In Session

The clock behind Dr. Selby’s head seemed to move in slow motion. Every appointment started out the same way – he’d ask how I felt, I’d tell him some variation of “fine”, and then complain about something trivial that could be solved with medication or different parents. 

By the 50th minute of our sessions, we’d reach a point where he’d start reciting things he’d like to discuss for next time and I’d nod as he delivered a profound observation about the way my brain worked. Maybe it was because he waited to state these observations until the clock was running out, but it always rubbed me the wrong way. It felt performative. Like he was trying to cosplay as a therapist and I should just go along with it because maybe this was the “work” that everyone always talks about. 

I know he’d never admit it, but he felt the awkwardness too. It was like a bad first date that didn’t want to admit that the date was bad so they order dessert even though you rendered your verdict of each other during the appetizer. 

Whenever the session was over, Dr. Selby would smile politely, stand, and say “Until next time.” 

There were times I left and could think of nothing other than the $124 I had just spent. If my life depended on it, I don’t think I’d be able to tell you one critical topic we discussed. I’m not saying you’ve got to be friends with your therapist –– in fact, I hope you’re not. I guess I just assumed it would be more like the movies where we’d have a playfully bombastic rapport and he’d always call me on my shit and talk to me more like a friend than a doctor. He’d know me inside and out and after unearthing some traumas, I’d be instantly “healed” and emotionally ready to take on the world again. 

I have spent $9,000 with Dr. Selby and found no such luck. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad doctor. It’s far more likely a reflection of my shortcomings as a patient. I knew this, but still, I resented him. I resented the cliche box of tissues he kept on the table in his office, I resented the framed posters and the bookcase and the way that the clock on his wall made a tiny ticking noise that was amplified every time we hit an awkward silence. Most of all, I resented myself. Why couldn’t I do this? Was I doing therapy wrong? Was it him? Was it me? 

Eventually, I dreaded going to that office so much that I stopped going altogether –– which admittedly, wasn’t the smartest of ideas. It turns out, good or bad, therapy in its simplest form provides a much-needed outlet to release the build-up of shit in your head. When that outlet disappears, you become more full of shit and therefore more likely to do shitty things that make you feel shittier, thus continuing the cycle. It’s emotional constipation. 

Suffice it to say, that it was only a matter of time before I picked up the phone and scheduled another appointment for the following week. But when I exited the elevator doors and arrived at the same office I had been attending twice a month for the last three years, the doors were locked. I peered through the glass to find Dr. Selby’s office space, bare and deserted, not even the Kleenex box remained. I glanced at the suite number to make sure I had the right floor and then headed back downstairs to make sure I had the right building. A large round man in a raincoat sat on the steps smoking a cigarette. He must have seen me scurrying around.

“You one of Selby’s patients?” he asked. 

“Yes,” I replied. “Do you know if he’s moved buildings or if his office is under renovation or something? It’s been a while since I’ve been here and I’m late for our appointment.”

“No,” he said as he took a long drag of his cigarette. “He’s dead.” 

I was taken aback by the news and hurried up to him. “Wait-he’s dead?” I replied. “How do you know that?”

“I was late for an appointment same as you. Got the email an hour ago from his secretary.”

“But I just made an appointment last week!”

“I don’t know what to tell ya pal. Take a look if you don’t believe me.”

The burly man held out his phone for me to read. 

“...We regret to inform you that Dr. Selby passed last Thursday after succumbing to self-inflicted injuries. The family thanks you for your condolences and asks for privacy at this time. Any billing issues can be addressed with your insurance…”

I read the email three times. “Self-inflicted?” I asked aloud.


“So he…”


“But my therapist–our therapist?”


I don’t know why it was so hard to believe but the words took some time to set in. It felt incongruent. Like finding out that the great and powerful Oz was just a man behind the curtain, or that your AA sponsor was moonlighting as a bartender. 

I sat down next to the man on the steps. 

“Well, fuck man,” I sighed. The man offered me a cigarette and I accepted, conveniently forgetting that I don’t smoke. 

“Jimmy,” he said as he held out his hand.

We sat on those steps in silence dragging our cigarettes until Jimmy rose and tossed his butt on the ground.

“So listen, I’m no good at – well, this mopey shit. You wanna grab a drink?”

He spoke with this thick city accent that added a layer of practicality to his tone. And that’s how I found myself sitting at a poorly lit bar in the middle of the afternoon on a Monday, sipping straight whiskey with a stranger bonded only by the fact that we divulged our secrets to the same dead man.

Jim raised his glass. “To Dr. Selby.” We cheersed our glasses and tossed back a round and Jim quickly signaled for another. 

“So how long were you a patient of Dr. Selby?” I inquired.

“About 2 years I think,” he answered while looking into his glass. “How about you?”

“About the same.”

I winced as I sipped on the room temperature whiskey.

“What made you want to go to therapy?” I asked before quickly apologizing. “Sorry, that was nosy, you don’t need to tell me that.”

Jim waived me off.

“No, it’s alright. I was working through some anger issues. What d’you call it- a ‘short fuse’ the doc would always say.” 

“And he helped you with that?”

Jim shrugged. “I guess,” he said as he gulped down another drink. “How about you?” 

“My wife and I got divorced and I was in a pretty bad place. Figured it couldn’t hurt.”

Jim nodded along as I spoke. “Did he help you with that?”

I shrugged just as Jim had. “I guess,” I replied. The bartender poured another round and we each sipped it staring blankly ahead in our barstools. Perhaps it was the liquid courage, but I finally spun to face Jim.

“You know what I can’t figure out? I don’t know whether or not he was a good therapist or if he was just a therapist, you know?”

Jim stared back at me for what felt like an eternity before cracking a smile.

“Yeah, I know. People always talk about these big ‘breakthroughs’ but I don’t know about all that.”

“Exactly! I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead but I don’t remember ever feeling that way after a session. I guess I always thought that maybe I was more broken or something.”

“Not any more than the rest of us.” Jim said with a smile.

I sipped on my drink until nothing was left and stumbled to my feet. I pulled out my wallet and fumbled for some cash, but Jim waived me off.

“Put that away. It’s on me.” He threw a wad of cash down on the counter. I thanked him as I put on my coat but turned back towards him before leaving.

“Hey listen, I don’t know if you’d ever want to – or if you ever need to– I don’t know–”

Jim just nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “I’ll be around.” We shook hands and I turned to leave.

“Until next time!” he called out to me.

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