Anxiety and My Therapist
Three years ago I wanted to see a therapist because I was having trouble for anxiety. I was very nervous about talking to him so I emailed him first, telling him I was nervous in social situations and asking him if therapy was a good idea and if there was anything he could recommend. He recommended the Anxiety and Phobia workbook by Edmund Bourne. I felt panicked when I thought about talking to him over the phone and I worried that he would be disgusted with me unless I read through the entire book. So I got the book and it really struck a chord – I was never able to talk to anyone about my problems because I was too nervous about doing so, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was genuinely understood by someone. I had not spoken to the therapist yet but felt profoundly comforted and touched by the compassionate nature of the book. I read through the entire thing and spent a month doing the exercises. It was such a relief to feel as though I was allowed to have compassion for myself and that I would get attention for my feelings, and finally, after a month, I worked up the courage to call the therapist. I booked an appointment with him, and when I came to see him I mentioned that I had read the book. The first think out of his mouth was, “okay, you don’t need that book.” He told me that I “seem to do okay” when I was talking to him. I felt devastated – I think he thought my problems were not serious enough to warrant that kind of help – and I also felt guilty and stupid for having used the book in the first place. I put it away and couldn’t look at it any more. I tried to tell him that I was experiencing really intense anxiety, hoping that he would suggest even a few exercises out of the book, but he only suggested that I do the things that frightened me, without any compassion for my anxiety. I told him I was nervous in sessions, but instead of suggesting something calming, he said “everyone feels nervous in sessions.” Now I still have problems with anxiety sometimes but I have become mostly numb; it hurts so much to think that I do not deserve compassion or attention for my feelings. I cut myself now when I am upset because it is the only thing that comforts me, and I am infuriated at the therapist for not responding to my problems and taking my money. I want someone to tell me that I was justified in using the book to help me, but I don’t know if that’s true or not. Am I justified in using the book to help me with anxiety? Is it ok to feel like I need breathing exercises to help calm me down, or someone there to hold my hand? It is killing me that I feel so upset and at the same time like I will not ever get any attention for it.
A. I get the impression that you are a highly sensitive individual. By this I mean that what other people say or think about you is important. Because of this trait, it is important to recognize that you may be overreacting. You don’t need the permission of a therapist or anyone else to validate what you should and should not do. If the anxiety workbook helped you then you should use it for as long as you feel necessary. You are a free individual. You are free to do anything you want, including using exercises from a book that has proven to be helpful to you. No permission is necessary.
I understand that you were upset at your therapist. Your perception of the situation was that he was being insensitive to you and your needs. Perhaps that was the case but as I mentioned above, your reaction might have been inappropriate. Your therapist may have been attempting to make you feel better. He may have been trying to compliment you and to help you gain confidence when he said that you “seem to do okay.” He may also have been attempting to ease your nervousness and to normalize your feelings when he said that “everyone gets nervous in sessions.”
You were angry at your therapist because he told you to stop using the book but you did not inform him that it helped you. Had he known that it benefited you then he may have had a different opinion.
The truth is that his opinion of the book really should not matter. As I’ve indicated, if you like it then you should use it.
Each individual is unique. The most popular treatment for anxiety will not work for everyone. What’s most important about therapy is to find a treatment that works for the individual client.
I would suggest returning to treatment. Try not to be angry at your therapist and discuss with him your opinion of the book. It’s important that you be fully honest with him about how you’re feeling. Communication is very important during therapy. Perhaps once he knows how you feel then he could incorporate the book into your treatment. If he’s not willing to do this then you may want to consider another therapist.
The goal is to find a therapist who you feel comfortable with, who you like and who you feel respects you. If you choose to search for a new therapist it might be helpful if you mentioned the anxiety workbook to each therapist you contact and ask if he or she would be willing to include it as part of your treatment. I would advise against only using the workbook and forgoing therapy. I believe it is important that you continue therapy, primarily because of your cutting behavior.
In case you choose not to stay with your current therapist, here’s a link to Psychology Today. This service may help you locate a new therapist in your community. Thank you for your question.
Randle, K. (2010). Anxiety and My Therapist. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 12, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/03/29/anxiety-and-my-therapist/