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The Lonely Therapist, Vienna 2023

Updated: Mar 1

I love being a therapist, therapy has changed my life and I see it change so many other peoples. However sometimes it can be pretty lonely, especially in private practice. Since the lockdown I’ve noticed many people including myself become more isolated. I’m here cheering people on, to put themselves out there and make connections, yet I am sat comfortably in my house. It would be good to practice what I preach right?


With that in mind, as 2023 started I decided this was a year to push myself, I’m comfortable being an introvert (and I love it) but in appreciating independence I’d lost some interdependence, just like many of the people I work with. After years of wanting to visit Vienna, the birthplace of psychotherapy I decided to go for it! And to do it by myself too, this is that journey. 


I remember booking this trip quite spontaneously, I really let my Id out to play, I knew it would be good for me and if I was to book it, the less I thought about it the better. However, as time got closer to the date, I kept leaning towards cancelling it. It was too decadent, too privileged, too selfish. I took these thoughts to my therapist, he could have delved deeper into it, but he didn’t need to, he simply asked, "don’t you think you deserve this, Tom?" and that was enough said.


The day came for my flight and the old anxieties and nerves that once plagued my younger self jumped right back up. But I knew the anxiety needed to be leant into, not moved away from. My idea was to share things on social media along the way, it felt as if I had some friends in my pocket helping to cheer me along (because they were).


I arrived to Vienna in the late evening and my inner child wanted to stay in the apartment by myself. "I can’t go out by myself", he said. But again, I knew what I needed to do, I took my book and went to a local restaurant. I had been planning on practicing some of my German however when I entered the restaurant the waiter was gorgeous and I immediately became a stuttering English tourist, however I was kind to myself "it’s your first night Tom, pace yourself". I have eaten in restaurants alone before, but this was my first time eating abroad alone, it was weird, but the thing is, most humans are pretty friendly and people treated me well, there was no need to worry.


The Saturday morning came, and I did some online work before taking a huge leap out of my comfort zone. It was time to meet up with some Vienna based therapists, Simone and Nicole, (who turned out to be pretty cool Psychoanalysts). They turned up and we soon got chatting, sure there were some awkward silences but nothing unusual post COVID. We shared stories over coffee and cheesecake then Simone and I headed to the Victor Frankl Museum. I had discovered Frankl and his Logo Therapy only a year ago, but I have really fallen for his approach. Frankl posed three ways to discover meaning in life; 1. By creating a work or doing a deed; 2. By experiencing something or encountering someone; and 3. By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering. It has not been lost on me that this trip itself was helping me experiencing these three different ways of discovering meaning.


Being an introvert means that I can only really recharge my batteries by myself, therefore after the museum I took myself to a cute little bar with my book and had some alone time and a drink. I had been reading ‘The Scrips People Play’ by Claud Steiner and he speaks a lot about the Parent, Adult & Child Ego states. This again is not lost on me as several times on this trip I noticed my child ego state crop up, my child was the one feeling anxious, nervous, and vulnerable. So, grounding myself and reminding myself of my adult ego state served me well. I even became confident enough to start speaking some German, and of course those who were on the receiving end humoured me.

Then Sunday morning came, and I felt like a kid at Christmas (this was an opportunity to let my inner child, my Id out to play yet again). I headed to Café Landtmann, what is said to be one of Sigmund Freuds favourite cafes. To be sat in the same café that the founder of Psychotherapy sat in gave me shivers (the good kind). I found myself staring at the walls, feeling the chairs, and pretending it was 1895 watching Freud and Breuer plan their first publication, ‘Studies on Hysteria’. I ate a Vienna Breakfast, drank Earl Grey Tea, and basked in the moment.

The excitement was soon to continue as I had booked a tour at the Sigmund Freud Museum, this time by myself, again though I thought ‘how embarrassing to go by yourself, you are not the sort of person to do this, you won't speak to anyone’, but Nein! Not today intrusive thoughts, I had some experiencing to do. As I walked towards the museum the nerves & anxiety came back but morphed into excitement once I was stood outside the museum, which of course was his house, practice and too the practice of Anna Freud. Although rather sparce (as he took much of his things to London) the house was still full of Freud, to walk around what was his bedroom, kitchen and office was wonderful. Freud spent 47 years of his life there, 47! I am in awe of the work he created in that time.

Another smile grew across my face when the tour guide spoke about the ‘Wednesday Psychological Society’. In 1902 Freud started to invite interested parties to his home on Wednesday evenings to discuss all things psychoanalysis. I wonder if he too started to feel lonely in private practice. If he had not done this, what would have become of some of the most memorable members such as Alfred Adler, Otto Rank, Carl Jung and many others. Suffice to say that without connecting with others there may have been little movement within psychoanalysis.


As the tour came to an end, I couldn’t help but purchase a book from the gift shop, the book that started it all ‘Studies on Hysteria’ by Freud and Breuer, I purchased one in English and one in German, Freuds mother tong.


Alas, Monday soon came with the reality that I needed to return to usual life, I had one last stop off at Café Central, (another of Freuds favourites), one last pastry with a coffee, one last look back at time, the history of Psychotherapy and one big smile on my face.


What have I learnt on this trip? That I am capable of putting myself out there, I am capable of meeting new friends, I am capable of traveling alone, I am capable of speaking to ‘strangers’. I have also learnt that I love Vienna and the people I met, that the history of Psychotherapy is rich and wonderful, and that finally I can have the confidence to (try) and speak some German. I am reminded why I am so encouraging of clients and people to put themselves out there and I also hope that therapists reading this (especially those in lonely private practice) can get a bit of inspiration for exploration too, because, we don’t have to feel lonely.


Thomas Smithson

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