Saturday, January 27, 2007

October 5, 1987, Saying Goodbye to my Therapist: We are Always Being Guided

Yesterday, during a conversation at lunch, a friend said that she remembered a story I had told her some time ago about the day I resolutely stood up in the middle of a therapy session and terminated therapy after four solid years, one session each week.

I remembered that twenty years ago I had written an article describing that experience, and I went home hoping to find it. Finally, after much searching, I found on the back of a closet shelf an old box gathering dust, containing several yellowing manuscripts. Leafing through them, I was relieved to find the manuscript, Saying Goodbye to my Therapist. (Not only did I find it, but I found in an envelope in the box the floppy containing the article, having typed it on a Tandy computer).

Gratefully, I sat down and read it, marveling at the earnest, hard work I had done, looking for peace in the midst of pain. But what struck me most was the extent to which I was always being guided. I was guided by dreams, intuitions, insights, the therapist’s comments, bright reflections in the books I was reading, images, events—all characterized by the Jungian term “numinous,” meaning “filled with a sense of the presence of divinity.”

And now, Dear Reader, I invite you to read this manuscript in its entirety, un-edited, without commentary.

Yesterday, I repeated a ritual that I had followed for almost four years, two hundred sessions. I walked into Dr. William Schirado's red Victorian house at 4:25 for a 4:30 appointment on Friday afternoon. I sat on an old, comfortable couch, a bookcase on the left, a fireplace off to the right. At exactly 4:30, he opened the door I was facing. I said "Hi," he said "Hi," and I stood up, grabbing my briefcase, moved to the door, and turned left down a short hallway, and into the session room, a small room, probably eight by eight. I put down my briefcase and sat in a wingback chair. To my left was the couch, to my right an old desk, on the floor an Oriental rug. Across from me Dr. Schirado sat almost motionless for fifty minutes. Behind him were two windows with lace curtains that opened onto a large, fenced-in yard. In his meditative silence, he became a screen upon which I projected portions of my endless mind chatter and on that screen I could see mirrored more clearly my projections. Over the four years I learned to distinguish between the "what is" of the external world and my projections onto the world.

Back in late November of 1983, I had found his name in the yellow pages. At that time, I was voraciously reading Carl Jung, and Dr. Schirado advertised himself as an "analytical psychologist," the brand of psychology practiced by Jungians. It turns out that he is eclectic, and whatever his therapeutic training, he was exactly what I needed. During the first session, nervously facing the deep silence of the therapeutic encounter, I described a recurring fantasy. On a cold night with the sky full of stars, I would take a down sleeping bag and go to the woods, find a giant pine tree, and sleep under the branches, while the woods filled with softly falling snow. He said, "Sounds like you're looking for peace rather than running away from something." He said we could "wonder together" about these images in my fantasies and dreams. Warmth replaced the tautness in my stomach, and I, temporarily, felt safe. I developed the practice of writing down dreams every morning. One time I had a dream about foreigners milling around in his waiting room as I was sitting on the couch. Then, with one of those wonderful flashes of intuition, I realized that the foreigners represented parts of me that were foreign and beginning to surface. In the uncanny rightness of dream imagery, the setting was his office where I was getting in touch with different parts of myself. I began to realize how we develop our personal metaphors.

A big breakthrough occurred a few months after beginning therapy. I was preoccupied with the question, what stance do you take towards the world so that you can always maintain your balance? I was thinking in terms of images from the martial arts, hence the metaphor "stance." Walking down the street after lunch one day, "processing is taking a stance" popped into my mind. You process your way through events and that, in itself, is taking a stance. For me processing meant making a connection between an event in the outer world, and my emotional response to the event, and the connection between my response and similar responses in the past. It meant being very attentive to images clustered in the response. My focus shifted from the "what is" in the external world to my response to it. With the focus on my response to events, the question of control over external events no longer was an issue. I felt more in charge of my life.

Then, as usually happens, just as I thought I had it figured out, I was tested. I experienced a sudden, shocking job loss. I was told at what started out to be a routine lunch that I was being terminated. I left the restaurant in a daze, drove aimlessly for a couple of hours, and went to see Dr. Schirado. I just walked in, no phone call in advance. The only time I ever did that. The timing was right; he had an open slot. I numbly walked in, sat down, and tried to piece together what had just happened. He said, "Raise the stakes." I said, "What?" He went on to say it is as if a god in charge of processing said, "So, he thinks processing is the key, that is my area, I'm going to raise the stakes because he took some of my power." That was a powerful image, and I now had a way of looking at the situation. I learned that even in pain and in suffering, I could find a perspective. Focusing on what was going on in me was the lifeline. No one could take away my responses, and in those responses was the key to empowering myself. I started a journal that day. I filled it with dreams, ideas, excerpts from books and articles. I call these journals, "Raise the Stakes," and I am writing this draft in journal twenty-one.

I had been coming here now for almost four years, 4:25 Friday afternoon, the week is over, the weekend is about to begin. Let's review the week. Now in the last session, I was thinking about the second time I went skiing. I was visiting a friend in Denver, and we went to the mountains. We went to the bunny hill first, and I remembered how to snowplow. Then my friend showed me the stem turn. That is, if I am angling to the right down a slope and want to turn left, I put my weight on the inside, or left, ski, shift my body to the left, raise the right ski, and bring it down parallel to the other one about two inches apart. If I am angling to the left, I put my weight on the inside, or right, ski, shift my weight, and so forth. After a few minutes of practice, he said you're ready, let's go, and he took me up 5,000 feet. I learned a lot coming down. After I made it to the bottom, he said let's go to the top, 10,000 feet. The image that day was that processing is like doing a stem turn. Knowing how to turn, I felt powerful because I was ready for whatever conditions the mountain presented. Who has the power, me or the mountain? Going down a dangerous slope, lined with trees, drop offs, and other skiers, could I hold onto my personal power and turn as the conditions required, or would I give my power to the mountain and wipeout? If I could maintain my balance and confidence and center,, I could hold onto my power. To this day that image is helpful when I start to give my power away in a tense situation.

Now I was in the waiting room for probably the last time. I went over in my mind the words carefully--I am going to "discontinue" therapy for an indefinite period of time. To say I was going to "stop" was too final, too abrupt at this point. But I was surprised that I was beginning to feel resolute. There was a rightness about it. I realized that for the last three sessions, I had been mostly recapping situations had already processed. Today's session could have been more of the same. Then I recalled that recently I had been marveling about a decision that Mr. J. Krishnamurti made in 1929. A young enlightened man in India, he was thought by his followers to be an incarnation of Jesus. At the age of thirty-four, he was the head of the Order of the Star, an organization that he been founded eighteen years before. He had thousands of followers. On August 3, 1929, in the presence of three thousand members of the Order, he announced his determination to dissolve the Order. He did this with no fear of consequences. He just walked away. Even before I began thinking consciously that it was time to discontinue therapy, I kept thinking about the resoluteless of this act. On a deep level a shift had been taking place.

I had also been thinking about a passage in an interview with Ken Wilber, a man who has single-handedly developed a unified theory of levels of consciousness. He was describing the moment of moving from one level to another in the hierarchy of consciousness growth.

It's exactly like an apple falling from a tree. The apple gets riper and riper, then suddenly falls. And it falls completely--half of the apple doesn't stay behind. But notice that the apple has to go through a very specific process of growth and development to get to the point that it is perfectly ripe and ready to fall. It does not go from a seed to a fully ripe apple in an afternoon. Its growth is stage-like, its falling is sudden. 1

The passage first struck me because it seemed to affirm my spiritual practice. Day to day, I seemed to be moving at a snail-like pace, but looking back over the four years, I could see definite movement. The daily practice of reading, meditating, processing, writing in my journal, and studying dreams seemed to be paying off. And in the waiting room another meaning emerged. I knew that the image of the falling apple was telling me that it was time to drop. I felt resolute and a certain excitement.

During the session I was groping to understand what it meant to top therapy. I said that the ghosts were still there, and that it was not a matter of exorcising them. It is just that I had brought them from the darkness into the light, and they were not nearly as frightening as they were in the shadows. He said that I would not want to lose them because they were a part of me. I would not be me without the ghosts.

Sensing that probably twenty minutes remained in the session, I started talking about a book I had just read to fill the time. A long silence followed, and then he said, "Do you have anything else to say?" I knew that to the end he was saying absolutely the right thing at the right time. I realized that if I were discontinuing therapy there was no need to fill out the hour. But, as always, it was my choice, and he was gently helping me see that. I said, "Yes and no"--"no" there was no more to say just to fill the hour, and "yes" there was something else to say.

"I feel gratitude to you for our work together. I feel sadness that it is over," choking up I went on, "I never felt a wrong tone. You were always on the mark." I was silent for awhile and realized that it was my choice again. Standing up, I said, "That's it." "Fair enough," he said, standing up. As we had done almost two hundred times, I went to the couch to write out a check, and he went to the desk to write out the bill. We stood up, and I gave him my check, and he gave me his bill.

"I personally feel that you have done a lot of honest, hard work, and I am grateful that we were able to work on it together," he said. My eyes filled with tears. I shook his hand and said, "Thank you." I went to the door, opened it, walked down the short hallway, opened the outer door, turned, and instead of saying, "See you next week," I said, "So long." He nodded and smiled. I walked out, and he closed the door behind me.

Raymond H. Comeau

October 5, 1987


1. Catherine Ingram, "Ken Wilber: The Pundit of Transpersonal Psychology," Yoga Journal 76 (September/October, 1987) , 45.

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