After asking whether or not it was indeed me who featured in the article my therapist wrote (it wasn’t – full story here), we had a very good conversation via email. Somewhere in the process I realized it had not been the question of the case example’s identity which bugged me so much – it really doesn’t make much of a difference whether it’s me or just someone I can strongly identify with – but the fact that I really wanted to ask him on the one hand and was hesitant doing so due to fearing negative consequences on the other hand.
Some people constantly fight with their therapists, oppose them, challenge them. Not me. It’s very important to me that we get along well and that I can attend sessions without having a negative “vibe” in the room. The downside is that if in doubt, I tend to hold back questions or emotions or anything I believe might at least temporarily trouble our relationship. My therapist keeps encouraging me to express myself more openly and tells me that I’ll find out when I’m crossing a boundary, so I tried being more courageous and actually sent him a couple of questions via email: whether he minded patients reading his articles (he doesn’t), whether I may ask him questions about it (yes), whether it’s me in the article (nope).
He wrote back, then I explained to him how I’d felt about his reply and that I was really relieved to have asked, because suddenly I could move on from the topic. It wasn’t important to know anymore, because the real reason behind my thinking about it had been the inability to simply inquire. He commented: “McCullough [the inventor of CBASP] would ask you: “What have you learned from this?”
I think the most important lesson I learned from this is that asking rarely has the bad consequences I anticipate (at least with my therapist). I actually felt more connected to him than before.
At some point, though, I felt like it was my duty to wrap the conversation up. I’d gotten what I wanted, and some more, and the man actually emails me in his breaks between hospital duties… So I closed with: “On the way home I remembered that today is the first anniversary of our first therapy session together. Until recently, anniversaries and especially New Year’s Eve had been rather depressing occasions, because they made me aware of how unhappy I was with my life. This time it’s completely different, because I can say that a lot of things changed for the better and that I reached some goals. I never thought I’d be discussing university exams with you a year later! In that light, I’d like to thank you especially for helping me to change my life so much.”