A New Leaf

Paul had been in therapy for only a few weeks and had been very ambivalent as to whether or not seeing me could be helpful with anxiety problems. Having had never seen a therapist before, I spent a few sessions explaining to him how the process works as well as showing him research studies on the effectiveness of psychotherapy on generalized anxiety difficulties. Apparently something had sunk in.
“Today’s the day, Rob,” he announced. “I’m turning over a new leave.”
“That’s great, Paul! I think you mean ‘a new leaf,’ though.”
“No, it’s ‘leave.'”
“I’m pretty sure it’s ‘leaf,’ but it doesn’t matter. The point is that you’re ready to make some changes, and I think that’s great.”
“No, it does matter. I’ve always said it that way, because that’s the correct pronunciation.”
“Paul, I don’t mean to sound pedantic, but I have to say I’m quite confident that the phrase is ‘turn over a new leaf.’ Maybe we should simply move on and start work on this anxiety problem you have.”

This is a common therapist error: avoiding conflict. How do I know that this isn’t a common interpersonal style for Paul, one that is maladaptive? I don’t, but my own anxieties are getting in the way of finding out. Fortunately for the therapy’s sake, Paul won’t let the issue rest.
“I don’t doubt that you’re ‘confident,’ oh wise one, but you’re wrong.” Why is this so important to him?
“Paul, let’s take a moment and look at what’s going on here, this dialogue we’re having. What does it mean to you to be corrected by me?”
“It wouldn’t mean anything if you were right, but you’re not, so it means you’re just being pompous.”
“I don’t really see myself as acting pompous, but I apologize if it appears that way. But does my correcting you remind you of anything, Paul?”
“Why would it remind me of anything?”
“Well I can’t speak for everyone, but when people have a strong reaction to a fairly benign situation, it’s often indicative of an intense previous experience or experiences.”
“You know, you actually reminded me of my dad, he was always being this passive-aggressive prick, looking down his nose at me whenever I did something wrong.”
“Paul, is it possible that when I was correcting you, you saw me as your father, or at least a father figure? One that you resent?”
He paused for a few seconds. “Yes, I guess it is. Interesting. So this is how therapy works? I pay you $150 so that you can remind me about how much my dad sucks for 45 minutes?”
“Do you feel any better?” I asked.
“Actually, I do.”
“Then that’s pretty much how therapy works.”
See? Therapy is just that easy!

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4 Responses to “A New Leaf”

  1. Matt says:

    It always cracks me up how oblivious people are to their problems/flaws, with this being a prime example. If they were more logical and introspective, they’d be able to figure things out for themselves (or at least get a good grip on the situation).
    It’s amazing how far simple, logical thinking can go for one’s standard problems.

  2. Sam says:

    I don’t think it’s just people being oblivious, Matt. I think we all tune out these things, and that it takes another person in some cases to keep pointing these things out to us. Logic doesn’t really apply. We’re all wrapped up in our complexes about what we think are problems are that it keeps us from seeing what’s simple to others and vice-versa.
    Dr. Rob, I love your blog; it’s a great addition to Rudius Media. Your stuff is fantastic 😀

  3. Brad says:

    This reminds me of a friend of mine who swears that the phrase is “right off the back” rather than “bat”. I still can’t prove it to him.

  4. Tippy says:

    “Supposeably” always gets to me.