(or Questioning Everything I Once Held to Be True About the Therapeutic Alliance)
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out-handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.
~ Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
There have been several occasions when I have had to remind my therapist that therapy isn’t real. She always takes offense at my insistence that therapy is actually an alternate, concocted, manufactured universe that doesn’t even come close to approximating reality. If all the people in my life were as compassionate and empathic and understanding and able to listen and willing to negotiate and able to engage in conflict and open to change, not to mention be completely focused on me, as my therapist is, then I wouldn’t have a need for therapy!
I know that therapy is meant to be a petri-dish, where you get to test and experiment and fail in safety with a dedicated guide and cheerleader right there by your side. It’s a chance for a dress-rehearsal, to try things out before you have to do something out there, in the real world. But it is an artificial construct, with carefully appointed boundaries and roles and responsibilities. The real world doesn’t work in the same way. I wish it did, but sadly, it doesn’t.
I also know that what my therapist is really reacting to is my suggestion that the relationship between us isn’t real. She will counter that the relationship we have is indeed very real, and intimate and loving and supportive and everything you’d hope to find in another person you can relate to.
Sometimes in the past I had allowed myself to believe this, to be pulled into the notion that what we had between us was more than a business transaction.