Blame the Illness, Not the Patient

One of the most hurtful comments made to me during the worst of my depression was this: "You must not want to get better."

I know that person didn't intend to be spiteful or mean. She's just plain ignorant regarding mental health issues. (But I still haven't let it go, obviously.)

Comments like that are why I'm so passionate about educating folks on mental illness and eliminating the isolating stigma of our condition. Because it's hard enough fighting all the negative intrusive thoughts within our head. We don't need additional insults and negative opinions -- confirmation of our weakness -- from folks who have never wanted to die and consider all suicidal thoughts self-absorbed and pathetic.
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Brain and Behavior

You Can’t Unlearn the Progress You’ve Made

I've been repeating to myself lately something my therapist said in our session last month: "You can't unlearn your progress."

Meaning, I can take a few steps backwards in my recovery from depression and anxiety, but that doesn't erase all the lessons, skills, and wisdom acquired in my past.

Those words are consoling to me the last three or so weeks as my boundaries crumble and I go back on promises I made myself not so long ago. I know that the footprints are going in the wrong direction, but I seem incapable of making myself turn around to walk toward healing. I'm afraid that I'll lose it all -- the knowledge, the insights, the discipline that I procured the last three or so years -- as my strides reverse.

My therapist swears I won't. And I'm holding her to her word.

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The Challenge of Finding the Right Therapist

Finding the right therapist is difficult. In the last 12 years, I’ve been through half a dozen of them. I have no doubt that most of these therapists would blame me for these high turnover rates. They would say I have some sort of inability to communicate my needs or that I’m not ready to move forward.

I say that it’s simply really, really hard to find the correct fit and that the wrong fit can bring me frustration I don’t need. I would rather have no therapist than one who continually frustrates me.

A few weeks ago, I told a therapist I had gone to a handful of times that I did not want to continue seeing her. We’ll call her “Lynn.” Lynn was perfectly nice and was a good listener, but that was sort of the problem.

All she did was listen and say things like, “well, what did that feel like?” and “what would that look like to you?” Lynn was also one of those therapists who immediately wanted to delve into my family and my childhood. This approach was not at all what I was looking for. I wanted someone who would address my current situations and make suggestions.

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My Psychotherapy Story for an Eating Disorder

I live in a town where eating disorder treatment is almost nonexistent. Feeling in danger of a relapse, I decided it was time to see a therapist. She was a licensed psychologist specializing in eating disorders and women's issues. I went voluntarily, not expecting what I received.

Everything was booked and set via email. My choice. I hate calling people. She mailed me all the paperwork from her office to bring with me on my first visit. What I loved when I first met her was that she didn't even want to look at the filled-out documents during session; she was eager to get down to talking. I was nervous being there, naturally, it's sensitive material being shared with a stranger. I remember which chair I sat in and how she sat on the couch.

Eager. Ready.

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Psychotherapy Stories: Helping Angela Help Herself

It was an unseasonably warm spring afternoon, almost 80 degrees. As a new family therapist working at a home-based counseling agency, I drove toward my first client’s home, enjoying the sunshine and sipping an iced tea. I pulled up in front of the address I had been given and looked at my client’s information.

Her name was Angela, a 21-year-old single mother who lived with her parents and her two children, aged 16 months and...
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Getting by with a Little Help from My Friends — and Therapist

I came to be the client of my therapist four years ago after an intervention with two friends, older ladies from church, one who happens to be a social worker.

I had been struggling for a long time with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt and worthlessness. I had been engaging in self-injury for a long time and it was getting worse. I was suicidal off and on, never committing to a plan but just worn out from a traumatic, abuse-filled childhood, and the demands of life in general.

After the intervention, my friend the social worker interviewed therapists for me and found one that she thought would work well with me. (Ordinarily I suppose I should have done this process myself, but I was too depressed to care or to think properly.)

With their support I made the appointment and went to see the therapist.

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My Psychotherapy Journey: From Duty to Timidity to Progress

I started psychotherapy for the wrong reasons.

A few people had suggested throughout the past couple years that I do it, and I thought I’d go to one session to say I’d done it and be done with it. Well, I went to that one session and told the counselor I needed help with stress. She talked to me about stress, but in ending the session, rather than asking “Do you want to come back?” asked “When do you want to come back?”

I have difficulty saying no to anyone, so I agreed to a time. The next session went nearly identical to the first, but during the third session she redirected the goal of our sessions toward me talking more. She had me take some tests (MMPI-2 and MCMI) and I wrote out a list of my goals for her.

She never directly told me, but eventually I picked up that she thinks I have social anxiety disorder. She started having me write down situations in which I felt anxious and what I was thinking and feeling at those times, but I didn’t really understand the point of it. I started realizing just how much anxiety had controlled my life, but I didn’t feel like doing this was helping me.

What this work did do, however, was make me really want to be able to do the things I was so terrified of doing.

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Submit Your Psychotherapy Stories

There are a ton of good stories out there about people's experiences with psychotherapy, and we want to feature them each week here on the World of Psychology. By shedding more light on the process of therapy, we believe it will make people more comfortable and perhaps get a better understanding of it.

So we're putting out a call for any and all psychotherapy stories -- from therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, clients and patients. If you have a story you want to tell and can do so in under 1,400 words, we're interested.

We're not looking (just) for salacious stories. We're looking for stories that show the personal nature of therapy, and how it can help people.

Read on for details...

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Relationship Themes in Suicide Notes

Years ago I worked in a psychiatric emergency room in a large metropolitan hospital. My job consisted of evaluating a steady stream of patients to determine whether they should be hospitalized or sent elsewhere.

I saw people in the throes of mania, psychosis and suicidal depression. I still remember the man who asked if I was a witch who would place a spell on him. And the woman who came barreling at me down the hallway, warning, “You best get out of my way, or I’m going to go Ninja Turtle on your ass!” I remember the man who swallowed six bedsprings in a suicide attempt. And countless others with bandaged wrists, bruised necks, and broken souls. I learned a lot about the breadth and depth of human suffering.

One day I was waxing philosophical about suicide with one of the charge nurses who had worked there for more than 20 years. She shared that she had a collection of 350-odd suicide notes that had been collected by a medical examiner over the course of his career. The notes had been collecting dust in her attic for the past 10 years.

She asked if I wanted them.

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How To Have Conversations, Not Confrontations

It’s been a while since they have agreed on anything. They still loved each other and wanted to figure it out. All they needed was a good conversation.

In search of a connecting dialogue, they’ve come to a marriage counselor. Unfortunately, their initial therapy session ended up as a triumph of assumptions and accusations. So much was said in that hour that the distance between them felt insurmountable. It was a...
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Therapists Don’t Dance, Do They?

About a month ago I attended a wedding in Sonoma, California. Before the ceremony, I made random small talk with one of the other guests. We covered occupation and connection to the bride and groom, moved on to comments about the beautiful setting, and then parted ways to continue with the obligatory mingling process.

Strangers’ responses to learning that I’m a therapist are varied, and it’s not uncommon for them to be loaded in some way or another. “You’re analyzing everything I say, aren’t you?” many people joke. “Mmhmm,” I’m tempted to respond, with a raised eyebrow and Mona Lisa grin. “Oh,” others murmur, before the conversation trails off into stilted silence and the person starts surreptitiously glancing over my shoulder for someone else to rescue them.

The wedding guest’s response to learning I’m a therapist was of the “Oh, that’s cool” variety. I didn’t think anything of it. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t really “analyze” anyone, let alone people I’ve just met.

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Should You Share Your Therapist With a Friend?

I have a friend who lives by this cardinal rule: She will never ever work with a friend.

So when jobs surface in her company, or if she hears of an opening in her field, she only shares the information with non-friends. It’s just too messy, she explained to me the other day.

Having experienced a situation not too long ago that became just that -- messy -- I can understand her logic and applaud her for sticking by that rule. I am now much more careful about sharing work opportunities with close friends... in order to protect myself.

Should the same rule apply to therapy?

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