I’m a student of the therapy profession. I love to know what makes an therapist an exceptional one, what a therapist does that is helpful, that gives a person hope, that has the person believing enough after the first session that it feels worthwhile to come back.
Therapy is a risky venture as a person dares to talk about that which is hardest to talk about.
There are a whole lot of reasons NOT to go to therapy. So, while I wonder what can make the difference to have a person decide to go to therapy in the first place, I wonder even more what has them decide, after the initial meeting, to continue.
I found fresh hope one day when sitting across from a new therapist talking about the hopelessness that was me; In my intake session I told him that I had the best life, the most wonderful husband, 3 great kids and was living my dream on a big farm/ranch riding my horse, but for some reason I had no reason to live. I thought that my family would be better off without me. I was tired, frustrated and heading for my third serious depression in 5 years. The last two depressions had lasted for almost 2 years each. I was terrified of antidepressants since I’d had a terrible withdrawal experience the last time I had taken them. The only stone left unturned that I knew of was that I had not followed through on the therapy for the dissociated identity disorder that I had been diagnosed with when I was in my mid twenties. I had decided to make one last attempt at dealing with that.
I caught just a glimmer of something different in the methods this therapist was using. He didn’t just listen to me, he reacted to me. He winced when I asked if it “was normal for a mother to put her tongue in her 9 year old daughter’s mouth?” He assured me that this was not “normal” and it was in that moment that I knew this therapy would be different. Not because of what he said though, because he winced. Other therapists had never reacted to that question. It was what I later realized was my “test question” and I was not going to tell absolutely everything if I wasn’t going to get an idea if this stuff was just run of the mill no big deal stuff or if something really wrong had happened to me. I had been raised to believe after all, that my life and my upbringing was better than most.
That glimmer of hope is what kept me going week after week, dumping some of the most difficult stories, and being validated by my therapist who was sometimes moved to tears. He showed his disgust for the things that happened to me. He assured me that it was not my fault, but more importantly than that, he showed me why I thought it was my fault, and then he helped me to see why it was not my fault. This was the beginning of my emerging from broken and into to a life of wholeness and splendid mental health beyond anything I had ever hoped for. (bold and italics mine)
I love that Darlene’s therapist was not only a professional, but he was profoundly human. His transparency and authenticity that showed through let her know that she was a real person to him, and he was going to allow himself to be impacted.
The work they did was “soul to soul” work, and not some formulaic “nod and affirm” approach. The comments after this blog entry are a dialogue of struggling people sharing their difficulty at finding such a therapist, or the incredible blessing such a therapist had been.
If you’ve had a bad experience with a therapist, don’t throw out the possibility of working through your issues with another human being. Having a caring companion to walk through the dark shadows of the soul is healing in itself, in addition to the significant possibilities of meaningful work happening. Do the research, find someone who you’ve heard good things about, ask questions–dare to allow someone to react to your story in a way that has you look differently at it.