The following session took place one year, 4 months into my therapy with “Clay”. Clay is a very attractive, always well-coiffed, intelligent, articulate man in his mid-50s who originally sought therapy to determine if he “had ADHD”. However, we quickly focused on other issues pertaining to relationships with his teenage children and then girlfriend.
I hadn’t seen “Clay” for a month prior to this session. Clay’s work in communications took him around the world, resulting in our meeting usually no more than once or at most twice per month. Clay forgot our last appointment scheduled two weeks prior to this one, and texted me about 15 minutes prior to this session saying he would be 10 minutes late. Having noticed a recent pattern of his missed, cancelled or late appointments, and after greeting each other, I said to Clay, gently:
“I’m aware you are a little late today, forgot our last appointment, were late to the prior one, I believe, and cancelled the one prior to that. I don’t know what all that is saying to us, but I think it’s worth our wondering about, together.”
Clay quickly responded, “It doesn’t mean much. I really want to be here. I get a lot from our sessions. I just have a problem with planning.” Clay thought twice, and then self-corrected: “No, actually I don’t work on planning. For example, I didn’t look at my calendar the day I missed our last appointment. I was actually on my way to the mountains that weekend to be with my (teenage) son, “Chuck”, and I’m glad I did that. We had a really good time. But I also value our time.”
Some patients say they value their sessions with me, and we come to discover more ambivalent feelings about therapy than at first realized. I had a strong sense Clay really did value our sessions, and yet he himself observed that he had our appointment in his phone calendar but hadn’t looked there.
“What might that be saying?”, I wondered aloud, again.
This led to our having a fuller conversation about Clay’s “planning problems”. We identified two main “tributaries” into how Clay plans, including both “neurocognitive” and “psychological” factors. The neurocognitive tributary included what I described as “Simply how your brain works.” Clay said he was aware, beginning in college, that he did best with “deadlines”, as when he was writing for his college newspaper. Clay would meet the deadlines, but without them had more difficulty getting things done on time. As Clay and I had discussed the possibility of ADHD before, I told him it was quite common in ADHD that “last minute deadlines” helped with getting enough “arousal and energy from your brainstem to your frontal lobe” in order “to get started on, sustain focus, and complete a task.” While I’m not so sure Clay would meet criteria for ADHD, this description matched his lived experience.
The psychological tributary contributing to Clay’s planning challenges included two elements, one Clay identified on his own and one we discovered together. Clay offered that he tended to “avoid conflict”, and sometimes did not follow through with a plan in order to avoid someone criticizing or becoming angry with him.
The second psychological element was more complex and had developmentally very early roots. Clay’s biological mother was a teenager when he was born, and his birth mother’s parents would not allow her to keep him. Clay was immediately placed in foster care for about one year, and then legally adopted by the parents who raised him. Clay was physically well-cared for by his adoptive parents, but his adoptive father was either emotionally distant, or critical and shaming. Clay’s mother, while more present in his life, was rarely emotionally comforting and attuned to his fears and insecurities.
Given his developmental and family history, it is not surprising Clay had powerful and at times immobilizing fears of being rejected by others. Thankfully, this was something we had worked on several times before and made some good progress. As we talked about his fears of being rejected during this session, Clay mentioned having intense anxieties using a dating app (Clay has been divorced for about 8 years), particularly when he hadn’t yet heard back from a woman he expressed interest in.
Clay went on to share that he didn’t know how he felt about “Marla”. Marla was a woman he met via this same dating app who he found very attractive, but who told Clay on their first date that she “liked him as a friend” but felt “no chemistry”. Despite the rebuff, Clay had decided to remain friends with Marla. With a wry smile on my face, I said “I think you do know how you feel about Marla. Imagine you had a magic wand that made you Emperor of the Universe, and you could have exactly what you wanted. What would you be doing with Marla?”
Clay chuckled and said, without hesitation, “Dating her!”.
We then explored how Clay “plans” get-togethers with Marla. Clay invariably texted Marla the last minute and, not surprisingly, she often said she couldn’t make it. We discovered together that Clay’s last-minute invitations were implicitly designed to avoid feeling rejected (i.e. “If she can’t make it then it’s not about me. It’s a timing thing.”). At the same time, Marla’s responses still left Clay feeling rejected (i.e. “Maybe she just doesn’t want to be with me. There’s something wrong with me.”).
I suggested to Clay, “You try to avoid your worst fear of rejection by contacting Marla last minute, but end up reinforcing your worst fears, anyway.” He readily agreed.
Clay and I then then talked about how perhaps Marla didn’t feel any “chemistry” on their first date because, as Clay put it, “I was trying really hard to put on a good façade rather than being myself” and, again, risk rejection.
“Who is behind that façade, Clay? Look behind the façade, and notice who you see?”
Clay responded, “Me.”
“Ask your body, not your mind, how old is the you behind the façade?”
The form of this question, to “ask your body not your mind”, is taken directly from The Comprehensive Resource Model (CRM) protocol (Schwarz, 2014-2017; Schwarz et al, 2017).
Clay responded, promptly, “One-years old”.
Still borrowing from parts of the CRM protocol (Schwarz, 2014-2017), as Clay and I had done several times before, I said, “Go inside.” After Clay closed his eyes, I continued, “See your one-year-old. Now, invite One-year-old Clay to look into your adult eyes, as you, your Adult Self, look deeply into his eyes. Hold the eye contact as much as you possibly can. Now, invite One-year-old Clay to reach out and touch you, your Adult Self, as you touch him. Breathe, and notice that One-year-old Clay is breathing along with your Adult Self, in the same rhythm. Invite him to place his one-year-old hand on your adult heart, as you place your adult hand on his one-year-old heart. Just feel your hearts beating, together.” After a minute or so of quiet, I said, “Notice how One-year-old Clay feels now with your Adult Self?”
Clay responded, “It feels comforting, warm.”
After asking Clay to notice where in his body he felt “comforted and warm”— he pointed to his gut— I instructed him to “Find, in the One-year-old’s body, where he feels the strongest connection to your Adult Self.” Clay nodded that he had it, and then I said, still following the CRM protocol (Schwarz, 2014-2017), “Now find the eye position that corresponds to your strongest, felt sense in your body of the connection between One-year-old and Adult Clay.”
Eye positions are used as resources to strengthen and then, later, to enable the patient to quickly access a positive, intra-relational bond, in this case between Adult Clay and his One-year-old Self.
I then spoke with Clay about how he felt when he first saw his teenage son, Chuck, after a long trip away. Clay said how happy he always was to see Chuck.
“Does Chuck have to bring you something? Good grades, a great story, in order for you to be happy and delighted to see him?”
“No, not at all”, Clay said.
“Can Chuck be his teenage grumpy self”, I joked. “Would you still be delighted to see him?”
“Yes, of course,” Clay laughed. Clay went on to describe a shared building project he and Chuck were working on, and how it was not just about the activity they shared but how it felt to be together.
Knowing that Clay’s work involved communication, I said, “Do you know Marshall McCluhan’s (1964) work?”
“Yes”, Clay said.
“The medium is the message, Clay. Your being with Chuck and Chuck’s being with you, and the two of you simply enjoying each other, that is the message, Clay. Your shared building project is just the medium.”
I could see Clay resonated with my reflections as he smiled and nodded with me.
My describing Clay’s delighting in being with his son, Chuck, “Just because”, comes from my understanding of what I term “pro-being pride”, defined as “I delight in being myself delighting in you delighting in being yourself, with me” (see Benau, 2018). Pro-being pride is always implicitly and often explicitly present in how I think about and do psychotherapy, particularly when I am working with a survivor of relational trauma and early attachment wounds, such as Clay. Pro-being pride is never about what you do or accomplish. Rather, it is always about who you are, and how you are with yourself, intra-relationally, and others, inter-relationally.
I went on, “Chuck has an inner-Dad, you, who is simply delighted Chuck is himself. That is what your One-year-old Self is needing, and what you are giving him and yourself, when you bond with him that way. You didn’t have that growing up. You didn’t get to be with your birth mother. We don’t know what you got from your foster parents, but you had to leave them when you were only one.” [The age, I now realize, of Clay’s behind the façade Self]. And then you were adopted by parents who took care of you, but never made you feel they were simply happy to be with you as you were.”
Clay took this all in. I then said, “That’s the bad news. The good news is you can do something about it. Every time you bond with your One-year-old Self. And you can be with him by going to the eye position.” (We quickly practiced this so Clay could experience how easily this works). “You can access and be with him when you are in a meeting, when you have a moment on your long plane rides. And before you decide to reach out to Maria.”
I then had Clay, in his imagination, re-connect with his One-year-old Self, which he readily did. “Now imagine you and your One-year-old are together, and your Adult Self is with Maria. How does that feel?”
Clay closed his eyes and went inside, and then shared, “It feels really comfortable.”
“And if she chooses not to be with you?”, I asked. “Be sure Little Clay is well bonded with you, with your eye position, eye contact and physical contact.”
“That would be okay”, responded Clay, matter-of-factly.
“You would be disappointed, but not devastated?”
“That’s right,” Clay said, quite calmly and without any sign of distress.
Clay and I talked about how he could, if he wished, try to “woo Maria”, and that if he was more able to be himself rather than present his “façade”, perhaps they would have some shared chemistry. “Who knows?”, I remarked. Either way, I told Clay he “would know the truth” of their relationship.
Clay was moved to tears as we neared the end of our session, expressing gratitude for the work we shared. Before we parted I said to him, “It’s exhausting being someone else. It’s so much easier being yourself, isn’t it, Clay?”
Clay nodded yes, almost glowing as he beamed a soft, sweet smile toward me. I saw Clay as he was, and I presume he saw me as I was, too. We parted, grateful for this opportunity to be ourselves, together.
Benau, K. (2018). Pride in the psychotherapy of relational trauma: Conceptualization and treatment considerations. European Journal of Trauma and Dissociation, 2, 131–146.
McCluhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Schwarz, L. (2014-2017). CRM (Comprehensive Resource Model) Practitioner Booklet. CRM LLC.
Schwarz, L., Corrigan, F., Hull, A., & Raju, R. (2017). The comprehensive resource model: Effective therapeutic techniques for the healing of complex trauma. New York, NY: Routledge.