I have gone into therapy to help me with the pain, issues, guilt and stress around my parents’ transition in life. I am a very in touch with my feelings kind of person, as you may have noticed, so one would think that I would serve as the perfect therapist for me. But try as I might, I could not find my old psychology degree anywhere, so I thought it was best to call in the big guns. And by that, of course I mean a registered legal therapist. What therapy has reminded me (yes I’ve been there before) is that the “physician heal thyself” does not work even for the most introspective among us.
I go in to my sessions knowing exactly what I want to talk about, focus on, target. One question or comment from my therapist can take me down a whole new path of discovery. It is a kooky journey. It is sometimes painful, but it is always freeing. And always uplifting. Because it reminds me that I can always change. I can change it right up to the year, week, or minute before I die. And my therapy sessions are little treats. I never have to rely on my dogs to eat my therapy homework as I am always excited to get to it. I have been applying these lessons to everyday life and I am nailing it, I am kicking its ass. I AM therapy.
It’s funny how I grew up thinking about the concept of therapy. Growing up in the 50’s was all about “what happens in this house, stays in this house”. The idea of therapy was for weaklings, for the rich, and for the rich weaklings. A “quality” person would take pride in conquering one’s own problems in the privacy of one’s own head. They would pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get on with it. “Be grateful for what you have. Stop whining.”
When I first went to therapy I felt a little like that. As soon as I walked through the door, I felt I had failed myself. I was walking through this door because I could not handle it myself. It was like when I first got a cleaning lady. I did not grow up with one. Well, actually we did—called her Mom. But for years after getting a cleaning lady myself, I would still leap to my feet when she came into the room, hiding my Instyle magazine under a cushion. Partly it was my shame of allowing myself this gift of help. And partly it was the thought that I could bloody well do it myself, as I was brought up to believe. The same with therapy. But after I started therapy, I realized that it was my own emotional intelligence that brought me there. I was clearly an emotional genius!
My problem however is that once I get started, I don’t want to leave. Previously, my therapist had to politely kick me out. She said, and I quote, “You know at this point you are paying me good money for us to sit here, talk and laugh.” My response was that I had hoped she hadn’t noticed. It is nice to delete your trash with someone who did not have to hear it as a friend, who was expecting to spend a fun evening with you.
And part of me wants to stay because I am a great student. Top of the class. First time in a long time I have done well in school and I cannot wait to get back there! Sadly, I am left wanting for a gold star or even a seasonal sticker. I do feel that the “professional” therapists are lacking in that area. No stickers, no stars, no chewy candies of any sort. But I know I deserve a star. And so does my therapist. I am rockin’ it! Sticker or not, we’re not fooling anybody.
Barbara: Well, Deb, you certainly get a gold star from me (I’ll bring one on our next coffee date)! And, while it’s been years since I went to therapy, and while I did accumulate a fair collection of real honest-to-goodness gold stars in my childhood until I started to … not (cough, math, cough, history, cough, chemistry), I totally relate to your sense of excited accomplishment from the School of Couch.
I had what I like to call my midlife consciousness crises when I hit my late 30s. Nothing had turned out the way I’d imagined and everything felt wonky, false, contrived, exhausting. I finally realized I needed some help. Smartest thing I ever did. I never understand people who rail against therapy, who are insulted and demeaned by the very thought of it. People who, in fact, would probably benefit a really really lot from it.
But I—get this—actually have a little bonus point for you all here, a brownie point beyond my full endorsement of Deb’s charming post. I just finished a wonderful book called How the Brain Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge—it was, in fact, so interesting, I was going to blog about. I probably still will, but one of the many impressive points he makes is that because all our bad habits, emotional and otherwise, come out of the basic science that when our “neurons fire together, they wire together” (ie: I’m sad, I need to eat; something goes wrong, I feel guilty, and on and on), and in order to undo that network (which you CAN do: “the wires that fire apart, wire apart”), you need a kind of systematic mental exercise, like push-ups for the brain. Therapy gives us that exercise. A good therapist will illuminate your weak spots and remind you of them over and over so you can breathe away from the habitual old responses … until the neurons have, quite possibly, finally, wired apart.
I congratulate you, Deb, and I wish you continued success. You are pure gold all the way!