The sitting down isn’t the hard part. The chair is usually comfortable, and the silence usually lasts long enough to pick up all of the ideas that have fallen out across the floor. No, it’s definitely not the sitting. The challenge is that in therapy, the person sitting across from you has the potential to be very good at their job. So where does therapy tie into the journey of an adolescent? In most novels addressing adolescence the protagonist is lost, traversing either a physical, emotional, or intellectual world totally foreign and strange. We see a lost Huckleberry Finn or Katniss Everdeen, Esther Greenwood or Invisible Man, Christopher Robin or Hamlet. All of these very different protagonists say so much about growing up, but how, in modern day real life, does somebody actually make it through? One author, Peter Cameron, plays with therapy in his novel addressing adolescence in a modern era. James Sveck, of Cameron’s Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, is asked to go to therapy. We don’t get to see how lost James really is, until he meets with his therapist, Dr. Rowena Adler. Saying what he is thinking is difficult, “for the act of thinking and the act of articulating those thoughts were not synchronous to [him], or even necessarily consecutive,” and he has a “sieve in [his] mind,” that keeps most of his ideas from being articulated. This makes total sense to a veteran of the therapist’s office. Adolescence brings about grown up thoughts not made to fit into still growing communication skills. However, Dr. Adler does something special. She places James back into his head with her silence and responsive questions, and asks him to talk his way out. We see this when she asks him about very particular aspects of his life. I saw this same conversational chess move while sitting in a similar chair, talking to a doctor named John Todd.
I was a junior in high school, and I was lost. Not a surprise for somebody whose sense of direction needs a GPS to find the bathroom, yet this was an identity kind of lost. Navigating high school wasn’t bad up until junior year. I played basketball, and one of my friends on the team, Spencer Page, passed away from Leukemia a month or two into the school year. He had been fighting it for almost two years; he had and continues to, inspire everybody he met. Weeks after his funeral, I broke up with my girlfriend of 18 months. Tough for a people-pleasing adolescent. I found myself lost. One thing I did know how to do was to talk. Communication, which was James Sveck’s challenge as well, became my hurdle. Now, I had no problem talking to people about their problems. I became a champion of other people’s problems. When I started taking on the grievances of my own teammates and the problems of my best friends, and even some marital issues of my parents, I totally forgot what talking about me felt like. And that’s the dangerous part, because when you forget how to talk about yourself, you start to forget who you are. So my mother asked me to see somebody, and that’s how I ended up in Dr. John Todd’s office. Now there, in that chair across from me, he sat, waiting the same wait that Dr. Adler did in the book. With enough responsive questions, I was talking myself into loops that I eventually figured my way out of. It wasn’t that he asked some fantastic question or gave some great advice. I don’t remember anything he said. Only what I said. What his silence got me to say. Dr. Adler did this as well. After reading Cameron’s novel, we aren’t left with any great insight from any character, only the things other people get James to say. We look down on therapy as taboo, as if there is something wrong with you if you need to go to therapy. We often forget that adolescence is romanticized for the wonder of being lost. We should celebrate that wonder. Therapy should be seen, not as a guide, but rather as a blank sheet of paper given to us so we can create our own maps.
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