Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Coming into Therapy

Rather than simply critique Grant's narrative, I will begin a narrative of my own, one that reflects my own experience and the understanding that I have formed in my conversations with friends and with those whom I interviewed in 1997-8. People like myself who came into therapy in the wake of the 1963-4 advent of the "Catholic group" to Lea's practice, did so out of personal necessity. We were not a different "generation" from those religious who met with her at Greg Baum's suggestion, but were formed by many similar influences and had many similar concerns. Our parents reflected the conservatism born of life in the Great Depression and during World War II. Get a job and stick to it; marry and have a family; get a home and live a solid, predictable life; and, importantly, if you have areas within yourself that confuse or trouble you, don't talk about or reveal these because you will be seen as weak and of no account. Mental illness or emotional problems that might indicate that spectre can only bring shame and stigma to an individual or a family.

Coming into adulthood in the 1960s we lived a quite different reality. The economy was booming and jobs were readily available. Access to higher education gave a forum to explore other values, discourses and options than those we had absorbed from our parents. It was no longer necessary nor particularly valued to keep one's personal conflicts to oneself. Those of us fortunate enough to share our troubles with someone already connected with or knowledgable about the work being done by a cetain Mrs Smith on Admiral Road, soon found our way to her door and into what became the community of Therafields.

To be sure many if not most of our contemporaries did not take that particular direction. Some followed along the lines encouraged by their parents' lives and values, putting their own particular spin on those values. Others found different ways, for example, in political activity, to forge paths reflecting the spirit of the era. I came to see Lea in the summer of 1966 after talking with Stan Kutz, then Father Stan Kutz of the Newman Centre, U of Toronto, because I knew that I needed help. In February of the previous year I had left the order of The Religious Hospitalers of St Joseph, a primarily nursing order of Sisters who ran Hotel Dieu hospitals in Montreal, Kingston, St Catherines, Windsor and other places in Canada and the USA. I had decide five months before that date not to renew my temporary vows when they came due in February but was intensely conflicted about my decision. With other young professed sisters I was living in Ottawa in a small section of the Grey Nuns convent and going out to study at the University of Ottawa. My superior arranged for me to seek counsel with a priest from the university. Rather than trying to convince me that I was wrong to abandon religious life, this priest encouraged me to talk about my reasons for entering the convent and about my desire to leave. He intuited and questioned me about my personal history and issues and helped me to begin dimly to understand that my entering religious life was less an embrace of a vocation and more a solution to problems that I had with sexuality and intimacy. The conversations that I had with him allowed me the freedom to move on to the next stage of my life as a twenty-five year old woman living in Toronto completing my degree in history.

That period was liberating and satisfying in some ways but not in others. On leaving the convent I entertained the fantasy that I would soon meet and marry some lovely fellow and have a family. After more than a year in Toronto I had to acknowledge to myself that I was lonely in ways that I did not know how to deal with. I could see that the men with whom I spent time tended to be rather immature, not people that I was able to take seriously. On the other hand I found more mature men intimidating and would avoid connectioning with them. I also had trouble making friends with women, a fact I realized had always been true. In nurses training in Kingston I bonded with women that I shared the "trenches" of hospital ward duty with, then a much more physically demanding job than in the present. In the convent I also bonded with my novitiate-mates and with some of those with whom I studied in Ottawa. In both settings we lived in shared accomodations and many aspects of our lives were commnunal. Living in a small apartment in Toronto and taking classes with people several years younger than myself did not help me to find people who could understand and like me.

Faced with a realisation that the sexual and intimacy issues discussed with my counsellor in Ottawa were probably connected to my current unhappiness, I decided to seek help. I turned, naturally enough, to a priest. When I met with Stan at the Newman Centre, I told him all of the above and asked him rather tremulously if he thought that I needed to see a psychiatrist. At that time, in 1966, I knew of no other avenues for help with personal or emotional problems. But the idea of seeking psychiatric care deeply frightened me. During my year and a half at the Hotel Dieu in Kingston I had spent three months as a student affiliate at what was then called The Kingston Mental Hospital. The things that I saw and experienced there both interested and appalled me. Options for patients then being treated were limited: elecro-shock treatment, insulin shock therapy, and psycho-tropic drugs that left them in unreachable states. Invisible lines clearly demarked who were "patients" and who were not. Patients were the "Other," the scarey ones who stirred our own doubts or fears about the stability of our own mental health. The idea of falling into that group was profoundly threatening. To my relief Stan said that he didn't think that I needed psychiatric help. He told me about a lady on Admiral Road who was doing very good therapy with people, much of it in groups. He thought that I could benefit from that work and encouraged me to call her. I was really excited about this possiblity. I was interested in psychology, though I had read and studied little at that point. The idea of meeting others with similar interests was very appealing and even a fantasy snuck into my mind that in her group I might find some good fellow to marry.

In my next blog I will write about meeting with Lea and my early connections with her.

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