[Adapted from a survey I filled out for the Mental Illness Happy Hour.]
1. What brought you to therapy?
I felt extremely "bad". I didn't know why. I thought I should have been able to go through my year abroad in Africa as a missionary for God and find joy and peace and bring many people to Jesus, but I didn't. I felt like I was a failure at the most important thing that I could ever do for God, but everyone around me thought I was a hero and an amazing person. I knew it was a lie. I couldn’t do it. Only one friend of mine could see through the stories I told of my time in Africa to the extreme difficulty of it and the extreme difficulty of returning to the US. He told me I should talk to a counselor. I could not do it myself, so he asked if he could have them call me to set up an appointment. I said yes. Really, I just wanted death because I knew that everything I had dreamed for my life was over and there was nothing else of meaning left for me.
2. Describe any fears you had associated with starting therapy
I had no idea what therapy even was. I grew up in a happy and loving Christian family and had a life that was pretty sheltered from pain so I thought that only very bad people with awful lives went to therapy. At that point though, I was afraid of everything and I rarely even left the house, or answered the phone, or opened the curtains without breaking down. I guess my fears associated with starting therapy was that it would be confirmed that I was the most sinful and horrible Christian that lived because of my "bad" feelings.
3. Of the fears you described, did any of them come true?
My fears were mostly of the unknown so I can't say if those came true, but my fear of being confirmed as the most sinful and horrible Christian that lived because of my "bad" feelings, did not come true. I was given compassion, and it was explained to me that even Christians can get depressed and have mental illnesses that are caused by an imbalance of the chemicals in their brains. I was given hope, not shame.
I can say that I should have been afraid of becoming too emotionally attached to and dependent on my therapist and him becoming too attached to me, because when his moral downfall came and his life fell apart, and he was fired, it broke me even more, and I almost died by suicide because of it. I had depended on him to keep me alive, and when his support was taken away I hadn’t developed the strength to give myself support or find enough other healthy support. I fell hard.
4. As a client, describe what worked best for you in therapy (example: having a safe place to be completely honest, learning new coping skills, homework, venting, etc.)
The first good thing that really helped me in therapy was learning a vocabulary to describe what I felt, because all I knew was that I felt "bad" all the time. I didn’t know what the “bad” was or how to describe it.
The most powerful thing that worked for me was having another person show unconditional love and acceptance of me no matter what I said or how deep down in the pit I was.
When I had tried a couple times to kill myself and was actively cutting on myself, the best thing for me was Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) because it taught me survival skills, all of which I had lost. I had to relearn how to live and have something to do to stop me from committing suicide, which I thought about every moment for years.
After I had learned survival skills, the best thing for me in therapy was to be with a new therapist that I trusted completely with my spiritual thoughts and questions about myself, about God, and about the world. I could finally think clearly enough to consider and be ready for these thoughts. It was at a time when I needed real, true answers, and he helped direct me through his knowledge and research of God’s Word, his personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and his understanding of psychology, mental illness, and medicine.
The best thing for me to get over my fear of driving and the Post Traumatic Stress from being involved in five car accidents in three years was to see a therapist who specialized in Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR). Though I started at an extremely high panic level and found the process very difficult, over the weeks and months, that level slowly came down little by little until I was actually able to have calm and start driving again.
5. As a client, what were your initial impressions of your therapist? Was there anything he or she did that was unsettling to you?
All I really remember was that I was deathly afraid of coming out of my house and that fear compounded when I had to sit and wait in the waiting room for the unknown. Then, when in his office, the distance between my seat on the couch and his seat on his swiveling chair seemed too great. That made me feel like I was offensive to him in some way. Also, I didn’t understand his strict adherence to time. I had just come from a culture where cutting off time with someone before you were done with your topic (even if that took a long time) was rude and meant that you didn’t really care for the person. It was difficult for me to not misinterpret the meaning of these actions and think that I was a waste of his time and space. My impressions about his demeanor though, were that he seemed calming, accepting, and genuine in his desire to help me feel better.
6. Do you feel you can be completely honest with your therapist? If yes, describe how you came to feel that way. If not, describe why that is, what changes you could make, or some things you think your therapist could do to help you feel safer.
Yes, I can be honest with my current therapist with most things. I do have difficulty sharing those things that I am still feeling shame or embarrassment for. I am not sure what to suggest except for my therapist to ask me this very question straightforwardly about what I don't feel like I can be honest about.
I would like to know why certain things had the opportunity to happen in my life and how those things may still be affecting me. I don't know if this is important though. I did share a bit about this subject with my therapist, and I found that she was a safe and validating person to share with. I think I would have felt comfortable to share even more with her if she would have asked a few more questions to help me put words to what was inside.
7. Is there anything else you would like to share with a group of new therapists? Any insights from your work as a client?
It can be very damaging to make your client become completely dependent on your help and support as their only means of survival. It happened to me, and when that person was suddenly cut out of my life and fired from being a therapist, I was left in a state that was almost worse than how I was when I first went to him. I was still depressed, but now I also was abandoned and my trust had been broken. I nearly killed myself.
A therapist can be of great help and save people’s lives, but please do not make yourself the only means by which a client stands, because if you fall, the person leaning on you will have no strength in their legs, and will find themselves fallen in a worse, weakened state than when they began with you. It was important for me to be taught to find the source of true strength in life and to strengthen my own emotional, mental, spiritual, and relational muscles so that I could stand on my own, and if I fell, I could know how to pick myself back up and stand again.