“Sarah Nevin once told me I could ask to see my guardian angels in dreams. I asked and I’ve never had worse nightmares in my life. ‘Ask them not to scare you,’ she says. Since then they’ve always shown up to deliver messages in disguises that make me laugh – because my GAs are smart asses. Last night they were the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Very funny, silly angels… But seriously, I didn’t believe her and then I tried it. Now…there they are.”*
Yes, this sounds like something I would say. No, I don’t remember this moment, not at all actually. It’s always fascinating to discover what clients retain from our sessions. The words, “And then I remembered what you said… blah blah blah” always fill me with a mix of anticipation and dread, because even though it’s exciting the client remembered something, I have NO IDEA what is going to be attributed to the therapy and to me.
Often what clients remember has to do with emotional memory. A phrase or story sticks with them because they either really liked it or sort of hated it. Sometimes what comes back to me doesn’t sound like myself, at least not to me. But I don’t think this means that one of us is wrong in our memory. Rather I prefer to look at it as symbolic content. Why is this memory/phrase important? What made this comment stick over the hundred other comments from that session, or the 1000s of comments from the previous months? Even if that’s not how I believe I might phrase a statement or a question, why would it be important to this client that it be remembered in this form?
One therapy school of thought is to treat ALL content in a session as symbolic. Which means even though you’re telling me about an encounter you had at the grocery store, and then an argument you had with your mother on the phone, followed with, say, a childhood memory—one of my jobs is to wonder how do all these seemingly disparate items fit together. What is in common? What might the client really be telling me? As if the session itself is like a dream. (Of course, I’m going to also pay attention to the reality of what you’re truly saying simultaneously so that the session does not get lost in la-la-land.)
But. And. What if it’s true that life is but a dream? Something fun to think about…
*printed with permission from a former client