the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Defense Mechanism

“Our last meeting was so impactful, that I wrote something about it on my blog,” I told Dr. Nesmith.

“Really? What about?”

“It was about my trip home from our last session. You see, when I was coming to you last time on the train, I noticed this rusty mark on one of the seats. It didn’t mean much to me until I went home, after therapy, and I saw the mark again on the train going back to Queens. I instantly knew that I was in the exact same train, the same subway car even. What are the chances of that? It felt like a Twilight Zone moment, so I wrote a piece connecting what happened in the train with that stuff you were telling me about how therapy helps you see the patterns, and that’s how you begin to change.”

“Interesting,” he said. “Anything else happen this week?”

“Yes!” I replied, taking out a piece of paper from my pocket. “I wrote something down that I wanted to discuss with you.”

“Go ahead.”

“On New Year’s Day, I finally finished watching The Sopranos. It was a big deal to me because I’ve been watching the show for six months now, and I really got into it. Remember, I even decided to go into therapy because of the subplot about Tony Soprano and his therapist.”

“Yes, you told me that story at our first session.”

“Anyway…” I continued, “I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the show, but in the second to last episode, Tony’s therapist, played by Lorraine Bracco, is being pressured by HER therapist, played by Peter Bogdonavich, to give up on Tony Soprano’s six years of therapy, because he doesn’t believe that sociopaths are helped through talk therapy.  He thinks they just use it to rationalize their continued sociopathic behavior. At first, Tony’s therapist is angry at him for suggesting this, because she’s a true believer in talk therapy, but at the end of the episode, she finally accepts that Tony will always be a brutal gangster and never change his ways. She tells him to leave, kicking him out of therapy.”

“I remember that episode.”

“Well, is that a real thing about sociopaths and talk therapy, based on real research, or did the writers just make it up for the show?”

“I’m not sure. I’ve never had a sociopath as a patient.”

“But make believe you did. Would you continue to give talk therapy to this guy, or would you say to him, “You will never change. Even if you are beginning to see the patterns, you will just hide behind your understanding of the patterns, and never change”

“I probably would not kick this person out. I would continue on with therapy, hoping that eventually he would be able to use what we talk about to better his life.  Sociopath or not.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“This is all interesting, but you’re not a mobster, or a sociopath, are you?”


“And you realize that the Sopranos is a TV show.”


“Yet you choose to spend your time in therapy talking about a TV show rather than yourself, even writing yourself a note to remember to discuss it with me today.”

“Well, that’s not all I’ve discussed with you.   I did tell you about that story I wrote last week about seeing the patterns on the trains.”

“True.  But you never said anything about what I was expecting from the story — some insights into your own patterns.  Did the noticing of the patterns on the train make you think about yourself?  Everything you mentioned about the patterns was more like general interest, mere fodder for a generic story, than a way for personal growth. Can you tell me anything about your personal patterns — the ones you say are so important to notice?”

“Uh, well. Uh, not really. I mean, I can’t find the right words to describe them yet.”

“But you ARE able to talk a lot about patterns of a character on a TV show. You even spent your first day of your New Year wondering if talk therapy could help a fictional sociopath on TV.”

“You think I’m avoiding stuff…. like a defense mechanism?”

“At least Tony Soprano is a well-defined character. In your story, it sounds like the main thing missing… is you.”

“Are you going to kick me out of therapy now?”


  1. Veronica

    Uh yeah, there’s your pattern–getting caught up in the “idea” of something, a “talking point,” something to post and discuss on social media or to debate with yourself. I’ve noticed for a long time if I ask you a direct question about something, you change the subject or divert the answer. It’s not just that you don’t want to share the answer with me, it’s that you don’t even want to think about the question or confront the answer privately. That said, I’ve also seen tremendous progress in how you handle things too. You’ve taken some big risks and pushed out of your comfort zone time and time again. Kudos!

  2. Holly

    What are you paying all this money for therapy when you get better advice in your comments?

  3. Roxanne

    I feel like my therapist could say the same sort of thing to me.

  4. Gloriana Beausoleil

    I agree with Veronica and Holly, your co-therapists. It seems that you are very unsure of yourself and your identity (or you don’t like yourself), and you like to shift attention from you to the story that you are telling.

    How about a pattern or practice that you could try every day, like doing one thing that you know truly makes you happy (and doesn’t end up making you feel shameful later)? Could be something as easy as having a really nice five minutes of silence and breathing before you get up for the day. I wonder what some self-loving-care could do.

    And yes, I’m aware that I’m not your therapist. But I’ve met a few storytellers.

  5. Chrisor

    I’m impressed that your therapist called you out on this. Maybe she will start giving you exercises to do. It’s really hard to talk about yourself to a stranger, being honest enough to portray yourself in an unflattering light. I tried back in the late ’80’s to see a psychologist. I went to several sessions and had a terrible experience. I hope you are satistified with the progress you’re making or else I wouldn’t hesitate to keep trying others until you find one who actively takes an interst in helping you. I love that you’re writing about your sessions. I would be curious to find out a therapist’s thoughts on several tv characters but not enough to sacrifice a moment of the alotted 50 minutes.

  6. Leila

    Well, i loved this. It was real and a good story. It’s hard to look at ourselves and figure out our patterns, or coincidences or stuff that just happens (the cartoon of two ducks in a pond, one saying to the other, “well maybe you should think about what you’re doing to invite duck-shooting into your life” comes to mind), and art, including tv shows, helps to process this stuff.

  7. Rainbow Motel

    I feel better just reading about the therapy sessions of others. I hope you feel better too.

  8. Jordan

    Very brave to be going, very real stuff you shared. It all takes guts and a desire to know yourself. Having recently been through my own therapy journey, I can say there’s no better gift you can give yourself than a great, no-BS therapist. Keep at it!

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