“I remember driving to therapy and thinking, ‘Well, this is it. I’m all out of stories’. I didn’t know what I was going to say. And that was when therapy really began.”
-Dr. Ron Wright on attending therapy while in his graduate program
Many parents and couples “warn” me when they believe a member of their family participating in therapy struggles to tell the truth or are manipulative. I appreciate the heads up and it almost always reminds me of an experience from grad school.
A client told me a horrendous story regarding the loss of his wife and children on halloween night as they came to visit him. He cited this tragic loss as the reason for slipping into depression, alcoholism, and ultimately losing his job and becoming homeless. I worked with the client for several weeks before court documents from his very un-dead-yet-not-a-zombie-wife appear requesting garnishment of his wages. His wife did not die, nor did he lose his children. They simply left him when his alcoholism began overrunning their life.
With this realization fresh in mind, I burst into my supervisors office ranting about the gall of a client to waste my time, his time, the worlds time, on complete lies. My supervisor, calm and patient as always, asked one question, “so what?” It made no sense to me at the time. Not until several years later did it finally sink in: there was truth in the lie. The factuality of the content was null and void. The meaning beneath the content contained truth. The story he told was false. The abandonment he felt was real. I was so hung up on factuality I missed the truth.
For those, like myself, who can sometimes get so hung up on truth we miss it, think about this: If a bear appeared behind you right now, how would you feel? Happy? Hungry? Excited? Probably none of these. Assuming you are coherent and aware of said bear, you would be scared. You probably, hopefully, don’t have a bear behind you right now. This does not change the truth that you would have been scared. Fear would have been your primary emotion.
Does it matter if the bear was there or not? Does it matter if the man’s family died or not? However, the emotions underlying those experiences are universal and translate to multiple contexts. The situations may vary. The underlying emotions will remain. This “truth” allows for common ground and removes the necessity for “rightness”.