Saturday, February 24, 2007

You Are Getting Sleepy... Very Sleepy...

My mom, for the longest time, has been disappointed with the speed and direction my psychotherapy has been going in. I've been in therapy for social anxiety disorder, on and off but mostly on, since tenth grade — since this experience, actually — so she sort of has a point about this snail's pace progress I've been supposedly making. You might think that, since it is my life that's often socially deficient, I should also be disappointed with my therapy, but the lack of progress in itself never really bothered me until I got a letter from my insurance company saying they were tired of paying for my therapy and why the hell am I not cured yet? The last thing I need is some bureaucrat at Blue Cross Blue Shield judging me, so I succumbed to my mom's incessant nagging and decided to try a different tactic. Mom suggests (i.e., wouldn't shut up about) hypnosis.

I went in for hypnotherapy yesterday afternoon and I kept reminding myself to keep an open mind, which of course meant that I wasn't keeping an open mind. Not that hypnosis isn't a documented phenomenon or that my hypnotherapist was pulling past lives or repressed memories out of my mind. There was really little to no "self-discovery," but I'm getting ahead of myself. The hypnotherapist is apparently a real doctor, a med school professor, and a small, quiet woman who speaks in a steady, low monotone. I found it really easy to get hopelessly adrift in her voice. Her office is decorated in Rorschach art, and I feel like I'm being tested.

I opened the forum explaining why I'm there and distilling seven years of talk therapy into a couple of index cards. I tried not to read straight off my notes: "I have an ingrained belief that I'll go into social situations and appear ingenuous or callow, and that belief creates a lot of anxiety and often inhibits me from doing things. When I find myself in social situations, I perform poorly, and I'm analytical and self-criticizing, which only makes me more anxious. I want to ameliorate my anxiety prior to finding myself in social situations, and I want to quiet the self-critical voices that bridle me during social situations." Now that I type that out, I can't believe I've spent seven freaking years of my life on that.

For the first half of hypnotherapy, she's profiling me, which is where I start becoming skeptical. It had this kind of Myers-Briggs feel to it, with the overly general questions leading to false dichotomies and the questionable correlation between my answers and her interpretation of them. The old standby: "When you are in a group, would you rather be in charge of the group or let other people make the decisions?" Here I point out how complicated that question really is and that its underlying assumptions may be faulty, and I'm told to just go with what comes off the top of my head. Um, "When you're learning something new, do you prefer to learn by looking at it or by touching it?" (Turns out that "both" is also a valid answer.) "Would you describe yourself as an organizer, director, balancer, [I forget what this one was], or complier?"

The second test is even hairier in my opinion. She tells me to roll my eyes towards the ceiling, then to close my eyes and answer more non-descript questions. Now I can open my eyes again, and I'm supposed to clasp my hands together. Good. Finally, she comes over really close to me. I'm sitting in this big leather armchair, kind of on the edge with my knees bent, in flight-or-fight position. She puts my left arm on the armrest and her hand on my hand. There's this big red herring spiel, the gist of which is, "When I count to three, you will lift your arm up." It's not really a stage command; she sounds more like she's making a hypothesis, like when I tap your knee with this rubber hammer, you'll reflexively jump. More talking about breathing and relaxing and energy fields flowing through me. It's very new age. (I'll buy the breathing and relaxing stuff, but "absorbing luminous energy" and crap like that totally sticks out to the physicist in me.)

Here's the interesting thing. She finally counts to three, and I'm like, "What do I do?" This might be exactly what she's looking for, it occurs to me later. I don't want to choose to raise my arm because I'd only be doing so to validate her earlier prediction and not because she hypnotized me. And I don't want to not raise my arm, because I'd just be doing that to be contrary. My dumbass solution is to raise my arm, slow and shaky, like I'm being hypnotized, which is exactly what she was looking for in the first place. Interesting experience in suggestibility.

We arrive at my star chart profile thing, which my hypnotherapist says is "very unusual." I'm shocked. said the same thing, so now it's got to be true. My eye-rolling is consistent with that of a complier (?), but my hand-clapsing indicates logical, left-brain tendencies(?) and most of my answers to the personality test questions highlight my "Apollonian" psyche (???). Whatever. Here's what I believe about how personality analysis works. I see two forces at work — the first is the actual set of experiences one has and the second is selective memory applied to those experiences, creating a narrative explaining one's role in the world. The former is what makes you miserable, and the latter is what you walk into therapy complaining about. The goal is to see how your experiences outward affect your experiences of yourself, and maybe change the filter you use to interpret the two... but again, I've been in therapy for seven years without tons of progress here.

In the second half of psychotherapy, the doctor recorded a personalized hypnotic cassette tape full of weird mixed metaphors just for me. I'm going to stop short of mocking it here because I really do want to approach this without preconceptions or bias, as much as possible anyway. I'm supposed to get comfortable and listen to it at least once a day, presumably without falling asleep mid-mantra.