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Today's Story by Gloria Garfunkel

The Relativity of Therapeutic Time

Clocks have special meaning for psychotherapists and their patients, not only setting limits about the end of one session, and beginning of another, but resolving contentious claims on the parts of various patients that, no, they weren’t late, my clock is fast and no, the session isn’t over, my clock is fast. They never accuse me of a slow clock.  Some berate the clinic for our forty minute policy when they claim that everywhere else fifty is standard (which is true. We are cheapskates).

I tell them it’s how hard they work between the sessions that count, but they are certainly welcome to seek treatment in one of those more wonderful clinics. Or, they can stay with me and just talk really fast. I tell them I have excellent training and many years of experience that add density to the shorter time compared to the shallowness of seeing a less experienced therapist for more time.

There is also no small talk whatsoever in my therapy sessions. We never mention the weather. Or the full moon. Or how my many office plants are doing (which is relevant since I never water them when depressed.) All of this fast talk ensures that I see a different patient every forty-five minutes back-to-back all day leaving me at the end like a rag doll at a dance marathon.

To be fair to patients, the passage of time does vary in the course of a therapy session by nature of the hypnotic trances people naturally go into in therapy. Recollections of childhood memories that stretch out for twenty minutes go by like a flash.  Panic attacks seem to last forever. So do sessions with a mute adolescent. Time is constantly moving faster and slower. A patient can never keep track of time on her own.

Every clock in our clinic shows a different time, probably due to the constant negotiations about time on the parts of patients and their mental health providers. I have found a solution: a website that will display an analog (or digital clock) automatically set to your geographical location. There are many styles to choose from and all give precisely the same time, ticking away on the computer screen just left of my head as the session progresses in perfect rhythm within objectively correct time.


Gloria Garfunkel is a psychologist with a Ph.D. from Harvard University and numerous publications in online flash fiction journals.


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