What a Retired Commercial Fishermen Taught Me About Therapy – Without Even Knowing It

March 23, 2017

I’m often asked by friends what happens during a therapy session. How does it work? My response: “Nothing and everything at the same time.” My experience in therapy is that insights slowly emerge over time and don’t always happen during a session. Sometimes you just sit and talk, but every once in a while, something comes to you and you understand why you’re there, why you’ve committed to the process.

Often during a session, I look out the window, daydream into a cheaply framed painting or get distracted by one of the five clocks that my therapist has strategically placed around the room. I’m frustrated that I’m out of things to say. I’m sick and tired of myself. I feel like we are consistently chewing over on the same old topics. I’m genuinely pissed off by the passive, almost sleepy, approach of my therapist. He is just sitting there, waiting for me to push the conversation forward. For what am I paying him? Why am I here? I look at the door and I see myself putting on my hat, picking up my coat, and getting up to leave without saying anything. Of course, I don’t.

After kicking this ball of frustration and monotony around the room, my subconscious and I work with each other and connect. The haze of my exasperation retreats. As I talk, I make a connection between some of the coping habits that I’ve formed over the years to the stubborn way that I behave in certain situations that often don’t work out well. It’s a genuine insight, and I’m dumfounded by how profound, yet simple it is. It’s a subtle, but real payoff for the many minutes, hours, days, months of “doing the work” with a professional therapist.

OK, here is where the fishing comes in.

I don’t go fishing regularly, but I’ve caught a bunch of bluefish and the occasional 40+ inch striped bass. (Pardon the brag.) Much of it thanks to the guidance of my Uncle Will, a retired commercial fisherman. Like therapy, fishing sometimes requires several hours with no apparent payoff. However, you keep at it, change your bait, or switch in positions on the boat. If that doesn’t work, my uncle tells us to pull up the lines and we move to another spot he knows and throw the lines back out there.

The catch of the day’s trip is never guaranteed, nor is a productive/insightful session on the couch guaranteed when you walk in the therapist’s office. But if you keep going out there, continue to do the work, and adapt when necessary, it will eventually pay off. It’s a waiting game, but I promise that persistence will pay off in the end.