Friday, October 12, 2012

What Therapy Looks Like From My Side of the Couch

Every session starts out the same way, with a fireball of anxiety churning in my stomach.  No matter how many times I have sat on the same couch, I still have a momentary fit of anxiety prior to seeing my therapist.  It has nothing to do with her, really.  There is just that moment of fear that I am somehow not good enough to be there.  My fears are not that my therapist will laugh or judge, but that my problems don't really warrant therapy.  I go to therapy to learn how to believe I deserve to be in therapy.  Pretty crazy, right?

I'm beginning to realize that not only is this not crazy, but it makes sense.  If you've never been told you deserve help, you believe that you're not worthy.  I've mention before that accepting help from my therapist isn't easy for me.  The above-and-beyond lengths my therapist goes to makes it that much harder to be cared for. And it makes it hard for me to speak up about my unease surrounding that care.

In my latest session I once again found myself drowning in concern and care.  Before I could say anything, my therapist wanted to talk to me about our co-occurring internet lives.  The issue here is that I am on my way to becoming a social worker and my therapist is a social worker.  A very active, very outspoken social worker.  And I am a very active, very outspoken social work student and self advocate.  Our areas of interest are alarmingly similar.  So it seems her Twitter feed has popped up some of my tweets that have been re-tweeted by mutual followers.  In theory it is a non-issue.  Sort of how you may see a friend-of-a-friend or an ex's tweets.  Except that the minute she began speaking about it, I was instantly uncomfortable.  I ignored that feeling and said everything was fine and was honest about how I've seen a couple of her tweets also.  I don't know why I didn't speak up about the unease I was feeling or my lack of explanation for it.  Maybe it was embarrassment, or shame over the fact that I "shouldn't" be uncomfortable.  Whatever it was that I was feeling, I pushed through it.

The rest of the session I still felt that unease, but I continued to ignore my body.  Not a recommended practice.  After the session, I went home, watched a movie with my wife, watched CNN, and continued to try to ignore what had happened.  A sudden feeling of panic made me sit down and finally journal about what I was feeling.  I knew I wasn't worried about her reading my tweets or even finding my blog.  She knows a lot more intimate details than what I self-disclose on either of those accounts.  I went through all the things that could make me uncomfortable and while thinking about sharing followers I realized I didn't feel worthy of having the same followers.  Cue the self-bashing.  Suddenly the hailstorm of not good enough, only a client, I'm nobody begins.

Once that calms down another realization hit me- my therapist showing concern over inadvertently invading my personal life is because she cares.  And therein lies the problem: she cares.  Such compassion for my well-being is a foreign idea for me.  Even blogging about this makes me uncomfortable.  It feels taboo.  And that's the reason I'm sitting here nervously typing away my story: so eventually it won't be taboo.

I know that part of the reason I'm uncomfortable being cared for is because of childhood problems.  However, I also know that part of it is the fact that society tends to reinforce the detrimental messages I received as a child.  Crying, being emotional, and speaking openly are not things society values.  Those who can "be strong" and "push through it" are congratulated while those who are able to express their emotions are condemned.  I've long believed that mental health care professionals have the power to change this, but recently I realize that maybe that's not the case.  They have the power to give research-proven statements and to give advice within their scope of knowledge, but they cannot back up their claims without people who have LIVED IT and are willing to tell their stories. This isn't always easy, as some professionals have yet to see that working with clients is more helpful than working at them. However, it is possible to surround yourself with professionals willing to help you and help you advocate for yourself.  There is a lot of power in being a client.  Let's begin to take that back!

As more clients step up to the plate and put their experiences out there, society will begin to see how out dated the emotion-less belief system is.  And as clients begin working together with their providers, both parties can realize that the view is pretty much the same from both sides of the couch.

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