My therapist’s face is grey

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

My therapist’s behaviour towards me is changing in a way I don’t understand. I have Bipolar, anxiety, OCD, BPD, was psychologically and sexually abused as a child and moved from country to country (4 countries, 23 homes, 6 primary schools 1 high {4 yrs only} by age 18) and have been suffering from a major bout of depression since Dec ’08 and have been off work since the end of Jan ’09. I also have difficulty in understanding what people aren’t saying – I don’t know how to “read” faces or body language – I just take things literally &/or at face value. Since January this year I’ve been seeing a psychologist on a weekly basis and lately his behaviour towards me seems to be changing. I don’t know if he’s making fun of me or what, because he seems to be copying the way I sit (I look across and it’s like looking in a mirror) and saying comments I don’t understand about my clothes – if I wore something especially for him – and a standing joke about how I like my coffee so strong that the spoon stands upright by itself. I don’t feel confident enough to ask him straight out, but if he doesn’t want to see me anymore, why not come straight out and say it; black and white I can deal with, but these grey shades and ridicule do my head in. Can you offer some advice, please?

A: “Shades of grey wherever I go
The more I find out the less I know
Black and white is how it should be
But shades of grey are the color I see.

Billy Joel

Thank you for asking. This is a tough one because it is hard to know what the therapist’s intentions are. But what is clear is that you have noticed a shift, and everything I know about therapy would indicate that speaking up about your concerns would be exactly the right thing to do.

Since you know that one of your primary issues is that you can’t read faces and nonverbal signs, this is a perfect situation for you to work on with the therapist. Since understanding subtle cues is the work at hand, your confusion and inhibition are grist for the mill in your therapy.

If it is too difficult to talk to him without a script, I recommend you write him a letter that you can read to him, or if that is too risky, hand it to him and ask him to read it at the beginning of the session. I often encourage people I work with in therapy to write letters to people they have difficulty speaking up to – including me, if necessary. This way you can compose your thoughts without the pressure of the moment, and bring the issue to light.

I think not saying what you feel will belabor your therapy and is likely to slow down the rate of your improvement. I would also let your therapist know that you struggled with finding a way to express this to him. If this all seems too difficult you could simply request he read your concerns posted here.

Grey is an important color to have in your emotional palette. Finding the courage to talk about this with your therapist is likely to be empowering all on its own.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Jun 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). My therapist’s face is grey. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/06/09/my-therapist%e2%80%99s-face-is-grey/