I should be studying (shouldn’t we all?) yet the most urgent thoughts come when there’s other things to be done.

On Friday I met my friend for tea. My friend is an art therapist. we met at one of my favorite bookstores. It was too crowded, so I shared her table. She was showing her children’s stories to a friend and me in my everlasting curiosity decided to peek at the text and avoid eye contact until she spoke to me (such is how I operate). She asked what I was studying. I said art therapy, and what a wonderful coincidence: she herself is an art therapist! At our meeting I ended up telling her I have a hard time crying at appropriate times. By appropriate times I mean when something “catastrophic” has happened in my life, like a break-up. She told me to draw a teardrop. She smiled a lot as I told her about my trivial college life and nodded, as all good therapists do. “It must be really dumb, my life,” I said.

“Not at all, it’s your life, it’s important to you!” I really needed to hear that at that moment.

What draws me to the more humanistic/spiritual type therapies is their emphasis on empathy. You can interpret someone’s fantasies till you’re blue in the face, but everything, everything, everything hinges upon the successful client-therapist relationship, facilitated by empathy. More and more and more I realize this. Empathy. The ability to feel what other people feel. Maybe not as deep, as drastic, or as lasting, but just the passing feeling–if you look sad, it makes me want to cry. When I look at some people, like P, I just want to cry. The cognitive psych kids can tell me it’s because I have  come to associate him with my sadness because he dumped me, so to speak. That my feeling when I look at him is just a projection of how I really feel inside. He’s not actually sad. It’s just all me.

Some days I think I constructed an elaborate fantasy to escape into, a world of ghosts and floating energy and magic, where people exist who are innately attuned to the finer nuances of nature and the universe. Why else would I carry a tiny stone whale in my pocket or burn candles for my morning meditation? I wake in the middle of the night because there are little demons causing my night terrors. I feel the space between my eyes tingling when I hold a crystal because I have been primed to think that way, and so it is.

There’s a girl in my systems of psychotherapy class. At first I hated her because she was so opinionated and I felt like she completely lacked the empathy needed to become a good therapist, but today in the elevator I decided to say hi. “Hi,” I said, not making eye contact. I was a little surprised when she smiled and said hi back. We ended up walking a ways outside and talking about our “orientations” (as though people our age can really have orientations towards anything). “Well, I’m more of a spiritual person,” I said. A smile crossed her face. “But that’s just my opinion. I think it’s a good idea to keep an open mind.”

I really wish I hadn’t said that. Why should I have to apologize for my beliefs? “Yes,” she said, “It’s a good idea to keep an open mind, but I think that it’s almost narrow minded to believe in fallacies. Like religion.”

Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. What? Fallacies? I was not about to get into a huge argument right then and there, so I bit my tongue and kept silent. I touched the little stone whale in my pocket.

Is it a fallacy that sometimes I see little flickers of white and blue light that I think are fairies? Oh, sure, neuroscience can probably explain them as floaters. But I like to believe that there’s more magic to life than what goes on inside the brain. “You’re lying to yourself. You’re just fooling yourself.” But why is everyone so hell bent on proving each other wrong? Doesn’t it all just feed into one another? That’s what the bio-psycho-social model of psychology is all about. I just wonder sometimes about this rift between science and spirituality. I feel like I have to pick a side. But I don’t like picking sides. That’s why I talk to people I initially dislike, to see whether I dislike them out of envy, or I dislike them because they embody things I dislike about people in general.

and paradoxes. There are a lot of paradoxes in psych. It’s about letting go, yet about containment–in art therapy, in music therapy, when the client sits down to paint a picture or play a piece on the piano, they are holding their feelings in the medium, yet they are letting it out. We have less control over external circumstances than we think we do, yet with biofeedback one can control one’s bodily functions like heart rate. Happy people actually have less control than they believe they do, and depressed people are the ones who actually realize the “real” circumstances of things. So happy people are delusional, and sad people are in the right.

And common factors. The most important part of therapy, according to empirical studies, is the client-therapist relationship. That no one branch of therapy is more effective than another. It mostly hinges on the therapist and the client.

I can write a billion pages on why people try to outdo each other, the cognitive capacities involved, ego defense, projection, reaction-formation, all done to hide unconscious and unacceptable wishes/thoughts/fantasies etc, etc, etc. But if we know why, then why do we still care about outdoing each other so much?

When I looked over my syllabus for “Creative Arts in the Helping Professions” at the beginning of the semester, art therapy was what I was most excited about, because it was the area I was most proficient in. So I could be the best. Music therapy and drama therapy I was really apprehensive about. Yet when it came time to actually doing the exercises with my classmates, I didn’t end up caring about being the best at all. I just wanted to enjoy it, have fun, and see what everyone else was doing, and feel along with them. It’s not entirely about the therapist in therapy, and making the therapist look smart, is it? If it is, that’s pretty fucked up. It should be about helping the other person accept himself and every single flaw and loving and embracing it.

Yes, I’m a big softie at heart, a firm humanistic/existential “psychologist.” But whatever. It could all change within the span of a day. I’m twenty, what do I know? What does anyone know? Why can’t it all be true? Just why can’t it all be true? Because ___ is wrong, and ____ is right, and I am holier than thou. That’s what it all boils down to–outdoing each other in terms of achievement and boosting egos, and it kind of disgusts me. But that’s life. Take the good along with the bad. Whatever.

I still think snowflakes look like butterflies, I still buy pretty crystals to meditate with when I feel sad, and I still see fairies and ghosts sometimes. Take it or leave it. That is life.