Bob’s journey into psychotherapy began with what can only be described as an epiphany. He writes:
One day in Ann Arbor, at the end of a work day, I walked to my car in an underground parking garage that was directly across the street from my office. As I walked down the damp dimly lit ramp, I began thinking about Aaron (our first born son), his needs and demands and my inability to cope. I thought about Ellen and her uncertainty about mothering. I wanted to be a father who could take care of his son—guide his son. I wanted to be a different kind of person. And I could not! Ellen could not! Nonetheless I was responsible for him in every way. He was mine! And I lamented to myself: “My son! My little boy! What am I going to do?”
I began to cry in disappointment at myself, quietly at first, astonished! This was something I had not done for thirty years! I started to shiver, then sob uncontrollably as the images of my son, my wife, my responsibility, my inability and what I wanted flashed through my mind at the speed of thought. There I was, standing alone by my car, trembling and sobbing, as images emerged and disappeared and emerged again—intense, clear, unmistakable, undeniable. This cannot go on! I need help! I need help!
Perhaps it is fortunate that the realizations that we have about ourselves don’t usually come in a format as dramatic as Bob’s. More often they are gradual insights that accumulate—based on comments from people who matter to us or how we cope with tough situations or even, how we define what is tough. What is impossible for you may be a piece of cake to someone else. But when we find ourselves climbing a mountain every day or as my mother use to say (frequently) “Up S___ Creek without any oars,” we need to stop and evaluate both the situation and ourselves. If we are hurting someone else, either emotionally, or (God forbid) physically, we need to take stock. Then we need to take the next step which is, in many ways, the most difficult step of all. We must look at ourselves with compassion. It would be as if we were a friend or advisor to another person who was struggling to cope. We would probably not berate that person but would encourage him or her to get help. So it is when we seek help for ourselves. We look in the mirror and see a person who is hurting—someone who is behaving in ways that we don’t like. But somehow we understand—and this is the hard part—that that person in the mirror wants to be different.
Courage and compassion for ourselves: they are necessary components of deep personal change. Fortunately Bob had both. A lesser man would have bailed! He began searching for help and he found it.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.