Sydney McCall Patel
Therapy: Moving Out of Shallow Waters
Updated: Feb 17
by Sydney McCall Patel, Marriage and Family Therapist, Marin County, California
Every Wednesday I would collapse on her soft linen couch and observe myself melting into different states of being. States that were particular to therapy, where I didn’t have to hold anything back, where I could selfishly focus on my world and travel wherever I wanted to go. Together, there was no concealing of what was perhaps ugly or scary, what I had learned to hide from others, myself. And even though I cared about her, my job wasn’t to actively take care of her. In that way, this relationship was unique and totally liberating. Nevertheless, in the beginning the only part I wanted her to see of me was the part that was impressive, that knew how to navigate the world. I told her versions of stories that confirmed this side of me. It was the positive cushion I needed in order to dive into deeper waters, to explore the parts inside that were shaky, even terrified.
Once the impressive part of me had been celebrated I could invite the real party, the party of conflicting thoughts and intense feelings that I lived with and on certain days caused a lot of noise. Together we moved deeper as we began to tread in confusion, ambivalence, fear. At the time I was upset and confused about my career path as a healer. I didn’t understand how being a healer could be a career. It seemed antithetical. She would slow me down and support me to stay with the confusion. I would learn to sit with it, get to know it, feel it in my body. In this process of quiet investigation, I was able to get in touch with my resistance to being a therapist. I accessed the part of me that didn’t want to do this work at all. I feared stepping into the darkness and desperately envied what I perceived as the light. I even thought about leaving picking up and moving to LA and doing something in the entertainment industry.
From this place of honest acknowledgment, I could explore who I really wanted to become. It turned out a big part of me still passionately wanted to be a healer, but I also
needed something else. Soon it became evident that writing was the light I sought. It was the vehicle I needed to process the trauma I encountered as a healer, it would become my vehicle to integrate the darkness.
On an existential level, since I was little, I held insurmountable grief about the traumatic fabric of life; that we live and we die, and we cannot evade losing those we love. The young sorrow that would come forward in our therapeutic relationship would at times leave me unhinged. I would have to end the session by walking around outside looking at the details in the bark and leaves of the trees to ground myself. It certainly didn’t always feel good, and sometimes I would question if it was helpful. I learned to bring these questions directly to her. In fact, I learned to bring all of my frustrations to her.
Determined not to caretake, I developed one of the most truthful relationships I have known. I didn’t let unresolved feelings fester — being direct became my religion. I would let her know when she drank from her water bottle, and her focus would stray from me, that it was upsetting. Each time she welcomed my complaints, my anger and directness, and invited more of it.
It’s not every day we get to be in a lopsided relationship that exists solely to help us grow. As a therapist it gives me so much joy to be on the other side of it. That together we get to invite truth out of the closet and bring ALL of it’s parts to the table. And in that closet, somewhere, exists my clients’ feelings about our work together. I try to invite such honesty as much as possible, because when we speak truth, I know we have finally broken out of the shackles of having to be liked or seen as impressive. This allows for a powerful level of contact that I personally find very invigorating. From what I’ve experienced in this life, the gift of a space where directness and transparency are encouraged, is one of the biggest gifts I’ve been able to receive, and with great pleasure, I have also learned how to give.
I’m moved that in my work I get to foster a holding that allows for such freedom, the courage to be open about what’s alive inside of us. This is meaningful for me as it cuts through the at-times dull social superficialities in this world. And I believe this freedom is helpful to my clients, if or when they are ready for it. It’s a gift that can be carried over into the intimate relationships in their lives, albeit perhaps a more censored version. I trust in the form of healing that is at the heart of this level of transparency. In my experience, a profound safety is built when we can express ourselves without restraint. I think when we are free to do this, the intimacy between us can hold anything.