My Misadventures in Psych Counseling

You know something I don’t do anymore? Suggest people seek therapy. Nor do I consider it an option for myself.

Granted, a good therapist can do wonders healing a troubled mind. But here’s my problem: in my experience, a good therapist is like the Loch Ness monster. I’ve heard they exist but I’ve never actually seen one myself. How could this be?

Psychologists are human, too

Clinical psychologists are human beings. The pitfalls are the same for anyone in a position of power. You have to deal with their ego and insecurities. Their blind spots and limitations. They are supervised by another psychologist and are, therefore, always in therapy themselves. This is a good thing. It keeps them honest. Aware of any moments when they projected something onto the client. Or confessed to letting their mind wander while the client was speaking. Or missed a cue to support rather than instruct. I know they all do this. But I wonder if it really makes them better therapists.

My attempts at therapy

I’ve seen a total of three therapists during my 60 years. One while in my early twenties. The second in my mid-forties. The last in my mid-fifties. Three different stages of life, three different reasons.

The second attempt at therapy was directly related to MS. After six years in no-man’s land, I finally received my MS diagnosis at age 47. Upon delivering the diagnosis, my kind, sensitive neurologist said: “you’re not gonna cry now, are you? It’s not like it’s a big surprise.”

Coping with the grief of diagnosis

Yes I did cry. Grief pulled at me afresh. It sent me to a local service where I talked to a nurse practitioner. For the first time I was able to say to a professional that I was just diagnosed with MS and then allow myself to cry. She was appropriately sympathetic. So far so good. This simple show of support was all I wanted, all I really needed. It’s a thing I’ve rarely experienced but often given to others. It felt good. Moreover, it felt right. But then she switched direction.

She asked me about my family. I described my parents. She latched onto something about my father, asking endless questions over all three sessions about certain behaviors. I knew from the questions that she thought he was bipolar, questions like did he gamble, spend large sums of money, drink, do drugs, seem to fly high and not sleep or eat, then crash. Over and over. The same questions. I dutifully answered them and tried to get her off that and bring the focus back on my feelings. But she was like a dog with a bone.

Being directed away from my feelings

There was a moment when grief overcame me and I cried. I let slip that I wished I could talk to a particular woman about things, but we weren’t close at the time and she was very focused on raising her daughter. It was a very vulnerable moment, confessing my loneliness. The NP said “well, it’s understandable that she doesn’t have time for you, you know.” The last thing I needed was to be set straight on something I was already aware of. Perhaps she was more interested in my father and just couldn’t pick up the thread of it being-about-me again. Tired of being directed away from my feelings, I stopped going.

My last therapist

Five years ago I saw the last therapist. My marriage was gasping on life support after my husband of two years announced that he didn’t want to be married to a woman that couldn’t be his activities partner. By this time I was a seasoned, full-blooded, deeply introspective, emotionally intelligent  55-year-old woman with MS that had been around the block countless times, racking up losses so rapidly that I struggled to keep up — yet did so with restraint and diplomacy. Now I realized my partner wasn’t really a partner in anything related to me. I struggled to process yet another loss. Anger pushed into my brain, burning my thoughts like acid.

I can talk about anything

The therapist began our first session insisting we talk about music, specifically, the Beatles. I seethed with resentment and expressed my disapproval. He mildly chastised me for being disrespectful. I made a contrite statement and back-pedaled. Already I was cast as the arrogant b**ch. I reacted by trying to overwhelm him. I can talk comfortably about many issues and I did, fixing him with a direct gaze. He couldn’t make eye contact and turned a shoulder toward me. I can talk about sex without blushing; I can talk about anything. I have no shame. After all that had happened, all that I'd kept down, I took aim at this easily-cowed man. He reminded me not to complicate things and see the simple solution. I correctly named that method as Occam’s Razor. I told him I hate to be talked down to and that I’m smarter than most of his clients. He conceded my point, but it didn’t matter. All I wanted to do was finish him off, lop off his ears and display them to an adoring crowd.

I did not tell him that I was putting pressure on myself to censor my speech because he’s a guy. I didn’t tell him that I’m acutely aware of sexual politics and that it was already taking place in that room — and I didn’t want to go there. I was already dealing with a husband that refused to deal with my feelings, and I knew this guy wouldn’t, either. Then something else happened.

Failure to lend a sympathetic ear

During the last session I was focused deeply on something we’d been discussing for most of the hour. I must have mentioned having a psych exam while qualifying for Social Security Disability, memory tests in particular. It was 2012 and Obama was the president. “Who was president before Obama?” he suddenly asked me. I blanked. “Oh, c’mon, it was just the last president!” he said in a mocking tone. I struggled to recall. I was so fixated on what we’d been discussing that I couldn’t switch gears. That has been the case ever since developing MS. “Bush,” I finally blurted.

It was a moment of decision. He had mocked a disabled person with cognitive dysfunction. I thanked him for his help and told him I’m good and I’ll carry on by myself now.

I don’t need a therapist. I need a sympathetic ear. Now I talk to my family and friends for what I need and I get it every time.

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