He was twenty-four when he first saw the psychologist, in his second year of medical school, in the midst of a darkness that had descended without warning and left him reeling and unmoored. It was the first time he had been to therapy: He could not conceive of how it would help him and had resisted the idea for months. Relief would come, he reasoned. It always had. But it didn’t come. And from beyond the devouring darkness came an awe at the velocity of his own unraveling, and the sense that when he looked inside himself, he found only a void.
He had been given the psychologist’s name by his aunt, who had been to see him during her own crisis years before. The psychologist had a private practice in a residential neighborhood, and on the first day, the man had walked there, through the park with its quiet groves of cypress and pine. He had seen enough portrayals of therapy in movies that the office, with its empty waiting room and muted, abstract artwork, seemed almost a stage set, just as the psychologist, spectacled, wearing a gray tie and a beige wool jacket, seemed so much like an actor playing a psychologist that the younger man half expected him to acknowledge that they might, for a moment, step out of character. There was a couch, and two leather chairs in which they sat facing each other beneath a tall white shelf of books and journals. He had no idea what he was supposed to say, but in school he had seen patients interviewed, and so when the psychologist asked him what had brought him there, he tried his best to put his story in an order that made sense. The psychologist, a large man, pale, his accent English, his name so common as to seem almost pseudonymous, listened, took notes, and at last said gently that they were drawing near the end. And then he summarized, with brevity and clarity, what he’d heard his patient say. He offered no advice and no interpretation, just the summary, and yet it was somehow immensely comforting for the younger man to hear, in so few words, what had taken nearly an hour to express.
He exited through a second door, so as not to cross the waiting room. Walking back across the park, along the fog-laced paths, he felt as if he had both left something in the office and taken something with him. This puzzled him. The world was the same. There had been, of course, no change to the complex series of events that—he believed—had brought the darkness on. The only difference between the moments of his coming and his going was that an hour earlier there had been an emptiness that only he could touch, and now another person knew that it was there.