When I was a kid, my mom would sometimes go to see a therapist. This was back when there was an actual building for health care that was simply called “HMO.” All of your health care needs were taken care of under one roof at the HMO, including therapy. I remember once going with my mother to HMO for her therapy session and hanging around the waiting room until she was done.
As a kid hanging out in the HMO waiting room, I didn’t get it. Why would you go to a stranger and talk about your problems? Why did people have issues at all? Why couldn’t they just talk to people they knew instead of paying someone to listen to them? It all seemed weird and mysterious to me.
Even after I grew up, graduated from college, and became an adult, therapy seemed like an oddball thing to me. Something that only messed up, desperate people did. I remember when I was in my mid-twenties, a co-worker telling me that she went to therapy every week. I recall thinking that it was a very personal thing to tell me and that she must have big issues. I was friendly with this woman, but didn’t know her incredibly well. It made me uncomfortable to have that conversation with her.
My ideas on therapy began to change when a good friend’s mother became seriously depressed. My friend would often talk to me about how her mother was doing. She would talk to me about different medications her mother was taking and how her mother was doing in therapy. Over time, my friend’s mother started to do better. A lot of her improvement seemed to be attributable to therapy. Maybe therapy wasn’t so strange, but it still wasn’t something normal, non-depressed people needed. Right?
When I was 25, I got laid off for the first time. For months, I searched and searched for a job. I just couldn’t find one. Also during this time period, a friendship that had been highly important to me was becoming distant. I was scared that I wouldn’t ever find a job, scraping pennies together to pay rent and eat, and was feeling lonely. I spent a lot of time by myself, brooding about my situation and steadily feeling worse and worse. It was a crappy time and I didn’t know how to handle it all. This was when my friend whose mother struggled with depression mentioned the possibility of me going to therapy.
The first thing I had to do when considering therapy was figure out if I could afford it. I checked with my health insurance provider and found out it was covered. This was good news, but did I really want to go? The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to get over my previous notions about who went to therapy. I decided to give it a try. I randomly chose a therapist from a list of providers that my insurance company sent me. I made my choice based on minimal criteria I wanted to see a woman whose office was near my house.
My criteria was easily met and I made an appointment. I remember being weirded out when I realized that the therapist’s office was in her house. And then further wigged out when I found that her house smelled like cat pee. I don’t remember a whole lot about the few sessions I went to with this woman other than the smell. I remember that I found her vaguely helpful, but she did not rock my world and I would often run out of things to say during our sessions. I later found out that this particular therapist specialized in things like helping performers with stage fright. I’m not a performer and don’t get ever get on a stage, so it’s no wonder I didn’t gel with this particular therapist.
A few years of relative normality went by and I didn’t seek any sort of professional assistance. My general attitude at the time was that if nothing was gravely wrong in my life, I didn’t need to think about therapy. I also hadn’t been wowed by my first experience, so I wasn’t going to start over with a new therapist unless I had to.
My normality was disrupted when I broke up with my boyfriend of a few years. We had lived together, so the breakup not only meant losing him, it also meant searching for a new place to live and coming up with the money to move. It was a terrible crossroads of emotional, logistical, and financial upset.
At that time, I had a friend who also was going through a breakup. She had started seeing a therapist she liked a lot and recommended that I make an appointment. This particular therapist supposedly specialized in “women’s issues,” whatever that meant. After making sure that this therapist had a regular office, not a home office that possibly smelled of cat pee, I made an appointment.
Overall, I would say that the “women’s issues” therapist was a good experience. I saw her around a dozen times and she was helpful. The downside to this therapist was that I found her to be unprofessional. She would often tell me the same stories multiple times, would mix me up with other patients, and then to top it all off, she would take phone calls during my sessions. She also pushed me to take extremely high doses of an expensive fish oil pill. She would cite a study that found fish oil was a mood lifter. I took the fish oil for a few months at her recommended dosage, but saw no difference. When I got tired of paying for the fish oil, I sought the advice of one of the vitamin people at Whole Foods. She told me that it was a really bad idea to take as much fish oil as I had been taking. I ceased shelling out hundreds of dollars for the pills that hadn’t worked anyway.
After the fish oil experience, I left therapy for another couple years. I didn’t think about it again until I found myself in a long-term funk that I just couldn’t shake. This time I asked my primary care physician for a recommendation.
My PCP gave me two therapists’ names and I called both. The first had openings and was happy to see me. The second said his schedule was full and he wasn’t accepting new clients. An easy decision the first therapist won.
I found that this therapist also had a home office. It didn’t smell strange and had an entrance that was separate from his home, so I felt okay about it.
From the first few sessions, it was evident that this was not a good match between therapist and client. We didn’t communicate easily and I didn’t take to his very serious style. After a few sessions he stamped me with the diagnosis of “bored.” Seriously? I go to the therapist and he tells me that my problem is that I’m simply bored? I began to dread going to our sessions and soon quit.
I was once again a therapy quitter.
It was at this time that I got a call from the second therapist my primary care doctor had recommended. He said that he had openings and could see me if I was still interested. I was still in my funk, so I made an appointment.
In one session, I could instantly see that this therapist’s style was better than the one who pronounced me as “bored.” He was easier to talk to and didn’t come off like a walking textbook. I told him how I’d felt about all my previous therapists and we decided that if I ever felt that way about him, there was no harm done and I would move on. I decided to make a second appointment.
A few days later I got a call from the new therapist. He explained that there had been a problem with my health insurance and he could not accept it. There went my hopes for that therapist. Rather than look for yet another one, I gave up for a while.
Around a year after that, I started a new job and got different health insurance. Things in my life were tumultuous at that point and I decided to call the therapist I had liked and check if he would take my new insurance. He could.
I thought that I would go to this therapist until I got through the crappy time I was going through, then stop going. He helped me get through some things that were going on in my life and when I started to feel better, I got ready to quit therapy. Again. Then I got laid off.
The layoff sent me into all kinds of new turmoil and kept me going to sessions. The therapist helped me determine that my jobs were a big source of my continued unhappiness. I would take a job just to have one, then be unsatisfied with my new position. This would then bleed into the rest of my life.
He convinced me that it was okay to take a different career path. A path that would make me happier and give me satisfaction. This is now something I am trying out and although it’s scary, I feel better than I have in a long time. I still see this therapist every week.
My route to therapy feeling right for me took around 10 years. It was difficult to find the right therapist and realize that therapy isn’t merely a quick fix. This time, I’m a believer and am in it for the long haul.