Has anyone else met with a therapist and thought, “What? You want me to do WHAT ridiculous thing?” Because I have. Many times. That’s why this post is called Episode 1. I already have at least three episodes in mind of weird object lessons and crazy “homework” assignments I’ve had to do in therapy, and they’re worth taking a moment to laugh about. You see, laughing is healthy (says my therapist), so I’m going to take you down this road with me.
To be fair to my therapist, she’s really good. We’ll call her Meg. She’s the first in a string of therapists who I think actually cares about me and has said things that make me think and make me analyze things in a good way. Even with a good therapist, though, there are times that I’m just like, “Uhhh…no. I’m confused at the moment as to who is crazier – you or me.”
One of these times was a few weeks ago when I walked into her office and she had sand and seashells laid out on a table. It was the middle of winter. I gave it a strange glance, thinking maybe she’d decided to create a “peaceful space” for herself or whatever and gone a bit overboard. There was also a framed picture of some kids (her kids, I think) running along the beach.
Side note: the most profitable thing I got from the exercise I’m about to describe to you is to find out where Meg bought that SUPER CUTE frame. I must have one. She said Marhsalls, but I’ve yet to investigate. Is it weird to buy a frame because you liked it in your therapists’s office? Not weirder than making your clients play with shells, that’s for sure…
I largely ignored her weird beach display for the first half of our session. Meg’s kind of quirky, and I didn’t want to be nosy. Being nosy is what I’m paying her to do, right? Finally, though, she addressed it.
“I bet you’re wondering about all of this beach stuff,” she suggested.
Yep. Genius insight, Meg.
“I want to try something a little different today,” she said. This always means I’m in for something completely bizarre. Meg went on to explain to me that she wanted me to read a book, and while I was reading it she wanted me to hold some of the shells, run my fingers through the sand, and listen to the beach music she was going to play on her phone.
THE BEACH MUSIC ON HER PHONE, PEOPLE. I COULDN’T MAKE THIS UP IF I TRIED.
I said okay (because what else are you supposed to say to your therapist?). She handed me the book. It had a shell on the front. Cool. I see the theme here. She put on her beach music and turned to take some notes. I briefly wondered if this is like when teachers don’t feel like teaching so they just assign some random reading or pointless essay. Did she not want to talk today, and this was her way of filling time? Whatever. I figured I’d better start reading the book or I’d be in contempt of therapy or something.
The short book, I’m sure, is inspirational to some people. It’s about this old woman who likes to walk the beaches in North Carolina, and she always used to look for perfect shells. Then one day she decided to look for broken shells, because broken shells are beautiful in their own way. They’ve gotten dashed on rocks and not fallen completely apart. They’ve sustained injuries and still made it to the beach. That fact, claims our North Carolina beach walker, is beautiful.
Okay. Fine. If you feel inspired by that, great. I can ask my therapist for the book so you can look at the pretty beach pictures. Unfortunately, I don’t think I was properly inspired. I think I may have rolled my eyes (behind the book, of course, because I didn’t want Meg to see). When I was finished, I halfheartedly poked through a few of the shells on her sand table. Notably, they were all perfect or near-perfect. This seemed against the point of the book to me, but hey – I’m no therapist.
I told her I was finished reading, and she asked how I felt about it (because that’s what therapists ask about everything, right?). I said I thought it was a dumb metaphor. She laughed because I’m always really honest to the point of maybe being rude…but I think lying to a therapist is really counterproductive. She asked why the metaphor was dumb.
I wanted to say it was because I felt FRICKIN RIDICULOUS playing with a table of sand and reading picture books like I was in kindergarten. That’s not a good defense against the metaphor, though. I’m a literature teacher. If a therapist wants to discuss the veracity of a metaphor with me, game on.
“The metaphor is fine at first glance,” I started, “but extend it at all, and the entire thing falls apart. What are shells for? They provide safety and covering for sea creatures. They’re exoskeletons. If a shell breaks, it is literally good for nothing. Even if it makes it up onto the beach, it’s going to be passed over by every other beach comber besides this one weird lady who decided to pick up a couple of broken shells. YOU don’t even want broken shells – there are none on your table. A broken shell is completely pointless. If you want me to see this as applicable to me; that I’m a ‘broken shell’ overcoming some tough times, then I guess I can agree with you… It’s just that your metaphor, applied to my life, renders me worthless to society and completely incapable of fulfilling my original purpose, which, you know, seems a bit more depressing than helpful. Hence my general rejection of the initial premise.”
Meg looked a little surprised and then started laughing. “Okay then,” she said. “Not exactly what I was hoping for out of that…but you bring up some good points.” She made some notes on her notepad (oh what I would give to see the stuff she’s written on that notepad, ha ha…), and then we chatted a bit longer before my session time was up. She offered to let me keep a shell to remember the metaphor. THANKS, Meg. You’re a gem. Remind me how I was once potentially useful and now am a loser to everyone except Granny Broken-Shell. Instead I think I will go home, break some crayons, and then remind myself that broken crayons can still color. That metaphor seems a lot more hopeful.
Lesson learned by me in this episode: therapists try really weird stuff to get their points across.
Lesson learned by my therapist in this episode: don’t try to out-metaphor a literature teacher.