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Emails to my Therapist

What My Psychotherapist Wrote About Me


What my psychotherapist wrote about meDear Nicholas, Thanks for the sneak peek at my whole adult life. It was a rare and enlightening opportunity–turning through the notes you made in our sessions from when I was twenty-four to when I hit sixty-four. “What my psychotherapist wrote about me” is not something I ever expected to read. Reading these notes was a good and emotionally intense experience.

Searching for Religious Experience I Forgot

The reason I asked to see these files was book research. The biography of a mystic I’m working on is now partly my own spiritual memoir. Searching my memory in this process, I’d come to feel that there was an important spiritual experience in my past that I’d forgotten.

I knew I had told you about whatever such experiences I’d had over the years. I did remember a time in my life that seemed  livelier than usual with spiritual adventure when you said, “You are writing all this down, aren’t you?” My thought at the time was: how could I possibly forget?

Seems I forgot.

I did find several hand-scrawled lines that helped jog my memory a little. Also, the notes indicated I had an anti-religion period that I don’t remember at all. All fodder for the book. And quickly put aside as I read about the rest of my life.

Can you read this for me?

On the Edge of My Chair

On first sitting down with the tall stack of folders, I was excited and unsettled. The feeling reminded me of a lead to a travel story I wrote decades ago. “When a Baptist from Eastern North Carolina stands between two suitcases at the arched door of a Roman convent, it’s a moment of some mystery and suspense.”I had a similar feeling as I faced those green file folders: mystery and suspense.

The Initial Surprise

You were so professional and clinical and terse, left out everything personal, Not a word about my sterling character, staggering beauty, or relentless charm. I think you used the pronoun “me” about yourself only twice in the whole forty years, one of those being December of 1985: “Gave me a pen as a gift.” The rest of the time you were NES, as in “Mad at NES after last session.” And I was pt (presumably meaning patient) or the Greek letter theta, θ.

I was relieved to find no juicy confessional material.

Hilariously Objective

Seeing one’s self summed up is inevitably funny. At 44, I was “well-nourished” and “looking somewhat younger than (my) stated age.”

A Second Surprise: the Diagnosis

You referred a couple of times to my having “severe OCD with recurrent depressions.”  You’ve always referred to my OCD as mild in talking with me. Maybe in recent years, you’ve changed your mind.

I’ve always put it in the moderate column myself.

Certainly it’s mild now that I have medication.

The Marriage Miracle

Given some of the “issues” I started out with, it’s a miracle I’ve wound up happily married. Perhaps not surprising that I married a psychotherapist with a few interesting quirks of his own.

A High Speed Ride

Reading the major events of my life in a mere five hours was quite a rush. Made me think of the “life flashed in front of me” phenomenon that people in life-threatening danger often report. I was emotionally spent when I finished.


My hang-gliding experience wasn’t “life-risking” behavior. I sailed off a dune, not a mountain, and the equipment kept me from directly hitting the ground when I crashed.  Worst case was a strong jolt, no injuries.

Thank you!

You clearly did a lot of work on my behalf. The pile was tall, four hefty files. And the drug adjustments were many more than I’d remembered; the record-keeping on all that was huge. “What my psychotherapist wrote about me” is a book in itself. And it wasn’t even a lot of sessions, on average one or two a year.

Most important, what we’ve done together over all these years has worked.  I feel wonderful! I was tempted to add a note to that effect to your files.

With love and gratitude,


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  • June 10, 2019 at 6:47 pm Reply

    What a nice and intense experience. I think you told me you went for 1 or 2 sessions about yearly, and that the tall stack of folders included your 4 book manuscripts – all the revisions?
    And you sure got a lot from those intermittent sessions. I’ll be interested in how you integrate these supplemented and revised memories into the spiritual biography/memoir you’re workin’ on now.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 10, 2019 at 6:56 pm Reply

      The book manuscripts were yet another stack, Bob. When the files were first taken out of storage, I was told that they were three feet tall. I was relieved that at least two of those feet were manuscripts and published clips and not all notes about me. I’ve also made a couple of additions to the post since you read it; one in particular might interest you.

  • June 10, 2019 at 9:25 pm Reply

    Yes, I was surprised and pleased to see the 2 changes you note. Surprised that you added our relationship to your post, tho that fits well in the context of your post – and not surprised at how you described our marriage as “happily”. It’s sure true, and the best thing I’ve ever done – to me, surprisingly happy, considering my two previous marriages. Crucial for me has been your not trying to get me to be someone I’m not, and not insisting on my behaving differently about major decisions. I sure know accepting me as I am, with all my personal quirks and limitations, and ADHD, and loving me so much and so well has been the highlight and treasure of my life. Thank you for being you.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 11, 2019 at 2:11 am Reply

      Wow, Bob! This is a print-out-and-keep-forever comment. More on this later offline.

  • Kenju
    June 11, 2019 at 12:09 pm Reply

    One can only hope that every husband writes so glowingly about his wife. I doubt mine would.

    I have no experience with a psycotherapist, although I have always wanted to explore my psyche – and at the same time – I would be afraid of what they might find. Good for you for staying with it!

    • Peggy Payne
      June 11, 2019 at 1:38 pm Reply

      Bob is a pretty amazing guy, Kenju. I’ve found psychotherapy both fascinating and necessary– a tremendous help. And it hasn’t taken very much.

      • RonPerk
        June 11, 2019 at 5:49 pm Reply

        Peggy- Not meant to be flippant or sarcastic, but other than prescribing medically justified and appropriate drugs, and keeping a record of what you told him, what did NES provide. I agree that having such a record is invaluable, but anyone could have been your Pepys. It’s what he told you that seems to be his value.

        • Peggy Payne
          June 11, 2019 at 6:39 pm Reply

          Oh, boy, I don’t know how to begin to explain psychotherapy, RonPerk. But it’s not mainly what the therapist advises. For me, it’s more of a process of getting insight and arriving at change through the experience of a skillfully managed relationship, a sort of laboratory that casual conversation doesn’t provide. Also, I made some discoveries and some changes through guided hypnotic induction. Both Nicholas and my husband Bob use hypnosis as a clinical tool. In my experience, it’s powerful stuff. Good question, RonPerk, made me think and I’m not altogether satisfied with my answer.

        • June 13, 2019 at 8:06 pm Reply

          Therapy outcome research is Very difficult to do well, and a great deal has been done well about the healing factors in therapy, especially group therapy, which is usually equally or more effective &/or efficient than individual therapy. While anyone, especially a close friend, can listen supportively, some important and facilitative aspects of therapy are hard or impossible to get from a friend. Advise from others is rarely based on knowing the other deeply enough to offer options that are accepted and effective, and folks often interpret unrequested advise as undesireable, or even hostility.
          Some things therapy can offer that friendship usually doesn’t are absolute confidentiality, corrective recapitulation of dysfunctional early family relationships and expectations/patterns of relating to others, use of videotaped sessions for reflective review, and reliable opportunity & expectation of working safely through major /important differences and difficulties in personal values.
          Friendships are Really important in getting through life’s inevitible losses and pains. And a relationship with an experienced, skilled, trustworthy and relatively objective person can be experientially invaluable for the personal growth and development many people want or need.

          • Peggy Payne
            June 13, 2019 at 10:25 pm Reply

            No surprise that you explained it about 100 per cent better than my attempt, Bob.

            • June 13, 2019 at 10:57 pm Reply

              I sure oughtta be able to do that. And see comments w/o having to comment again.

  • June 11, 2019 at 2:38 pm Reply

    What a gift to have this record of your life. The continuity is amazing. I knew you had seen hm for years but now that you describe the experience as contained in a stack of green files – it’s kind of mind boggling. And, as you say, something to read with gratitude. Thanks for telling this

    • Peggy Payne
      June 11, 2019 at 3:03 pm Reply

      It is truly a gift, Randee, mainly the relationship but also the continuous record. The files stopped five years ago when he retired from psychiatry, but he still does “counseling” and so my once-a-year sessions continue. And then there’s this conversation which I also value.

  • June 11, 2019 at 5:01 pm Reply

    It’s interesting how we often don’t see ourselves as others, especially psychotherapists, see us. One way my therapist has helped me in the past year is by asking me how I would view another person who’s done some of the things I’ve done. It’s been eye-opening, to say the least.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 11, 2019 at 5:15 pm Reply

      What a great technique, Sally! I’m adopting it. Thanks.

  • Robert Braxton
    June 11, 2019 at 9:22 pm Reply

    For seven years, once a week – with a graduate of Duke – in the end he had the audacity to die on me, no forewarning. Oh well. Most I got may be weight gain – and a right to my “position”

    • Peggy Payne
      June 11, 2019 at 9:29 pm Reply

      That would be an awful loss for me, Bob. Not sure I get what you mean by a right to your position.

  • Robert Braxton
    June 12, 2019 at 5:44 pm Reply

    the useful heart of: ” Remember that you have the right to your position and that you do not have to justify or rationalize it! “

    • Peggy Payne
      June 12, 2019 at 5:47 pm Reply

      Thanks, Bob!

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