Tag Archives: talk therapy

Breaking Up With My Therapist

psychotherapy

psychotherapyI broke up with my therapist recently. That sounds a bit dramatic. What I mean is that I ended a formal relationship with a talk therapist I’d been seeing fairly regularly over the past few years. And, like all break-ups, even the ones that you know need to happen, I felt incredibly sad afterwards.

Therapy’s not for everyone

Therapy’s not for everyone. I used to be really surprised when people I was close to would admit that they’d never been to a therapist. Or that they had come to the conclusion, without ever having tried it, that “therapy was just not for them.” Really?  I would wonder to myself. How do you make sense of this giant, unscripted blob of feeling and experience we call life?

While I still think most people could benefit from doing therapy at some point in their lives, I don’t judge anymore. I now see that some people really *don’t* need to analyze themselves endlessly because, as a friend and I like to quip, “their mothers loved them.” Which is to say that some people have so much security and self-understanding that even when they face adversity, they are able to weather such storms on their own. Maybe they consult with family or friends. Or perhaps they turn to some other form of support, such as mindfulness or acting classes or exercise. (I’ve done all three.)

Therapy as a well

I’m not one of those people. But I did feel that it was time to cut the apron strings with this particular therapist. It had nothing to do with the quality of the service provided. She was incredibly insightful – always coming to our sessions with a new take on old problems. And – bonus! – she was also French. Which meant that when I wasn’t listening to her advice, I was ogling her accessories and thinking that I really needed to wear more scarves…

My basic view on therapy is that it’s a bit like a well. There are times in your life when you’ll need to crank that bucket of water up fairly regularly for a drink. And there are other times when just a sip can last you a long time.

So why did I leave? Part of it was money. I’m just starting a new business, so I couldn’t really afford to have so much money flowing out of my checking account without a lot more coming in. But mostly, it was that I felt like I’d made a lot of progress on a whole host of fronts – personal and professional – over the past year. So I could trust in myself to use some of the insights I’d gleaned from her – along with some of the tools listed above – to manage on my own for now.

Which doesn’t mean I’ve arrived anywhere. I used to imagine that there was this magical place in adulthood where the sun came out and you could skip through the puddles and no more clouds would appear on the horizon. Ever. Spoiler alert: it’s not so. And more to the point, therapy is not about arrival. It’s about accepting that the journey really is forever.

Saying good-bye is good for you

The tell-tale sign that I’d made the right decision? Right after I announced to my therapist that I’d be departing, I had a dream that I was late for a plane and didn’t mind. It was the first dream in my life involving travel where I didn’t feel completely lost and anxious. (Thank you, sub-conscious!)

Which doesn’t mean there isn’t some sadness that comes with the bargain. I hate good-byes. For goodness sake, I well up when I hear “Puff the Magic Dragon” because it conjures up such raw feelings of loss. So a big part of me just wanted to send my therapist a text and call it quits so as to avoid the drama and pain of separation.

She was having none of it. Like any good therapist, she knew that you can’t run away from those feelings. You need to acknowledge the sadness of letting someone close to you go and wish each other well.

Bonne chance.

Link: Psychotherapy by Oliverkepka via Pixabay.com

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways Talk Therapy Can Help

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s list is inspired by the front page article in the New York Times magazine over the weekend  by Daphne Merkin, which provides an account of the author’s life-long search for the perfect psycho-therapist.

I have a feeling that this article could serve as another great example of the age-old “there are two types of people in the world…”. On the one hand, there are undoubtedly people who will be turned off by this five-page, detailed meditation on Merkin’s ongoing relationship to psychotherapy, using it as confirmation that psychotherapy really is just an extended exercise in (pointless) narcissism. On the other hand, there are people (like me) who – while acknowledging the self-indulgent nature of therapy – find both the process and analysis…of analysis…endlessly fascinating. Which is another way of saying that I couldn’t put the article down.

Wherever you fall on the “therapy as literature” debate, I do think that seeing a therapist of any sort can be extraordinarily useful at certain points in your life. And, apparently, more and more of my adopted country’s citizens agree with me. While talk therapy has long been an important part of American life,  more and more Brits have gotten on board with psycho-therapy in recent years. A a recent survey suggests that 94% of people in the U.K. now consider it acceptable to have counseling and psychotherapy for anxiety and depression, compared with just 67% in 2004.

If you’re a therapy skeptic or just haven’t felt the need to see a shrink, here’s a layman’s perspective on five ways talk therapy can help you (But be sure to read my “five things not to do in therapy” before you go!):

1. It gives you a narrative. Whether of not you actually pay someone to help you do this, most of us spend a good portion of our adult lives trying to figure ourselves out. Therapy is a useful tool in that process because – if you stick with it long enough – you gradually acquire a story that you can tell yourself to make sense of your past. At the risk of dumbing things down, think of this as a sort of “thesis sentence” (remember 9th grade English?) about your life. It might be something as simple as “I was put on this earth to accompany my sister” or “I was invisible to my parents.” Whatever it is, having a framework about yourself is helpful for moving forward.

2. You identify patterns. As you begin to unearth your own narrative, you’ll discover that you have a habit of repeating certain behaviors. In my own case, a shrink once casually observed that “freedom of movement” is a defining characteristic of who I am. And in one fell swoop, I made sense of about five different things going on in my life, from relationship issues to living overseas. It’s not until you can clearly see the patterns that you can think about change.

3.You normalize your problems. “Ordinary Misery” or “Ordinary Unhappiness” (to generously paraphrase Freud) is the goal here, folks. Which is another way of saying that if you stay inside your own head too long you run the risk of thinking that your problems are worse than they are. Conversely, by talking to someone else about your problems you come to see that a.) you aren’t insane b.) lots of other people share your issues and c.) all of these things are fixable. This does not mean that you’ll necessarily end up “happy” (whatever that is). But in converting your demons into ordinary problems, you’ll be happi-er, which is probably enough for most of us mere mortals.

4. You change your life. Or at least you have the tools to do so. In my own case, I can point to several major life changes that wouldn’t have happened without therapy, ranging from the profound (career change) to the seemingly-trivial-but-in-fact-hugely-consequential (yoga). Provided that you do it the right way, therapy offers you a chance to take abstract  insights about yourself and apply those towards concrete changes in your life.

5. It offers hope. See 1, 2, 3 and 4. And in an era where suicide rates are up among middle-aged Americans, that’s nothing to sneeze at.

*****

I’m over on Politics Daily today talking about the new trend towards early puberty in girls and what it might mean for everyone else.


Image: Week Five – Face of Depression by Jessica Hime via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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