A short story of counseling part 1

Photo Credits: Hana Afifi


We had been silent for over three minutes and I didn’t know if he was testing me or if I was testing him.

“If you have any thoughts about suicide or killing someone I must know and it will be reported.”

“Are you serious?” He had broken the silence, and I won! But wait, what kind of statement was that?

“It’s just a formality, I have to say this every session. Now, tell me what’s on your mind.”

My frustration increased with every ticking sound that rusty clock made. I was not lying down in a big, comfortable couch and the office didn’t look like a cozy living room. I was nailed to this confining wooden chair with big arms on both sides, and I was starting to feel restless.

I thought of every word I said and every move I made for his continuous note-taking habit was infuriating to say the least. This is not the experience I had in mind at all but then again I was basing my expectations off movies. I understood why he sat next to me and not behind his desk. Was he trying to fool me into spilling all details about my life just by making this smart move of not placing a barrier between him and I? Well, no sir, that won’t work on me.

Every time I moved, the chair let out a creaking sound, which made him fixate his eyes on mine for a split second. I was trying to read him; I needed to know who this man was. How could I possibly just talk to him without knowing anything about him?

“Sir, what are you writing? I’m not even saying anything.”

That one meaningless sentence threw him into a writing spree, and all I could think about while he jotted down his notes was how I was going to find a polite way to excuse myself. There was an obvious generation gap; I would say he was about mid-sixties to seventy years old. The age difference alone made the room tenser because I didn’t feel like I could relate to him at all. But, I didn’t need to relate to him! I was there to talk to him about my cynophobia.

“Why did you decide to come here?”

I told him I had this irrational fear of dogs and it was holding me back in life on many levels. I felt like I couldn’t travel or even walk alone because I would immediately experience a panic attack if I saw any dog in my proximity. I have never really talked about this with anyone besides my father. I remember one time when we were invited to an important dinner with people from my father’s workplace and there was a dog. I tried my best to contain myself but I was shaking all over and as soon as my father noticed, he immediately got up and excused himself to drop me off home.

“My daughter is not feeling very well,” he said.

My mother didn’t quite understand what was going on, she knew I was scared of dogs but the poor thing was tied up in the doghouse.

My father and I didn’t say a word that ride back, and I realized how lucky I was to have someone who can understand me just by a few seconds of eye contact. However, I knew this person won’t always be with me and that I needed to get rid of this phobia as soon as possible. The psychiatrist asked me how old I was when I first realized I was scared of dogs and I told him I was about 10 years old.

“So this has been going on for 8 years?”

Yes captain obvious, it has been going on for 8 years. Now please tell me there’s a way to fix it and that the twenty minutes out of the one-hour we have didn’t go to waste. I don’t know why I resented this man; he hadn’t offended me in any way.

“I know I haven’t said much but I really have nothing to say. I’m not crazy, I just want to stop depending so much on feeling protected everywhere I go. I haven’t met one person who is afraid of dogs, there’s nothing to be afraid of. I just don’t have a reason for it.”

“Let’s not use the word crazy.”

Was that all he heard from what I said? He was getting on my nerves and all I wanted to do was snatch the notebook from his hand and read it. Was he writing about how ignorant and offensive I was? Or how stupid it is to come to a psychiatrist to deal with a phobia? I can just go buy a puppy and get used to it or something, after all that’s been my mom’s idea all along.

I began changing my seating position every two seconds, if it hadn’t been obvious that I was restless then now it’s as clear as snow. My foot was swinging up and down uncontrollably; the one thing my mother always warned me was not ladylike. I hated being in this chair, in front of this man! He was making me think, now I understood the game he was playing. He wasn’t saying anything so I would think and reach my breaking point where I would spill out all the emotions bottled up inside.

The thought of that car ride with my father turned into feelings of attachment and how I feel completely lost when he is not around. The thought of my mother scolding my behavior turned into wishing I had listened to her all these years. The low tone of this man’s voice and his calm movements made our differences obvious. It seemed as if he was at peace with himself and I, on the other hand, was a ticking bomb.

“Is there any other reason you’re here?”

A few days ago I found this man online, and I had called up his assistant to take an appointment. I didn’t tell a soul, because it felt like such a taboo to seek psychiatric help. I did all this on my own and I decided that if I managed to get rid of this phobia then I could surprise my family with the big step I had taken. However, that night I thought of every possible scenario that could happen at his office. Would he bring a dog and practice what they call “classical conditioning”? Would he hypnotize me in order to dig up the real, psychological reasons behind this phobia? I had imagined everything except for this. We spent our first fifty minutes together saying nothing but a few sentences, and the way the conversation started shocked me till about halfway through the session. Did I look like someone who’s considering suicide? Well yes, maybe after all this twitching he had taken back the “formality” statement and was actually considering looking into it.

By the end of the session, I had noticed that I spent more time trying to deduce what he was thinking rather than focusing on my problem. I promised myself that I would not return to this office because it was of no use to me. I entered with a problem and I was about to exit with more than just one problem. I had to be honest with myself; I was not there just to deal with the phobia. Dealing with my fear might have been my way of rationalizing the need to see this doctor. I was here for more than that, I wanted reassurance that this feeling of estrangement from people around me was normal.

“No sir, that’s not the only reason I’m here.” My time was up.

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