By Tim Stevens
Matthew Murdock is an adult male in excellent physical shape. His speech patterns belie upbringing in Hell’s Kitchen as well as his extensive education. His body language, similarly, is an unusual mix of both the refinement he needed to “survive” at the prestigious colleges he attended while achieving his law degree and the carriage of someone used to be bullied as a child until he reached an age, size, or disposition that allowed him to respond in kind.
While the client can legally act as a trial attorney, he has made the decision, for at least the time being, not to do so as he feels his presence in the courtroom carries too much baggage to be an aid to those who hire him. Instead, he and his law partner Franklin “Foggy” Nelson have begun a legal consultation firm in which they focus on teaching people how to represent themselves.
In session, the contrast between Murdock now versus when he first visited this writer—following the ending of his marriage—is undeniably startling. During the previous therapeutic relationship, the client was, more often than not, angry, moody, and depressed. He was consumed by self blaming behaviors for the loss of his marriage and a brief extramarital relationship with a co-worker and friend. While he attended sessions at the scheduled times, he rarely seemed committed or cooperative.
Now, on the surface, the client is bright, silly, and more prone to laughter and humor than self admonishment and hair trigger anger. Despite what was once an ever-worsening view of himself and the world around him, he now seems at ease. It is remarkable.
This writer urges caution in accepting the as the client’s new “here to stay” disposition, though. In the same way his former experience of emotions and expectations represented an inability to engage in negative feelings in any way beyond striking out at others or psychologically and emotionally abusing himself, his seeming downright denial of his negative feelings now can be an unhealthy reaction pattern.
Yes, it is the goal of therapy to restore someone to a place where they are capable to look at their errors and learn from them without judging themselves. However, this should be a realistic, honest, and stable development. In the case of the client, this writer cannot help but feel as though his “new attitude” is just another form of avoidance. He has traded one unhelpful set of coping mechanisms for another. Then, it was withdrawal and violence; now it is refusal to engage nearly anything seriously.
The client does not find validity in these observations. He asserts that he hit rock bottom and had no choice but to radically alter the way he viewed himself and interacted with the world. The new bright mood is not evasion or denial, according to him, but rather a concerted effort to leave behind the pain that has undermined him so many times.
There is nothing productive that can come from trying to “convince” a client that he or she is not, in fact, as happy, excited, content, etc. as he or she insists they are and so, for now, this writer is allowing the issue to go fallow. However, it remains something important to keep an eye on as, if it is a form of denial it seems unlikely he will be able to maintain the presentation long term. When he loses control of it, the emotions and memories he has been suppressing and ignoring could prove very literally overwhelming to his psyche.
For now, however, this writer is allowing Murdock some level of autonomy in guiding the session to subjects and concerns he is willing to discuss so as to build therapist-client rapport.
Matthew Murdock’s next session is scheduled for April 25 with Doctors Mark Waid and Marco Checchetto. Please review it in file DAREDEVIL #11.
Psy D candidate Tim Stevens, MA is a practicum trainee at a community mental health facility with individuals with extensive trauma histories.