I’ll get right to the point: therapy has been a mixed bag of “stuff” for me. Let me be a little more specific for you. Therapy was great in the beginning for one reason. I had thirty years’ worth of pain, shame, hurt, blame, anger and misunderstandings that I needed to talk and cry out. I needed an understanding
and caring person to be with me through this tidal wave of emotions that I had stuffed, and drank/dragged my way through. I could not do this alone. No way.
Therapists met my expectations in the understanding and caring department, basically. A little more active caring would have been nicer, but the caring was adequate. I came to therapy in a deep depression, which was being treated unsuccessfully with medication. The tears came easier than they ever have in my entire life. I really at that time just needed someone to listen to me. They did that extremely well.
During this period of time I had the most hospitalizations I’ve ever had. I’m not saying the two (therapists and hospitalizations) have any connection. I was really depressed, and dumping out all those feelings may or may not have been a good idea. I am glad, however, they’re out and I appreciate the number of hours my therapists listened to me. I say “my therapists” because there were a number of them. I was in “the clinic system” which is where you end up when you can’t afford a private therapist and a psychiatrist.
First of all, there are many dedicated therapists working in the clinic system. Unfortunately, they change jobs frequently, occasionally go out into private practice, and their job hopping is rarely beneficial to the client. It mostly means an extra disruption in an already disrupted life of the client namely me. I’ve actually had a therapist make the clinic system rounds and end up back at their original clinic. Nice to see you nine years later, what’s new?
My actual need for a therapist ended three years after I started. Clinic protocol was that I couldn’t see one of their psychiatrists without seeing one of their therapists. I objected strenuously. The jaded part of me tends to think this is how you keep the money rolling in at the clinic. However, I loved my psychiatrist and I didn’t want to change over to a new clinic. So I stayed where I was, in therapy, for way, way too long. Truth be told, I sometimes made up little things just so I’d have something to talk about. The boredom was incredible. God somewhat answered my prayers when my psychiatrist told me she was leaving the clinic. Freedom! And I knew just what clinic I wanted to go to, the only one that didn’t have the therapist clause.
I did some smart things in my therapy years, namely, I went to the Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation and Training (IPRT). They actually taught me some techniques like Dialectical Behavioral Training (DBT). I had a lot of ways of thinking and behaving that was not helpful to having good mental health. By this time I had tried many meds, found a handful that were working, and had come to the realization that the meds were doing their job and now I had to do mine. DBT is great for this realization. When I actually heard the negative, nonproductive, hurtful things I was saying to myself every day I was shocked. It was true what an IPRT practitioner had said to me. She had said that once I had tried a majority of the medications, and found a few helpful, that the remaining misery could probably be traced back to my thoughts and actions.
What? I was doing some of this to myself? I would never put myself through the hell I was going through emotionally, or so I thought. We argued about this new development for about twenty minutes. I was determined to prove her wrong, but the truth is when I listened to my self-talk I was horrified. When I watched what I was saying and to how I was acting, I knew in my heart what she said was true. These are the moments that started me on my true path to recovery.
Even with therapy, up until IPRT, I wasn’t really making any progress in my life. I wasn’t happy, in fact they had diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder because I was so neurotic. My relationships weren’t growing and changing, I wasn’t making friends. My therapist was the only person I had any sort of positive relationship with. The rest of my life was filled with conflict, anger and blame. I was not a peaceful person.
DBT was a hands on, action orientated way of changing thoughts and behavior. Every week we had to come in with a sheet of paper where we answered questions about how our emotional week had been. It was about who we fought with, what things we had lost it over emotionally. Not bringing in that sheet of paper, filled out, was not acceptable. I really started taking DBT seriously when I saw that it was helping me with my emotions, and every success was helping increase my self-esteem. We all discussed at the table where we were messing up, and got peer and professional help on how to calm our emotions and reactions to people, places and things.
The group therapy that I attended was not handled well by the different therapists in general. Group members tended to be insulting and combative to the therapist and other group members. In general, the therapists did not handle this situation very effectively and the therapy session became more like a zoo. I have to feel safe in a group therapy session, and most times I did not. So I didn’t share, and was just a spectator.
In conclusion, I can only share what therapy was like, for me, in a clinic situation. I encourage persons who might read this article to give therapy a try, while remembering that there are different kinds of therapy and differing types of providers. I urge you not to underestimate your own personal power to heal, and the transformational power of being with your peers. Poor mental health is not a life sentence, nor is recovery just a dream. Recovery is real and is happening for people like me.