Group therapy in NYC: The 4-train in therapy
Group therapy is my favorite way to help people. I love how unpredictable it is. Not unlike New York itself.
I sometimes feel that NYC is a less of a city than a collection of cities piled on top of one another–it’s a wild place to practice therapy. At times we can experiences this almost literally, as in where we find ourselves at a vantage point that allows us to peak into the private lives of fellow New Yorkers. We live floor on top of floor with subways and sewers underneath. Usually we keep to ourselves, spend time with people who are like us, but there are moments we can groove between layers.
What’s always struck me about this phenomenon of stratified layers is just how, well, stratified they are. In spite of our being stacked on top of one another, rubbing shoulders on the 4 train, standing next to one another in line and the movies, it can seem nearly impossible to truly touch one of the layers you don’t typically occupy.
“How do you get from here to the rest of the world?
There’s a lovely scene is Season 5 of HBO’s brilliant inner-city drama, The Wire, where Duquan, an adolescent we’ve followed for two seasons seeks counsel from “Cutty,” a boxer turned drug hit man turned felon turned youth boxing coach. “Dukie,” as he’s unaffectionately called, has been trying to find his place–too young to work at a shoe store, too weak to sling drugs. Both are lost. Besides boxing lessons, Cutty confesses, he has little wisdom to offer Duquan:
Speaking about the options both of them have Cutty offers “The world is bigger than that. ‘least that’s what they tell me.”
Duquan asks, seemingly knowing Cutty can’t really answer, but hopeful, “How do you get from here to the rest of the world?”
Cutty stands to walk away and answers, “I wish I knew.”
Part of what’s wonderful about The Wire is the ways it feels like these elements are right on top of one another and yet worlds apart: The drug dealers, the cops, the “citizens” (as those caught up in the drama of drugs but not dealers or drug users are called), dock workers, politicians, lawyers. They share space but their lives feel so interminably separate.
New York feels that way, too. I find myself one hour to the next connecting intimately with a banker, a teacher, a stay-at-home mom, a union organizer, a city worker, an art director.
It can seem at times like whatever strata of New York you occupy is the only New York. One can be caught saying, “No one goes there anymore,” well aware that lots of people go there, just no longer your crowd. Or (to the dismay of those concerned about gentrification) a statement like, “Bed-Stuy is really becoming hot” as though people haven’t been living in Bed-Stuy for over a century.
Most of us go in and out of consciousness of this fact, often only noticing the few people we understand as being “like us.”
Part of the joy in living in a city as diverse and dense as New York (and the joy of practicing therapy in New York) is having experiences that you haven’t explicitly signed up for. As Manhattan and much of Brooklyn become astronomically expensive, as chain stores reproduce, as we all go about our lives attached to a tiny, personalized screen, more and more we could be anywhere.
It may not be so much of a contemporary problem–perhaps this has always been New York’s dilemma–so many people and yet so few of us talk to one another. I fear, though, that we are forgetting how to talk to one another, how to exist in those (awkward as they may be) spaces between the strata. Like the subway… Or a therapy group.