I had just turned 17 when I began therapy. I was scared for many reasons. The biggest one was that I didn't know the answers to the questions I would be asked. I stuck it out with this therapist, perhaps longer than I should have. I left every session crying, hating myself more. I felt judged. I felt like a "difficult" client. I knew I needed help, because my anxiety was not normal, but I don't think this person knew how to help me either. She was knowledgable about the laws, and the legal aspect of things. Maybe she would've been a great lawyer, too. What I needed at that point in my life was for someone to validate my feelings, to make the embarrassing things less uncomfortable for me, to be patient with me, and to meet me where I was at.
I never got that. I only got worse. I don't remember my time with her very much. The only thing I took away was a comment she told my worried mother. "Haley doesn't want to die. She just doesn't want to feel like this anymore."
When I decided after a couple months of seeing her that things were not working with her, I let that relationship go, without feeling as though I lost a thing.
That was my first experience with therapy. That very much summed it up for me as to how therapy is, and how all therapists are. You would think I had thrown the therapy idea out the window, but I didn't. I held on to what everyone was telling me. There are other fish (therapists) in the sea. You may have to try around a few times, until you find one you can connect with.
In January of 2016 I reached out to a therapist I had found on Psychology Today.
Maybe it was because I needed someone to talk to.
Maybe it was because I felt misunderstood in my household.
Maybe it was because my doctor continued to recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for me, and I felt guilty each time I walked in having yet contacted one.
I just sent an email out, asking if she was taking new clients. She was. I had my first appointment with her that same week.
I remember leaving that same appointment, feeling hopeful. Feeling understood. Feeling as though I finally found someone I could open up to. Some people have therapist preferences that stand out to them when they are searching. For me, I wanted a female, and for her to be younger. I was afraid of being treated as though my problems were "teenage issues" and my feelings being minimized by someone of an older generation. I wanted to feel comfortable, and for me that meant working with someone around their 30's.
I turn 19 the end of this month. I have been seeing this same therapist for almost 2 years now. She saw me at the worst time in my life, and she was there with me to celebrate the best.
Leaving a therapist can be just as hard as a breakup. You have this person that knows just about everything in your past, your fears for the future, your triggers, your dreams, all of it. How do you know when to let go? Or when you will no longer need them?
These questions had been weighing on me.
I am not that 17 year old girl anymore. In fact, it is work for me to find things to talk about in our sessions now. I am truly in a "life is good" mindset. That should be a great thing! But instead..I found my sessions have been weighing me down, or leaving me feeling more empty than when I had walked in. I no longer felt the spark. I no longer had questions, insights. Not even a worry. Perhaps this is me after all of my hard work finally accepting things as they are. But, I no longer felt empowered by my sessions. I continued to go back, knowing I have "stuff" I mean, we all do.. but none that had been keeping me up at night, or creating overwhelming emotions. I would leave my appointments and almost feel..disappointed. I felt disappointed in myself, that maybe I wasn't using this time as I could be. It felt like energy has been sucked out of me. I had to ask myself, "what am I even doing anymore?"
Instead of beating myself up for these seemingly "blah" sessions. I decided to search for another outlook. Maybe this "time" in session I am not using to the best of my ability, isn't about therapy at all. Could I possibly be doing OK on my own? Is it time for a break?
I held back from telling my therapist I had been considering stopping therapy. I was scared. This "I don't know what I'm doing" turned into "I don't know if I'm doing the right thing."
I have been working on my personal growth, beside some amazing spiritual beings. In our group, we often talk about the negative energies we hold onto in our lives. The energies that do not, or no longer serve us. A *ding* sound, and a bright light bulb when off above my head. I was facing the fact that these appointments I had been dragging myself to weekly, were no longer serving me. I felt obligated to go, to become the best me I could be. I was no longer empowered by talk therapy, and that doesn't mean it is because I am healed. At all. It means there are other options for me, that will empower me, that will also help me heal.
After having an anxious stomach all last weekend, preparing for this official realization, on Tuesday 8/8 I told my therapist what I had been thinking.
Like most things, it did not end up being what I was worried for. She was so understanding, and supportive. It didn't feel like an "ending" it just felt like a break. And I felt confident, and safe enough to take that break.
Her door is always open for me. So if something were to come up, I needed her again, I have that. We talked about my progress. My emotions are easier to manage, as I now know how to best manage them. I have found ways to ground myself with my anxiety. I have improved immensely with knowing my needs, and feeling confident enough to enforce them. I have improved at communicating my needs and my feelings. It is still a challenge for me. Everyone has something, and that is just how it is for me. It is something I improve at each time I work at it. I didn't leave in tears, or question if I was doing the right thing. I felt believed in. By her, and most importantly, myself. I can always go back. There is nothing tying me down. But for now, I left that session feeling like a free bird.
I have a crystal in my pocket. I've started going to yoga classes again around home. (including yoga with cats and kittens!) I finished the last of my 2 summer courses. I have been spending more time outside this summer than I ever have. And it feels cheesy to add this, but I am oh so happy.
Something as simple as "what makes you happy?" "how do you spend your days?" and comparing the two lists can really get your life into gear. Honestly, I was afraid to trust myself. It is this fear in the back of my head that there is a chance I could end up where I once was. Excuse me, but I'm telling that fear to "F off" and to look at all I have done on my own. I listened to the signs, I trusted my instinct, and I followed it. I am ready to see where I am guided now.
Alright, Haley girl, we need to talk.
Something isn't working here. But maybe it isn't supposed to.
I called a friend from my car after my therapy appointment. When she picked up the phone, I answered her hello with a grunt. "Yeah?" she said jokingly. "Yeah." I said. "What happened?"
I left therapy fighting back tears. I don't know why this is so hard for me. Every question that is asked gets a response of "I don't know" or "I'm not sure" when normally I could write a chapter of a book with each answer.
How I resonate with the empath title? It's easy to write about, but embarassing to talk about?
I write things down and bring them in, but once read aloud I realize how foolish it sounds, or by then I am over it.
I am given specific options to choose from, but each choice makes me think, "Well I want this because, but I also don't want this because-"
I am left feeling stuck.
For someone who cares so much, I show myself to not care at all.
It is as if each word that crosses my mind is being filtered before it is said, leaving me speechless.
It is such an uncomfortable feeling, not knowing what to say, but wanting to be heard.
I spend so much time outside of therapy, planning, to get the most out of my next appointment. It's like I forget how to speak when I get there. I am reminded that this is "my session" and I become inevitably frustrated with myself that this keeps happening. I choose to sit in silence, fight back tears, and try to think of what on earth I'm doing.
How come things don't matter as much to me when I get in there? Or am I just fearing judgment?
My friend even said how I write so eloquently, "but when you speak it can come out so jumbled." She then said, "Haley sometimes when you speak I am like..wait what the fuck are you saying?" I laughed and joked back saying, "Maybe I should just sew my mouth shut like Coraline and walk around with a mini whiteboard and an expo marker."
Writing is how I express myself. It works for me.
My friend even said, "Maybe you should just do therapy over email that way so you can just get everything out easier?" Not a bad idea..
However, I need the social interaction to practice these things. I've already come so far, I can't just give up yet. This takes work.
I almost just need a confidence boost. I need to hear someone point out all that I'm doing right, that it's okay to feel what I feel, that I'm not as difficult as I think I am. I just need reassurance, a boost to keep me heading in the right direction.
I'm going to try something.
I go back to school next week. I have a long break from therapy at home, and I have an on-campus counselor if needed.
I need to start having faith in myself, so maybe I should give myself some room to do so.
Sometimes just by doing this, writing in my bedroom, I am able to let things go, and discover new insights all on my own. Sometimes that's all I need to do. Sometimes forcing myself to speak makes me feel worse.
When I go back to campus, I'm going to give myself time to settle back in.
I am not where I was last year. Maybe I am running out of things to say, because I really am doing okay? If I go once a week, I am most likely "over with" last week's issue. I'm going to stop being so hard on myself; trying to figure things out all at once. I'll suggest going to counseling every other week, or every 2 weeks instead.
Give myself time to just be.
Today is National Psychotherapy Day. How will you participate?
I am going to share my journey from a childhood belief that "therapy is a punishment" to growing up and seeking out a therapist myself.
Around age 10, I had developed a short sense of patience, and sensitive irritability. Whether it was a reflection of how I felt about myself, or how I was handling my anxieties at the time- I still don't know. I remember I was always the one being yelled at for my mouth, my early attitude and raised eyebrows. I don't remember much about what I would do, but I remember feeling like an outcast. I felt hated by my family, and myself. I felt like a bad person, yet I always was quick to defend myself. My cousins would be over my house playing, and I would be sent to sit alone on the staircase after who knows what.
In my early adolescence my attitude only became worse. It was never at school, with my friends or teachers, but always in my household. If I was scolded for my behavior in the moment, I would laugh. My parents would look at me with stern eyes and I would hold in a giggle, feeling the corners of my mouth slide up into a smile. I wasn't trying to make my parents more annoyed, and I would bite my lip to hold it in. I am still not sure why I reacted that way. A defensive wall would come up and I would try to blame my behavior on anything but myself.
I remember my mom telling me to fix my attitude/rudeness, or she was going to take me to see a counselor. She was going to make me go. My early thought of the word "counseling" seemed more like a punishment than a helpful tool. I refused to go, said I didn't need it, that my mom was out of her mind, and I didn't need help. I was not the type of kid that needed counseling, right?
Flash forward to the summer before my junior year of high school when I asked my mom to take me to see a therapist for my anxiety. I didn't care what "type of person" I had thought fit into the client category at that point; I just wanted to feel better.
This was my FIRST experience with a therapist:
So this is what I have learned when it comes to finding a therapist:
I realized what worked for me, and what did not, and who I could connect with. My school social worker connected me with someone new, and I now feel supported.
This is how therapy has helped me:
The best part is...
I had never thought I could.
If you find it difficult to put your feelings into words, struggle with social anxiety, or are giving up on asking for help because of it: Read my story. It is possible to communicate your needs, even with difficulty. Not everyone is an expert on expressing their emotions/private thoughts to others.
If you have other questions for me or about an adolescent's experience with counseling feel free to contact me on my Contact page, or my "Ask Haley" column. Can be anonymous if you state so.
A Boston social work student, using writing for healing. Sharing the peaks and valleys of an empath's mental health journey.