thought about how I had noticed her hair, not because I wanted to run my fingers through it, but simply because she almost always wore it up. I thought about how I had noticed her waist, not because I wanted to wrap my arms around it, but rather because it might explain her cold nature. Understanding those thoughts required the distance of retrospection.
Instead of lusting after or trying to seduce Dr. Phillips, it seems now, I had been creating a narrative of her, speculating about her disposition by studying her appearance. I wasn't a womanizer, and I wasn't a therapizer. I was a storyteller.
* * *
Narrative clarifies the experiences of life into matters of consequence. Therefore, if narrative in its simplest form is cause and effect, therapy could be considered the search for an answer to one question, 'Why am I this way?'
On the day when Dr. Phillips asked me what I had learned throughout our therapy, in general and in particular, she might as well have asked that one question. Why am I this way? I could not tell my therapist, unfortunately, what I myself did not yet know.
I could not tell Dr. Phillips how much I care for Clarice even now. Ruining our relationship, her memory of it, my memory of it, is one of my greatest regrets. I could not tell Dr. Phillips how I would always be grateful to the Laras and the Tatums from over the years. Allowing me to get close to them, if only for a little while, is one of the kindest gestures possible. Most of all I could not tell Dr. Phillips what I really thought of therapy.
I believe in love at first sight, but I also believe in hate at second. At my most vulnerable moments I can admit I hate Dr. Phillips, and at my least vulnerable moments I can admit I love Clarice. Both of the objects in those two sentiments, "Dr. Phillips" and "Clarice," would still be accurate if replaced with myself. Given that many therapists consider transference to be the key to resolving psychological conditions, the final twist of it inside the lock, I think, would be the patient's realization that all transference, no matter the type, is based on his appraisal of himself.
I did not tell my therapist those ideas, however, because I had not yet thought of them. There in her office, during one of my last visits, Dr. Phillips repeated the question, asking what I had learned throughout our time together, not only about my relationships with women, but also about myself. The only thing I said to my therapist was that maybe one day I would write an essay about it.