Therapy is hard

I’ve spent time at the looney bin. And I was grateful for it. Because sometimes it’s the right place to be. Painful, sure. But, what’s worse is when someone would look at you… like you shouldn’t be there. I always felt like I’d done something wrong rather than just… having a disease.

Bones, season 9, episode 15

That quote grabbed me when I first heard it. It reminded me of how grateful I am to be in therapy. Even for those times it’s been hard and scary.

It’s hard when someone finds out I’ve been in therapy, hospitalized or not, and immediately pegs me as crazy. I have been told I’m just looking for attention. I’ve been told that I am weak. I’ve been told it’s a waste of money.

Based on how people in therapy are frequently portrayed in media, I can imagine that others in my shoes go through much of the same. And I understand why we don’t like to talk about it.

But I’m not crazy. I have a disease. There is nothing wrong or shameful for someone asking for a little assistance.

Therapy has saved my life. It’s taught me how to be strong. It’s given me the tools to learn who I am, how to manage what is in my head, how to value what makes me unique, and how to get a better handle on the challenges the world throws at me.

Therapy has taught me that I am not my illness. My mental health is not what defines me.

I hear a lot of reasons for why people don’t go to therapy.

“I don’t need it.”
“It’s embarrassing.”
“Why pay to talk to a stranger?”
“I’ve got plenty of people to help me deal.”
“I can’t afford it.”
“They’ll just tell me what I already know.”
“It’s too depressing.”
“All they’re going to do is put me on drugs or force me into an institution.”
“People will make fun of me.”

I hear a lot of reasons for why people drop out of therapy.

“It’s not helping.”
“I can’t talk to a stranger.”
“I can’t afford to keep going.”
“They just told me what I already knew.”
“It’s too depressing.”
“All they did was put me on drugs.”
“People make fun of me.”

These reasons are nearly identical. And a lot of them are based on assumption and fear. I’ve been in and out of therapy since I was 13 years old. These are a lot of reasons I’ve avoided therapy at times. Why I have dropped out of therapy at times.

I’ve learned a lot since I was 13 years old.

Not all therapists will work out for you. Not all therapists are the same. Not all therapy experiences are the same. But bad experiences WILL validate all the negative assumptions and fears we have about therapy, and they make it harder to try again.

Just don’t give up.

There are therapists out there who can help. There are therapists who will prove you wrong when you believe otherwise. There are therapists who will listen even if you think you have nothing to say. Therapists who will trust you to know what you need out of therapy and can guide you and follow along as those needs change. Therapists you can learn to trust.

So yes. I’ve had bad therapists and therapy experiences that made me stop believing I could be helped.

But I’ve also had good therapists and therapy experiences that have proven my fears to be invalid.

Talking to a good therapist is so much easier than talking to someone personally and/or emotionally close to me. For one, a therapist is trained. For two, they’re unbiased. They aren’t going to stop being my friend if I say the wrong thing. They aren’t going to be annoyed at or dismissive of me because I can’t communicate “properly.”

No judgement. No disappointment. No leaving me feeling that what I feel should be an embarrassment.

Healthy coping skill since 1996.

Over the years, good therapists have taught me that therapy is about gaining mental tools to help me process my thoughts and emotions. Good therapists have helped me identify fears and negative thoughts and ways to combat them. They’ve taught me that all emotions are valid, and the trick is how to direct what I’m feeling in productive ways. Therapists have taught me how to establish healthy boundaries and coping skills. I’ve learned from them the importance of self-care.

It took time to accept, though, that setbacks happen. I had to learn that setbacks don’t mean I am broken or a failure. But that’s not easy to do. Because therapy is hard.

The RIGHT therapist

After dozens of attempts at therapy I finally had the amazing fortune of finding a truly outstanding therapist.

With her, I learned that an outstanding therapist goes beyond trust.

What I found was a therapist who believed in me. Whose concrete belief that I am a smart, capable, and hardworking person helped me believe in those things myself.

But even with an outstanding therapist, therapy is still not an instant fix. It takes time, and an incredible amount of effort.

Even when I thought there was nothing off limits when it came to what I could talk to her about, there were things I discovered that my brain did not want to let me bring up. Even when I believed there was nothing that I felt afraid to discuss, there were things I’d never realized I was afraid of. Even when I felt like I had a handle on everything I needed to work through, setbacks would occur, or new problems would crop up. And I would go back to feeling broken all over again.

Some days things were easy to bring up and (relatively) easy for me to recognize and process. Some days I couldn’t talk about anything big or important at all and just needed a break from my brain.

There were some things buried so deep it took 10 years for me to finally recognize and acknowledge the trauma. And there are fears that I’ll probably be forever struggling with.

I’ve learned the importance of going to therapy even when I think I’m at the top of my game and doing better than ever. Because I go to therapy not because I am in an immediate crisis and need to be fixed. But because therapy helps me build up and add to my ability to limit and then better handle a crisis when one does occur.

I know that because of how hard I’ve worked in therapy I’m stronger now than I was 10 years ago. 5 years ago. Even a year ago.

For instance, two years ago I wouldn’t have believed me capable of getting through a world-wide pandemic, as an extrovert alone for more than a year, without any major setbacks to my mental health.  

Additionally, after having worked together for twelve years, my outstanding therapist retired last fall and I’ve had to start seeing (virtually) a new therapist.

But here I am. I survived. I had a lot of difficulties. But I made it through intact.

I don’t know where my future is going to take me. There are going to be more ups and downs – some harder than others. I’ll have setbacks. I’ll struggle at times. And I’ll have times when it feels I no longer need therapy because I’m doing so well. So just because I am strong now doesn’t mean I’m ready to quit therapy or stop working as hard as I can.

I know that I’ll experience new therapists again and probably again some more. Both good therapists and bad.

And since I know that outstanding therapists do exist, I won’t give up looking for another one of those, either.

***

If I ever manage to write and publish a book, this will be its dedication:

For Ann Carpenter.
You believed in me.
I am here because you taught me to believe in myself.

Published by loribarett

Coffee addicted charismatic geek with a penchant for tattoos, books, and listening to people tell their stories.

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