For many people psychotherapy becomes a mixed bag of positive and negative experiences, which they later take time to sort out, process, keep the results of what worked and learn lessons from what didn’t work. Dana Hoffman, a legal researcher and a former psychotherapy patient, shares her therapy experiences with me. Below is my interview with Dana.
Marina Tonkonogy (MT): Please, introduce yourself briefly.
Dana Hoffman (DH): Dana Hoffman, I live in Wisconsin, I am disabled, I am 48 years old and married.
MT: When was the first time you decided to seek professional help and what prompted that decision?
DH: I was 21 years old and having a hard time dealing with the fact that I grew up in a home where both parents were deputy sheriffs and yet all of us kids were subjected to incest and rape and no one did anything about it.
MT: What types of mental health services have you received (psychiatric medications, talk therapy, hospitalizations) and how many times?
DH: Psychiatric medications, CBT, talk therapy, and hypnotherapy.
MT: Please, describe each therapy experience you’ve had.
DH: I had so many allergies to things but decided that I would at least try what was offered in order to cope and not feel so ashamed. Unfortunately, either I had allergic reactions to the medications or they just plain did not work. My therapist then recommended that perhaps I try hypnotherapy, I did that for about 8 weeks along with CBT and that too failed. So at that point my therapist had me going in twice a week for 6 months for an hour at a time for talk therapy. I seemed to have gained a better handle on things by just having someone sit there and listen to what I had to say, why I was so angry and then kind of steer me in the direction that I not only needed but wanted so badly in order to have some kind of a normal life.
MT: Do you feel that you were treated respectfully by your therapists, that they respected your right to make decisions for yourself and that your wishes were considered?
DH: At times I felt respected and at other times I had to remind them that this was my issue and that I needed them to be completely honest with me and to listen to what it was I was asking instead of trying to make my mind up for me. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me and say that they understood, because in my mind they could have never understood what it was that I was feeling unless they have gone through the exact same set of circumstances that I had endured.
MT: In each particular case, what was the most helpful and the most unhelpful thing the therapist did?
DH: I would say that the talk therapy was the most helpful for me and that the medications was the least helpful. Aside from the allergies, and them not working a majority of the time these medications made me feel like I was out of control. I could not be in a place where I was out of control I was raising two kids and 1 had special needs.
MT: Overall, would you describe your experience in therapy and with the mental health system as a whole as mostly positive, mostly negative or mixed?
DH: I would say that my experience was mixed. Especially in the beginning when I was uncertain if I wanted a male or female therapist because I was victimized by both genders. I settled for a therapist that was probably in her early 30’s, I never got along per say with older women (made me think too much of the mother figure) and the male therapist were either too arrogant or acted as if they were a little too interested in hearing me share my issues with them. Then the meds and hypnotherapy, and CBT were a failure as well. It wasn’t until I finally told my therapist that I had tried all their suggestions and that it was time to try mine and that was talk therapy.
MT: What would you recommend to those who are considering getting professional help and those currently receiving it?
DH: Make sure that your therapist is the right fit for you. Check them out with your state licensing board to see if they have had any disciplinary actions against them, and how long they have been licensed. If your therapist appears to be dismissing what you are saying, or won’t honor your requests ie: have a family member present, then find another therapist. I am a firm believer that no one knows you better than you. Always report any behaviors that make you feel uncomfortable.
MT: What kind of changes do you want to see in the mental health system if any?
DH: I would like to see it where anyone who feels like they are in need of mental health care be allowed to get it without jumping through loopholes, being coerced, forced to take medications if you don’t feel like you want or need to take them, I would like to see it where those of us who suffer from mental illness are not labeled.
MT: Do you have anything to say to the professionals, something you think they should know?
DH: Mental illness or not, we all deserve the best things that life has to offer just like anyone else. Compassion goes a long way, and medications are not always the answer for every mental illness, yet even today a lot of therapists look at those of us with mental illness as a type of one size fits all and that’s not the case. Listen to your clients, not just hear them, but actually listen. Don’t make promises like everything is going to be alright, especially by taking medications because it makes for hard feelings when those medications don’t work. When offering medications to your client/patient and they chose not to take them, please don’t force them to take them anyways or make them feel bad because they have chosen not to take them.
MT: Thank you Dana for taking time to share your experiences with us.