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by Kenneth Weene, Ph.D
Tom and Nancy’s Story
I’d read a short piece in the local newspaper – “Car accidentally driven into Town Harbor – Woman loses way and drives down south boat ramp and into the sound. A heavy-duty tow truck was required to remove the new Buick. The woman, whose name has not been released, was taken to the hospital for observation.”
I remembered the story a week later when my friend, Mitch, called to refer the woman to me. Mitch is a psychiatrist. He often referred patients for therapy. “Ken, she says she wasn’t suicidal, that she just had to destroy that car. No voices. No delusions that I can tell. I put her on some anxiety meds, but I think she needs therapy.”
Nancy was a handsome, big-boned, woman who stood slightly taller than myself. While not a college graduate, she spoke well. Her accent and demeanor were straight from the mid-west. Her life was right out of the Saturday Evening Post. Six children – the eldest married with his own children, the youngest still in grade school. Still married to a successful engineer; they had been high school sweethearts. Tom earned a good living, which allowed Nancy to stay at home and take care of the brood.
It was not a big, fancy house; but they liked it. Nancy spoke of extended family holidays at which Tom would pitch in to help organize the huge meals for as many as thirty guests. While theirs was certainly not a wealthy lifestyle, it sounded consistent with their values and life goals.
“Tom loves me,” Nancy said emphatically when I asked about their sexual relationship. “We’ve never had a problem in that area. Never.”
In response to my follow-up – Did she love him? – I received a snort and an assurance that she was very happy in the marriage, that Tom was an outstanding husband. Why he had already gone out to find a new car to replace the Buick that she had ruined. “Of course he bought me another Buick,” she commented. “He’s such a tall man that he’s only comfortable in those big Buicks.”
I won’t bother recalling a year of treatment in which I learned that Nancy was a lovely human being with a decent sense of humor and great basic values. It was also a year in which there was not a hint of any issue with which I could help. Everything was, according to my client, really just fine. Her life was going along just as it ought. Still, she wanted to come to therapy. I suggested a group, and she started coming to that – not as I had suggested instead of individual but in addition.
In the group she continued to show the same evenness of temperament that I had always seen. She continued to report a life of marital and family happiness. Oh, an occasional bump in the road, but nothing out of the ordinary.
In case you are by now wondering: No, there were no fantasies about me. No apparent sexual desire toward her therapist. And there were no more automobiles in the harbor or other symptoms to suggest some unconscious neurotic process.
One of the things that I did as a therapist that set me aside was the use of activities – unusual activities that might reveal more of what people were really about. One of my favorites was white water rafting. It’s hard to wear your mask when coping with a river in full flood. I invited Nancy to bring Tom on the next trip. I hoped something might happen that would help explain the nexus of three symptoms – the original automobile incident, Nancy’s apparently ongoing happy life with no issues, and her unwillingness to leave therapy.
Tom and Nancy were in a raft with other adults from her therapy group. As usual on such trips, I was in the sweep raft, the one that comes down the river last in order to be in a position to help.
About a mile down the river I found Tom standing on a rock. “They threw me out,” he sputtered. “They told me to wait for you. They threw me out of the raft.”
Farther down the river, when we all stopped for lunch, I was told what had happened. The other people in the raft had indeed thrown Tom off. Why? Because he was destroying their day. How? By trying to stop the raft before each rapid in order to discuss and plan the best method of attack. True to his engineering background, Tom had never learned the darkness of doing things right.
There is a lesson to be learned from Tom and Nancy, that life is not to be engineered but rather to be lived. Even control exercised in the search for the best is still destructive.
Oh, I’m sure you’re wondering. Did things get better? Yes. Tom started to see me. He became more flexible. Nancy no longer needed me. Life was still going well, but Tom was no longer automatically solving the problems that did come up.
Nancy decided to throw a party to celebrate her “graduation from therapy.” Tom offered to help and was told that it was her thing. He backed off.
“She’s right,” Tom told me. “I always respected her, but now I know that I have to show her respect.”
I trusted that now Tom and Nancy’s lives would get on swimmingly.
A New Englander by upbringing and inclination, Kenneth Weene is a teacher, psychologist and pastoral counselor by education. He is a writer by passion. Ken’s short stories and poetry have appeared in numerous publications. Ken’s novels, Widow’s Walk and Memoirs From the Asylum are published by All Things That Matter Press. To learn more about Ken’s writing visit: http://www.authorkenweene.com