Knowing When It’s Time to See a Therapist

hope despair sign

I did it. I had my first personal therapy session this week. I’ve done marriage counseling. I’ve done group therapy with my writing friends. But prior to this, I’ve never done therapy just for me. I thought I could heal myself or get support from friends, family or a partner.

Yes, the personal and relationship coach, needs help herself. It is hard to admit that. I should have it all figured out, right? The truth is, even with all the knowledge available there is no substitute for the eye-contact, deep listening and empathy of another human. Even with all the research and experience I’ve gained through practicing with my own clients, it is not the same as having someone actively engaged in helping and understanding me. I must replenish what I give to my clients. I need to be heard and seen to be able to listen to and see others.

Why I put it off

  • I’ve seen and heard that the love within us is an infinite source we can always access. If I could just tap into that, I’d be fine. I thought meditation could lead me to that deep inner well of love and peace. I thought if I mastered meditation and relaxation techniques I would feel calm and be able to do more. I would be fine if I could just not get too emotional or overwhelmed.
  • I should be able to handle things. I should work through most things on my own. Sure, friends and family can help but they are minor players. They are busy themselves. I just hadn’t found the right combination of self-care tactics to make everything alright.
  • I doubted the efficacy of a therapist. They won’t know much more than me.
  • I can go months feeling stable and secure. I go months without crying. I can feel relaxed and content.
  • I thought a good relationship would eliminate the need for professional help. I just had to find the magical partner to keep me feeling supported and secure.
  • I thought I could soothe myself through writing, reading and exercise. I know the tools to make my mind and body strong. I know how to get to my flow state through deep and meaningful work.

 

Why therapy now

  • The truth is I can help myself for a while, but the aloneness and emptiness always return.
  • I was listening to Jayson Gaddis’ Smart Couple Podcast and a woman asked a question about burning out her boyfriend. She had gone through a rough time for the last eight months. Her boyfriend had been very patient and understanding but had recently asked for a ten-day break from her. Her stress and depression were making him physically ill. He felt he was on her team but she was not on his. There was not a “Team Us”. Jayson said she needed to have other resources beside him. She needed to be well-resourced. I did not want to burn out my partner. I know being full or having multiple channels of support is important.
  • I landed in another state of feeling alone. There are a lot of things I’m juggling — work, relationships, parenting, household duties. Most of the time I’m taking care of everything myself.
  • My friends, family and boyfriend are not consistently available. Some of them are not well-resourced either.
  • It’s summer. My kids are home with me most days. While I enjoy their company, it leaves little time for deep work. Appointments, meals, interruptions and potential interruptions fragment my days.
  • A therapist specializing in nervous system regulation, childhood trauma and attachment theory started following me on twitter.
  • I was feeling down and therapy is one of the few resources I have not explored.

What I learned from the first session

  • A few tools to help my children not feel like I do. The therapist (an MD with masters in public health and a masters in biochemistry) suggested I hug my kids tightly for an extended time and spend at least ten minutes a day with them individually. Make them each feel special.
  • I need to grieve the young girl in me who did not get her emotions validated.
  • How much my grandmother and childhood friend made me feel cherished. They both died when I was 20 years old. I don’t think I’ve had that consistent feeling of being cherished since.
  • My mom was a consistent supporter but needed a lot of care and support herself. I spent a lot of time as a young person not wanting to burden her and standing by her. I still miss our weekly conversations.
  • I felt emotionally alone and not seen in my marriage. I’m sure my ex-husband felt the same.
  • The phrase, “Giving cakes for crumbs”. Many sensitive and obedient children learn to please others to get attention. As adults, we do the same thing. We often give a lot but receive “crumbs” in return.
  • It’s OK to have needs.

I learned and experienced much more than the above list during our first session, but there are some things I choose to keep between my therapist and me. I felt a sense of relief and hope after talking with Dr. A. We are meeting again next week. My hope is that her help will give me the emotional management and strengthened nervous system I desire to create healthy loving relationships with the important people in my life.

I see therapy as another way to help us live a rich life with depth and emotion. As sensitive people, we spend a lot of time suppressing or denying our feelings. Or maybe we spill our feelings all over the place and need help managing them in a healthy way. Emotions bring intimacy if validated and honored. They bring us closer to our loved ones if we understand and calibrate them. A therapist can help us do that.

 

**Side note: I felt relaxed and calm after writing this. Maybe it was the uninterrupted time alone. Maybe it was the act of writing. Maybe it was yesterday’s therapy session…

What are your feelings about therapy? Have you ever done it? Has it been helpful? 

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8 Comments

  1. Kate O'Sullivan
    June 24, 2017

    I am glad that you wrote of this – your experience and what led you to therapy!

    I am a therapist and it was important for me to find someone more equipped than I to ‘be’ with me and my stuff.I had been in therapy for years and never felt really ‘safe’. Working with the nervous system and self regulation is what I need so badly and is so needed today. It is fairly new to the therapy world. But, most of us have had some measure of dysregulation in our childhoods and understanding ourselves in this way opens many places in us to work, to notice and to have compassion for ourselves. I feel very different deep inside myself these days after sometime with this therapist who works with the nervous system. I loved the work so much that I am now in training myself – so I can offer it my my clients. It is called Somatic Experiencing™.

    I applaud your bravery, your courage and your vulnerability in sharing your process with us. May you continue to be blessed as you journey on this road.

    We are on this pilgrimage together….
    Kate

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      June 25, 2017

      Thank you Kate for such a thoughtful and encouraging comment. I have heard of Somatic Experiencing. Good luck with your training. I know your clients will benefit greatly! Here’s to feeling safe and growing into healthy, calm, secure and loving people. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Karen DeBonis
    June 24, 2017

    I’ve been in therapy many different times in my life, and have always found it helpful. I applaud you for taking this step, and for being brave and honest in sharing it. I hope it continues to be helpful.

    Reply
  3. Julie Bond Genovese
    June 23, 2017

    I have received SO much support, validation and insight from therapy over the years! I found a wonderfully loving and progressive therapist who was practicing EMDR, EFT and other less traditional therapies way back in the 8o’s. She helped me relieve so much childhood trauma. I still call her up when my light is low 🙂 We all need a tribe of resources and wise souls to hold us up. YAY for you Brenda! xoxoxo

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      June 24, 2017

      Thanks Julie! I agree we need a tribe of resources, especially when our lights are low. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Michael
    June 23, 2017

    funny. you surprised me, Brenda! first time with a therapist, just you. good for you.

    my daughter, Jessica — 34 — just left to go see her therapist! she sees this woman every other week now. helps her a lot. Jessica is married, 8 year old son, old family issues from growing up, some of which will heal, some never will.

    therapy is cool. i mean, to have someone to listen to you. just listen. maybe have some insight. maybe. but really not required — i don’t think so. i mean that in the talking with someone who does listen, we usually find the answers ourselves. often we know them ourselves, have forever.

    i saw this one gal for a better part of three years. I’m not sure she ever really saw who i am. nor did i — not some key parts. it was fine. i liked her. i liked having someone smart and interesting to talk with, share things with.

    sometimes we’d be talking, and while I’m talking, she looks out the window at something going on outside. that always pissed me off. she wasn’t really there with me.

    had a breaking point about a year ago. something happened, no need to recount. and I haven’t seen anyone since, and basically am happy. i was paying her $120 a session out of pocket. it added up. but i always did look forward to having someone to listen.

    we do figure most of our stuff out ourselves, i think. but the benefit of having someone just listen to us is huge. profound. without it, we die inside. someone who hears us, or tries to. i think the main thing we seek a partner for, is to have someone who listens. without judgment. without advice. without anything — just listen, hear, want to know who we are. and love who we are.

    lots of couples, they quit hearing each other long ago if they ever did. they don’t REALLY want to know the one they’re with — to the same degree, i think, as they don’t REALLY want to know their own selves. when we dig deep, we uncover stuff. just stuff. but the one we’re with sometimes can’t / won’t / doesn’t want to hear who these parts of us are. and that’s tragic, really. then we start to die inside. I’ve known that.

    and then we make a pretty much literal life or death decision — to stay with someone who doesn’t know us and doesn’t want to … or we leave. i think a lot of people stay. and then die inside.

    so good for you, Brenda. to have someone who listens to YOU … all of whoever you are. wonderful things will come from it. best of all, you will be more of who you really are.

    I love this quote from e.e. cummings: ‘to be nobody but yourself in a world that’s doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you will ever fight. never stop fighting.’

    You’re beautiful, Brenda. keep shining, and keeping becoming you.

    Michael

    Reply
    • Michael
      June 23, 2017

      correction at the end: ‘and keep on becoming you.’

      m

      Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      June 24, 2017

      It seems some people (like you and me Michael) want to know everything about everyone including ourselves and others have no curiosity about what’s going on inside of themselves or others. I know some are afraid of venturing into the dark corners of their soul. I agree that we all want to be seen and heard. It is the greatest gift to be deeply listened to. I think we have to really know ourselves and have a desire to know our loved ones in order to have intimacy. That sense of connection is from knowing another on a deep level.
      Love the e.e. cummings quote. I’ll be sure to maintain focus and/or eye contact with my clients. No looking out the window. 🙂 I can see why that would bother you. It’s like when people look at their phone while talking with you. Take are Michael. Thanks as always for your kind and wise words.

      Reply
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