The Wrong One On the Couch ~ A Short Story

The therapist sat there for a long time, consulting his notes while his thirty year-old patient waited, patiently. He seemed to be struggling with the urge to shake his head, or to sigh, both of which could be misconstrued. Of course, the patient would have been happy with any sign of life beyond the light in the tired blue eyes of the man he had spoken to for an hour the week before.

“How’s the job hunt?” The patient snapped out of his daydream and wasn’t sure he heard the question.

“Job hunt?”

“Yes. Any leads?”

“No. No, I thought we covered this. Finding a job is not my problem. Surviving the first day is.”

“Ah yes.” There must have been a surge in the therapist’s nervous system, because when he looked down to check his notes again, the urge to shake his head was too strong to ignore. He put the notepad aside. “It seems like you’re always going to have a hard time wherever you go.”

Silence. A confused, maybe frustrated glare accompanied by the patient holding his hands outward in a gesture of annoyance. “Did you finally reach that conclusion on your own? Because it seems like the exact same thing I told you last week.”

“You don’t need to be sarcastic.”

“Well you don’t need to be oblivious,” the patient shot back. “I came here as a last resort, because you told me that the only way to get any help was to speak to a therapist. I told you that my problem was dealing with coworkers and their bullshit and now you’re just going to throw in the towel?”

He shook his head. Then the therapist swiveled around in his chair, to the little cabinet beside his desk. After rummaging through the top drawer, he pulled something out.

“No, I want to help you. But I think this is your best option.”

The therapist handed him a 30-day trial package of pale blue, oval shaped pills. The blister packs were attached to a card that read: “Solvasall.” The patient just stared at the package.

“These will really help.”

“How, how will these help?”

“Well,” the therapist scratched the back of his neck and said, “I just think they’ll help.”

The patient flipped the package over and shook his head.

“You’re just a therapist; you’re not even supposed to suggest medication. Do you even have a clear idea of how this pill is apparently supposed to ‘help’?”

“No.” The therapist said. “No, I really don’t.”

There was a long silence between them. The patient finally stood up, tossed the package on the desk and made his way for the door. The therapist looked on helplessly as the patient stood at the door for a solid minute, as if he were debating the benefits of ending this professional relationship. Then he stopped and faced the therapist, apparently wanting to unload one last time.

“Why did you even get into this line of work? Why spend all that time and money getting your degrees and then your doctorate, just so you could pursue this as a career?”

This time, there was no silence. Almost as if the therapist had been wondering at this his entire life, and was only waiting until someone finally had the balls to call him out.

“I wanted to help people once.” He paused. The patient was still standing there, prompting him to continue. “When we’re kids, they ask us what we want to be. They tell us about these wonderful careers and how everyone should do their best to be a productive member of society and all I wanted to do was help people.

“So I went to school, got my scholarships and did the work and do you know what I realized when I finally saw my first patient? I realized that we live in a supermarket society that expects results with the click of a button. Those of us who are good at our jobs find a way to drag out the relationship with a patient so that we have a steady source of income. Those of us who are terrible seize on the first easy solution we can think of. Then there are the lucky few that land the book deals, or translate the right papers and we gain the worldwide following we need to pay off our student loans and put the down payment on the nice house with the sundeck and the pool.”

“Where are you in that equation?” The patient asked.

“I’m the one that figured all that out and stopped trying.” The therapist blurted out. He knew this was completely unprofessional, but he couldn’t stop himself from going on. “Somewhere down the line, this just became a paycheck for me just like your jobs were only a paycheck for you. It sucks, but it’s what you’re stuck with and you have to make due. Or at least, I do. Like you pointed out, I spent all that money on school and now I have the debts to pay off and nothing to show for them.

“The truth is, I’m stuck between wanting to help you and having to help myself. I don’t want to take advantage of you, but I don’t want you to go trashing me in online forums, or in one of those patient satisfaction surveys that expect me to be some mythical being with the powers of foresight and telepathy. So the second I realized you were going to be more than two sessions worth of work, I fell back on the cheap and easy solution. I’m sorry for being human.”

The patient considered the therapist’s position. He glanced at the clock and then at the therapist. He sat down and leaned forward.

“I’ll make a deal with you.”

The therapist shrugged, but didn’t object.

“How about I promise not to treat you like an all knowing, mythical being and you agree not to treat me like a paycheck. Let’s agree right away that we’re both human and that we both need each other to continue.”

The therapist considered the patient’s offer. He glanced at his notes and then at the pills on the desk. He tore the notes from the yellow pad and crumpled them, with the trial package, into a tight ball and tossed them into the wastebasket. He picked up a pen and looked at his patient.

“Hello, Mister Crawford. What brings you in today?”

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