* Victoria's real name has been changed for confidentiality's sake.
Victoria, a woman in her sixties, came for group psychotherapy with me many years ago. She impressed me immediately as a warm, creative, intelligent woman, but she was also confused, frightened and unhappy.
Victoria had an individual therapist (a psychiatrist, a therapist with a medical degree). She had been working with him for 15 years.
In exploring her past history, I learned that she came from a theatrical family which had emigrated from Europe. Her family was eccentric and dysfunctional, but stimulating and exciting. As a young woman she was also involved in show business (as a dancer) but her husband talked her into giving up her career and going into teaching. Although she had never really enjoyed being a teacher, it gave her some sense of being independent and worthwhile. She described her husband as controlling, rigid and leading a very ordered life that didn't fit her. She obviously felt squelched by him. She was now getting close to retirement and was afraid that she would then be completely under her husband's thumb. He was already retired and she dreaded being around the house with him everyday. She felt inadequate and confused, and lacked self-confidence about taking steps that were contrary to her husband's wishes.
As part of the evaluation about how she would do in our therapy group, I contacted her psychiatrist to talk with him. I began to realize part of the reason she felt so depressed and hopeless. His view of her was similar to her husband's. Both thought of her as a childish, inadequate, flighty person who needed a lot of guidance and direction. He also had her on psychotropic medication. It became clear that, rather than supporting Victoria's creative, expansive strivings, he was conveying to her the idea that she couldn't trust herself, that her creativity was not to be taken seriously.
Victoria started the therapy group and soon became very involved in it. She thrived on the support, admiration and warmth she experienced from the other people, and quickly became one of the more active members. She worked very hard and very creatively on her problems, gave good feedback to the other people in the group, and made rapid progress. She began to realize that she had a lot more on the ball than her husband and her psychiatrist gave her credit for. Feeling more sure of herself, she began to disagree with both the psychiatrist and her husband about how she should lead her life after retirement. She made some attempts to get her husband into couple's therapy to work on their differences, but he didn't feel that he had anything to do with their marital difficulties. She finally decided to stop the medication, left her husband and the psychiatrist, and started to get involved in a theatre group. It was the first acting she had done in years, and she thoroughly loved it. At this point she didn't feel she needed any more therapy. Tearfully, and with a great deal of warmth from the group, she left therapy.
A couple of years later I was delighted to run into Victoria at a supermarket in Hollywood. She told me she was having a blast and really enjoying her life for the very first time.
I learned that she had obtained a part in a play that was a huge success in Los Angeles. She enjoyed being seen fondly as the grandma of the younger actors in the play, and had moved to an upscale apartment near Hollywood. She'd even made some TV commercials.
The memory of Victoria has always stayed with me as a lesson about how important it is to have the right therapist--someone who can support the growth, creativity, and expansiveness of their clients when that is what is needed.