Jul/Aug 2002  •   Fiction

How to Get Over Therapy

by Sara Penrod

Art by Bob Dornborg

Art by Bob Dornborg

Before your appointment, complain to your best friend about it. Tell her you don't want to go to that stupid psycho and whine about how your mother is crazy—not you—for forcing you to go.

When your mother comes to pick you up after school, drop your backpack in the trunk loudly. Slam the car door and slump sullenly in your seat. Make sure to keep your arms crossed across your chest. When she asks how your day was, shrug, say "Okay," and refuse to elaborate.

When you get to the psychologist's office, sit on the edge of the chair in the waiting room so everyone knows you don't want to be there. Pick up an outdated copy of Time or Newsweek, but then put it back down—you don't want the psychologist to think you're concerned with recent events. Pick up an obscure science journal you've never heard of and pretend you understand the articles about the replication of amino acids and how a couple of scientists artificially produced a fifth state of matter (solid, liquid, gas, plasma, and this new stuff) for a total of 2.7 seconds by directing an extremely fine laser beam through a stream of gas.

When the psychologist emerges from his office, pretend not to notice. Continue to try deciphering scientific jargon but glance covertly at him over the top of your magazine. When he says your name, slowly close the magazine and put it back on the table. Then look up at him like he's from a different planet.

Follow him into his office and sit down when he tells you to have a seat. Be sure to sit on the edge of the chair as usual. The black leather will squeak, and you will want to relax. Don't. You don't want to make him think you're getting comfortable with him or his office.

He will ask how you're doing, what's going on. If you must answer him, for God's sake don't tell the truth; you'll both know you're lying, and that's okay. Better yet, don't answer. Shrug and mutter, "I dunno" so he can barely understand. If he presses the question, continue to evade answering. He will then resort to the silent treatment to try and intimidate you into talking. Obviously, don't let him out-silence you. While you sit, jiggle your foot and think about how juvenile it is for a 40-something psychologist to be using the silent treatment. Stare out the window at the gray cat prowling along the side of the vintage clothing shop next door.

After ten minutes, he will get impatient. He'll say, "I don't think this is what you want to get out of therapy." Consider telling him: I don't want to get anything out of therapy, I don't need therapy, especially from some nerd like you, so leave me alone, thank you very much. Don't, of course, say anything. Just shrug.

He will lean forward in his chair and say, "What do you want to get out of coming to therapy?"

You'll want to laugh at how cliché he sounds; imagine him with a Sigmund Freud mustache, smoking a cigar. But don't even allow yourself to smile.

He'll say, "Your mother says you're depressed."

Say, "My mother says a lot of things." When he asks what you mean by that, ignore him. Stare up at the drop ceiling and attempt to count the dots on one tile. When you lose your count, notice the silhouette of a dead cockroach in his fluorescent light.

He will attempt to use the silent treatment on you again. Think of how your mother always tells you, "If you try something once and it doesn't work, you're only wasting your time if you keep on doing it." Don't share this thought with the psychologist. Instead, scrutinize his office. Pretend you are a detective examining it after he has been murdered (Don't ever tell anyone else you pretend like this, though; they'll think you're childish and stupid).

Try to read the newspaper article framed and hung on the opposite wall, the one with him standing among a bunch of bonsai trees. Squint at it over his head. Try and figure out if someone could be killed with a bonsai—clubbed in the head with its terra cotta pot, perhaps. Settle on death by choking on a bonsai shoved down his throat—it seems like Hannibal Lecter, and you like it better anyway.

Count the plastic dinosaurs on his shelf—several T-Rexes, some diplodocuses, a couple of triceratops, and a bunch you can't identify. Remember there are 27 in all. Make a mental note to yourself that none of them fly, and try to psychoanalyze that.

Wonder what a crate of toys is doing in the corner of his office, since he doesn't do play therapy. Look at his bookshelf, and don't be surprised when you see Karl Jung's Religion and Psychology next to Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time next to a recent Danielle Steel bestseller next to the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

When you run out of things a detective might notice without getting up from this chair, resort once again to counting the holes in the ceiling. You will get to seven hundred thirty-four before the psychologist interrupts you. Jump so he thinks you've forgotten he existed.

"What are you thinking?" he'll ask.

Say, "Nothing." Swing your foot from side to side, kicking the legs of the chair. Let your ankle hit the wood hard, even if it hurts. Don't, under any circumstances, make eye contact.

He'll say, "Surely you're thinking of something."

If you're feeling particularly brash and brazen, tell him you were counting the holes in the ceiling until he interrupted and made you lose count. If not, tell him you spend most of your time thinking about not thinking. He'll frown at this and ask what you mean by that. Tell him, as usual, that you don't know.

The whole session will proceed like this—you refusing to tell him anything and him trying to extract information from you. Both of you will be happy when the clock on his desk chimes the hour.

Wait with your arms crossed while your mother makes out the check. Pretend not to notice when your little sister drives a Tonka truck over your foot. Exhale loudly when the psychologist asks your mother when would be a good time for her next appointment. Tap your foot against the taupe Berber carpet.

When your mother writes down your appointment in her date book, hurry out to the car. Don't hold the door open for your mother and sister, even though they are only a few steps behind you. Let it slam shut in their faces.

Sit in the back seat of the car. Let your sister have the front even though children twelve and under should not be allowed to sit in the front seat of a car with a passenger-side airbag. Pull your car door shut with just enough force to close it all the way. Put on your seatbelt. Think if you're going to die before you get drunk or have sex, you want to kill yourself, not give the task to some ritzy housewife whose SUV plows into your car because she's too busy talking on her cell phone and feeding the kids in the back seat to steer.

Roll down your window all the way, even if it is December and raining, so the cold wind and raindrops sting your face. It is the only way for sure you have not died and gone to hell.


When you get home, tell your mother you're not hungry for supper. Take the cordless phone out of the living room and sneak it downstairs. Go in your room and lock the door even though your mother goes ballistic every time you do that. Crouch behind the dresses in your closet and call your best friend.

When she answers, say, "God, I hate therapy." She'll know it's you.

"I know," she'll say. "Me too."

Say, "Aw," sympathetically because you know her therapist is an idiot who just gives her more and more ineffective medications to take.

She'll ask you what the psycho said. Laugh. "Nothing out of the norm. He was trying to delve into my psyche, and I sure as hell wouldn't let him. You know." Say the "delve into my psyche" part with exaggerated bravado.

"Stupid psychos." She'll say this with utmost sincerity and seriousness, even though you know most other people would find this statement ridiculous. Shrug, even though she can't see you, because this is an inside joke. Think if other people can't figure it out they don't need to know what it means.

"And this guy is such a living cliché," tell her. "He has all his diplomas framed on his wall, and he wants to dissect my mind." Think of the frogs you dissected in seventh-grade science class. "He looks like Freud with lighter hair—I'm surprised he doesn't smoke cigars and make me lie down on a couch." Force another laugh, even though this isn't funny.

She will laugh too. She is the only person who really appreciates your dark humor, and eventually—after hanging around you far too long—she will start making the same kind of jokes you do.

Tell her how ridiculous it is your mother makes you go to therapy. "I was doing just fine before she had to get involved in my life. No, I was doing better. And it's not like any of the other ones have helped—I've been to—" review their faces in your head and count them on your fingers, "four, not including this guy."

"Four?" she'll ask, incredulous. "You've been to more than me." Even your best friend will never know everything about you.

"Yep." List them. "The first time was when I was five. I was playing out in my front yard while some guy from the power company was working on the power lines. He got electrocuted. Fell down dead right in front of me, but he was still twitching."

Your friend will be unsure as to whether she should laugh or be grossed out. "Twitching?"

Say, "Yep. I guess it's from the electrical currents or something." Pause because you know you should before moving on. "The second one was when my parents got divorced, and the third one was after my mom found out my stepmother verbally abused us when we went for the summer." Say the "verbally abused" phrase with your mother's indignant tone of voice. "The fourth one was in seventh grade when I just stopped doing my schoolwork because it was all totally pointless."

"God," she'll say.

Upstairs, you'll hear your family getting up from the table. Your mother will call you to come clean up the kitchen. Tell your friend you have to go because your mother wants you. Hang up quickly, and sneak the phone back into the living room on your way to the kitchen.

After putting all the dishes in the dishwasher and all the leftovers in the refrigerator, go to bed early. Stare up at your ceiling and think of the geometry homework you haven't done. Force yourself not to care. Your dreams will be of insane psychotherapists out to kill you.