The most special things are the things that don't really belong anywhere but here.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Playing Therapist

Sometimes, I think I should just change the name of this blog to "weird stuff from my childhood,"
because basically, that's the majority of these posts. I'm coming to terms with this.

I may have mentioned before that me, my cousin Natalie, and my big sister Liz, played a little longer than maybe other kids did. We created alter egos who were single mothers (to our dolls). We were also detectives, authors, and school teachers. The summer before seventh grade, after finding blank clinical assessment notes of my dad's, we decided we were also going to be therapists.

We each typed up our own clinical assessment notes, complete with our alter egos' names at the top. I was Alena Parker (formally Alena Bishop), Ph.D. We asked Dad to print off several copies--I don't remember how many, but Dad was in his office for a really long time while we were in the car, and he was pretty crabby when he came back.

At our next visit, we decided that we needed to see our clients, so we insisted that my mom draw them for us. She spent the entire visit taking orders on how our clients should look and producing them. This made her very crabby, because she really just wanted to talk to my aunts.

We each had our own section of Natalie's room-- our "office"-- where we would put our client's picture in a chair and talk to them, being both the voice of the client and the therapist. We rolled pieces of gum and called them "gum smokes," which we pretended were cigarettes while we counseled. (May I just say I've always found the whole concept of "gum" to be disgusting, and I only participated due to peer pressure.)

Recently, I found some of the pictures and notes from playing Therapist. Here's a few of my favorites, word-for-word as they originally appeared in 1996:

Meet Joyce Richardson.

Current Problem: Dissociative Fuge
History: Joice was born in 1966 to Clair and Robert Richardson. Joice grew up with no toys and no friends. Her parents sent her to a Christian school until she was 13, then said the school was teaching her nothing. Joice's older sister Susan ran away at 15. Robert beat Clair, finally to death, and Joice and her little sister were sent to live with her aunt, Opal Richardson, who sent Joice to a boarding school and killed Joice's little sister, Amy, and five with a bullet. Joice came back to her aunt's house at 16 and found her little sister's dead body in a locked closet. (After a YEAR?) Her aunt was found hung a day later, from suicide. Joice went to live on her own and got a job at a restaurant. Currently works as a secretary.

                                                               Meet Jacklin Rein.
Diagnosis: Manic Depressive
History: Jacklin was born to Ruth and Simon Rein on January 20, 1973. She was the middle child. Her older sister was very self indulgent and put Jacklin down for most of her life by criticizing and making fun of her. Ruth seemed to favor her oldest daughter over Jacklin and her younger sister. She went to UCLA in 1991. She got a degree in art, and sold her art at a local art store. In 1993, Jacklin's older sister committed suicide. Ruth and Simon decided it was Jacklin's fault, and haven't spoken to them since. Jacklin entered a religious group in '94 where they thought there was no god or devil, and when you died you were just gone. (You mean ATHEISM?) Jacklin quit the group in November '95, but still believes in the group's ideas tremendously. Jacklin currently sells her art in the same local store.

Meet Roberta Bremen
Diagnosis: Dependant Personality Disorder
Clinical Symptoms: Dependant on a Cult
History: Roberta Bremen was borin in 1950 to Katherine and Jack Linne. After their death in 1961, Roberta and her three brothers moved in with their grandfather. Roberta became withdrawn. Her grandfather wanted her to be a boy, so he called her Bob. She believes this caused her to become more dependent on her grandfather because of her low self-esteem in not being what her grandfather wanted. When she was 14, she met Allen Bremen and married him at 20. She moved into Allen's trailer. He brought money home from working at a gas station. In 1982, Roberta and Allen had a daughter Meri and in 1989, a daughter Angela. In 1990, Roberta and Allen went to join a religious cult. Now, they'd like to leave but don't know how.
Therapy Modality: Bring up the bad things about the cult to help them realize it's bad for them.
Therapy Goals: To get Allen and Roberta out of the cult.

Let's not forget, I also counseled Roberta's nerdy husband.

I had a few children clients, including Samantha O'Herra who really had no problems, except she was jealous of her baby brother. I even drew a picture that she drew of him.

I made my mom draw Samantha twice, but why? WHO is the real Samantha? This is an enduring mystery.

I found some of  Liz's clients and notes as well. Her clients all had similar problems-- their parents didn't give them enough attention, they had bad relationships with their siblings-- not exciting at all… except for Lexy Hill, who is suffering from nightmares and doesn't know why. The notes don't offer clues, but her picture does….


I also found this urgent memo that Liz (Gillian's) secretary left her, written by Liz, and this amazing note about Jeff's dog.

He had a dog named Boner that died of old age. Boner.

It sort of makes sense that the girls and I invented this game since we were constantly writing novels-- or at least starting them, writing twenty pages, and then starting another. We were teaching ourselves how to do character backstory without even knowing it. GOD, WHAT CHILD PRODIGIES WE WERE!

Exercise: If you are a writer, create mock Clinical Assessment notes for your characters. Diagnose them with something, write up their history, make a few progress notes, and maybe even draw their picture, or find a picture from a magazine and tack it on to the notes. Keep everything in an actual manila folder for each character. Do this for everyone, even the minor characters. You never know what might come of it! (This is where my helpfulness ends for this entry.)

Surprisingly though, Therapist was NOT my favorite game of ours. At the time, I thought it was the gum smokes. Something about the mintiness gave me headaches (actually, it was the strain from holding them up to my face, which was enough to tighten the muscles in my back, and the pain shot up to my forehead like a headache, but I wouldn't figure this out until I was about fifteen. Scoliosis!) But now, I know it was more.

For one thing, unlike playing with dolls or playing teacher and writing on the blackboard, there was literally nothing to interact with. I was just sitting in a chair talking at a picture. It helped that Natalie and Liz were sitting in their own chairs talking at their own pictures, but still.

Exercise: Create a name, voice, and persona for a different person. Create a name, voice, and persona for how you imagine you would be as a therapist. Speak out loud a conversation between these two people, not forgetting to change your voice. See how long it takes you to lose your mind.

Also, I think something about it was just depressing. It's one thing to write about a character who lived through a terrible childhood or who can't escape a cult, but embodying that person in real-time is another thing entirely.

Fast forward to around 2008-2009ish. Liz, now a grown-up, is getting her Master's in social work for real, and as a part of her homework, she has to do mock-therapy exercises with volunteers. When she asked me to pretend to be a drug addict, I was like, "that sounds like fun!" However, as twenty minutes became forty-five and so on, I was surprised at how down it was getting me. I started almost feeling like it was real, just the way the question and response was going. I was like, "oh my god, I lost custody of my children and I'm working at Family Dollar because I can't stop my meth habit. Life is hopeless!" The whole thing was just weird and kind of awful. I'm guessing this is what I had been doing to myself as a twelve-year-old playing Therapist.

Exercise: Imagine your life going a totally different way. What if instead of doing this to combat your anxiety, you did that? What if you made one too many bad decisions and now you're in drug counseling and have lost almost everything? Speak all of this out loud with no irony. Don't even change your voice. See how long it takes before you find yourself outside on the ground, rolling around in the cold mud, just to feel something again.

I have no idea how to end this entry, because I'm not completely sure what the point of it is, but let me try: *Cue Full House Music.* It's interesting the intrigue and excitement we place on things that we don't understand, especially as children. Dissociative Fugues might be really compelling for an hour on Dateline, but if you were working with this person one-on-one, or worse yet, if you were this person, there would be nothing exciting about it at all, just a lot of pain, struggle, and hopefully after a while, some kind of healing. But there's nothing wrong with curiosity, especially in the hard stuff, the weird stuff, and the complicated stuff, because that's where the stories are. Just stay away from the gum smokes, because they will make your scoliosis way worse than it already is.

Now I turn it over to you: When you were a kid, did you ever play Therapist? Did you ever think something was intriguing and then grow up and realize that it was actually really depressing? Did you ever make your parents do ridiculous things so you could play, like I did to mine? Have you thanked your parents lately for this? Do you like to draw?

I leave you with the one client that I tried to sketch myself, Susan Luci. Peace out.

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