Liz thoughtfully sipped her tea and thought about the progress her client, Patricia, had made over the past few months. Before getting to know Patricia, she would probably never have believed that she would find in her such a willing and able client. Patricia’s gutsiness and her agile mind combined to make her very determined, indeed. Still, several of her characteristics as a client were troubling, and tempered Liz’s admiration for Patricia with a more sober underlying assessment.
Patricia was as avoidant as she was determined, which combined to retard her progress and make it doubtful that she would complete therapy. Their closeness as partners in therapy seemd at times to make Patricia giddy, and when too much progress occurred, Liz could be sure that Patricia would later cancel appointments, bounce a check, or have some crisis that would delay one or more sessions.
And just in case a crisis or missed appointment wasn’t in order, Patricia made sure she was busy all the time. Though now nearing the end of her pregancy, her life was full of endless errands, projects, work-related tasks, parenting, and other activity that left her little time (if any) to reflect or to work on issues that had been raised in therapy. As a result of her compulsively busy lifestyle, Liz knew that it was unlikely that Patricia would make much progress at really reversing the destructive habits built during her crippled childhood.
“She’s still an orphan at heart,” Liz mused to herself, “a lost girl who never got what she needed–and is still paying for it–and perpetuating it.” If only Patricia would make healing her priority! Liz grinned wryly and said out loud, “Liz, now you sound like a therapist!”
Liz looked at her watch again and realized that Patricia was already 10 minutes late. She walked out of her office and asked the receptionist, Ashley, if there had been any calls. “No calls, Dr. Evans,” Ashley replied. “And no cancellations of any kind.”
Liz frowned. Not again. Patricia made time for what she wanted to do, whether it was PTA meetings or watching American Idol with friends. It was becoming increasingly clear that their therapeutic relationship wasn’t a priority, maybe because Patricia had received just enough help to begin to feel better about herself and her ability to give her children a better life than the one she’d had. After all, Patricia wasn’t an alcoholic and didn’t keep addicts and alcoholics in her life; that made her a better parent than the ones she’d had.
This was the problem that many clients had: they got just enough help and relieved just enough emotional pain that they thought they didn’t need anything or anyone else. After only one or two months (or even years) of therapy or even self-help, they considered themselves finished. Rather than plumbing the depths and fixing what was truly broken, they did a slap-dash remodel job, made things look better on the surface–“like a home staging you see on a remodeling show!” Liz exclaimed to herself–and then they quit therapy and quit doing the deep work they so needed. They raised their children with the appearance of ‘normal,’ but because real health was lacking and so much was repressed and projected, usually the selfsame problems that had occurred in the family of origin resurfaced in the next generation. Even if Patricia managed to keep drunks and enablers out of her own life, she was almost certain to have a child who developed an addiction or who needed to enable an addict, because Patricia’s unhealed, rejected parts would demand reparation and finally become manifest in the very children she sought to save.
Carl Jung admonished more than once that those destined to fall into a pit ought to prepare themselves for it rather than falling into it backwards. “Everyone goes into the pit of self-discovery,” Liz mused, “but most don’t go there voluntarily.” Yet how much better it would be if they did!
Liz picked up her desk phone and dialed Patricia’s work number. This was a young woman who could do this–she could make it! She could do something different than her parents and grandparents had done, if only she would stick with the grueling psychological work. But Patricia wasn’t at work, the receptionist said.
Liz called Patricia’s home phone and was surprised when a young child answered. “Is Patricia there?” Liz asked, and was answered with heavy breathing and the sound of little feet pattering along the floor. “IT’S FOR MOMMY!” the child’s voice cried, and after a moment a woman’s voice asked “Who’s this?”
“This is Liz Evans calling for Patricia,” Liz repeated. “Is she home? We had an appointment today.”
“Oh, this is her neighbor, Karen. But she’s not here. She went to the hospital this morning, she’s having the baby. Want me to give her a message?”
Liz’s heart sank. The baby? Already? She still had two weeks to go! Now what would happen?
“Yes, please tell her that Liz Evans called and that I’m hoping the best for her and the baby, and to give me a call when she feels like it.”
Dismay washed over Liz as she replaced the phone. Patricia was on her way to realizing that she could be a good person, and that she needed to heal and could heal. If Patricia stuck with her decision to give her baby up for adoption, she couldn’t possibly feel good afterward. On some level she might believe she was doing the best thing, but another fractured part of herself would also be a mother longing for her baby. Patricia would have to bury yet another part of herself, making it even less likely that she would be able to integrate all the disparate parts and find a cohesive whole in them, a Self.
Liz sighed, knowing she might never hear from Patricia again and knowing that whatever choice Patricia made about her baby boy would set into motion a lifelong chain of events. Liz had worked with enough families separated by foster care and adoption to know that, if Patricia chose adoption, it would not be as simple a solution for Patricia as she seemed to think it would be. And yet, if she kept her son, life would be even more difficult than it already was. Patricia was just as likely to have her healing thwarted by keeping the baby as she was by giving it up.
“Time will tell,” Liz said. “Time will tell.”