April 2, 2007

Do you need to fire your therapist?

Posted in emotional healing, recovery, survivors, therapy at 4:23 pm by nevavegan

I know, I’ve got other stuff to write and then a conversation with a friend brought this topic to mind and I’ve just got to write it all out.

I believe in therapy. I believe in feeling better. I don’t think that anyone should be miserable and unhappy every day. I believe if you or I or your cousin are in a really dark place and can’t find the way out, then the bravest, strongest thing to do is for us to ask for and find a way to get the help we need.

However, that doesn’t mean that we’re always going to find the help we need the first time at bat. It might be necessary to try a couple different therapists before we find one that works for us.

In my opinion it’s vital that therapists challenge us at times. They might have something to say, that needs to be said, that isn’t flattering or coddling to us. In the process of therapy we might uncover memories or issues that are extremely upsetting. We aren’t likely to leave every single session feeling happy. However, if we leave every single session feeling worse than when we went it, then the therapy, in my unprofessional opinion, isn’t doing what it was supposed to.

I mean, I’m not paying someone to drive me further into depression, I was doing that well enough all on my own.

When I first started thinking I needed some help, I was facing both depression and a pretty crippling case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. At the same time I was largely functional by many of the measures we’re taught to pay attention to, for example I wasn’t suicidal, I didn’t sleep all day, etc. I thought I’d just call up a therapist, have a few chats and everything would be better. Sure, denial is a great place to live, too bad we can’t all stay there forever.

The first therapist I saw really didn’t get animal issues at a fundamental level. I hadn’t anticipated that being a problem, because I wanted to work through issues relating to a physical attack. However, that therapist kept somehow bringing everything back to his idea that my being vegan and rescuing cats and rabbits was an expression of my unresolved trauma. He felt that I had some pathological need to rescue rabbits in particular because I was identifying with the rabbits and expressing my feelings that I needed a rescue that never came. Um, sure. You know, I have no idea. I like to think one is not related to the other, but even if it is, I’m so not interested in being “fixed” to the point that I only care about myself. So I stopped going to that therapist. He might be helpful to dozens of other people, but he couldn’t deal with the animal issues, so I needed to find someone who did.

The next therapist was very sweet and totally got animal issues (she should have—after the first experience I asked some fellow rescuers for a referral of a therapist who loved animals). I did feel much better when I was seeing her, but she followed a pretty standard psychotherapy format, which was I talked and talked and talked without much input. It was beneficial in improving my mood, but we somehow never got to dealing with the trauma, and I continued to do what I’d done all along which was bury it until intrusive memories and flashbacks caused me to freak out, and then I’d bury it again.

Next therapist I asked my doctor for a referral of someone with more experience in handling sexual assault survivors. She recommended a very highly qualified female counselor, but ultimately this was not a good personality match for me. I really tried, and it took me a while to come to the conclusion that as wonderful as this therapist might be for others, she wasn’t really helping me. This was one of those situations where I’d leave therapy every time feeling far worse than when I went in. We rehashed traumatic events and yet I never found closure on them. This therapist also had this habit of raising an eyebrow at me and asking “Why would you do/say/think that?” I think the point was to challenge me to confront some poor thinking patterns that had put me in bad situations in the past and could continue to place me in danger. However, one of my main issues was that I really felt worse than I can describe in thinking over my own behavior, and tended to place labels of “stupid,” “naïve,” “crazy” or whatever to myself and my own culpability in what happened. Ultimately, her style of questioning and this internal tendency in myself was just pushing me further into despair.

So, I had to fire my therapist. It doesn’t mean she’s a bad person, or even a bad therapist. It just meant her particular style wasn’t helpful to me.

So in the end I found a therapist who was able to help me sort through all the stuff and start feeling better, though of course it’s always a process and there are worse days and better days. For me in particular I found it helpful to do a very structured specific type of therapy that is designed just for PTSD, although we also talked about other things. I also felt better about learning coping tools and techniques for getting through difficult situations, as opposed to just endless talk therapy. Another thing that this therapist was able to do for me was to put a more positive spin on some of my negative self-assessment. So where I’d be blaming myself and thinking “how could I be so overly trusting, so naïve, so stupid…” The therapist simply said to me “You have an incredible ability to love and care about people who are really not lovable, but the downside of that is that you might have to work harder to protect yourself than others have to.” Which really sounds a lot nicer, don’t you think?

But these might not be the solution for everyone. Nobody should feel that a type of therapy has to work for them just because it has worked for others. I believe in giving it a chance, opening up to the therapy and really trying, but ultimately if it doesn’t work, that’s no condemnation. It doesn’t mean you can’t be helped. It doesn’t mean no therapy will ever work. To me it’s more like you’ve been trying to use the Philips head screw driver and you really needed a standard screw driver. You set aside the tool that isn’t working and look for one that will.

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