I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before, but I want to be a therapist. I’m in my last semester of school and writing my undergrad thesis so I can graduate with my BA in Psychology. I plan to start grad school as soon as possible to get my MS in Mental Health Counseling. Part of what drove me to want to become a counselor, aside from my life experiences, is my previous experiences in therapy. They were not the best; at times, they were actually counterproductive. Those experiences made me want to work to become a great counselor so clients didn’t have to go through the experiences that I did with my therapists.
My first experience with therapy happened in high school. It wasn’t my or my parents’ choice. My guidance counselor had told my parents that if they did not put me in counseling, I would be expelled from school (I went to a private high school, so they had the right). I went to therapy once a week until the school backed off, and then my mother pulled me out.
It’s not like anything was getting accomplished anyway. My mother sat outside the door of the therapist’s office at every appointment. It was her way of reinforcing her “don’t tell anyone anything” policy – and it worked. I never talked about anything that was bothering me, or about any of my experiences. The therapist didn’t even pick up on my fear; she actually enjoyed talking about her own experiences so much that she didn’t notice.
My second therapy stint occurred when I was 19. My job was concerned with my emotional health, and being the unprofessional and unethical establishment they are, involved my mother. They told her if she didn’t get me help, that they were going to call the police. Looking back, all of this was bullshit in more ways than one. But I ended up in therapy again. And my mother still sat her ass outside the door. I remember the therapist asked me one day why my mother looked so angry. I hadn’t even noticed; that was her normal look.
I think I ended up going for two months, if that. Once again, nothing was getting accomplished anyway. This time, whenever I brought up something like self-injury, the therapist avoided the topic altogether and it made me feel horrible. I could only imagine what his reaction would have been if I brought up more serious issues. Thank God I didn’t.
I managed to keep myself out of therapy until I was 28. This time, I wanted to be in therapy. My issue was that I couldn’t leave the house to do anything other than work. So out of desperation, I sought out an online therapist. It was a little expensive, but I used my credit card and took a chance. It was much easier for me because I could type whatever I wanted and didn’t need to worry about my mother finding out about it.
I finally spilled my guts out to somebody who listened (or read, if you want to get technical). The only problem was that she was limited in what she could do, since therapy consisted of e-mails viewed on a computer screen. I understood that limitation when I started. I just needed to tell someone, and at that point, I didn’t care who or how. I actually still communicate with this same therapist online. It’s been helpful to have someone consistent when my life seems to have been a whirlwind over the past year.
In November 2014, I was hospitalized for two weeks in the behavioral health unit. Ten days later, I was hospitalized again due to a mix-up (I had no care plan in place after my initial hospitalization). After that second hospitalization, I was set up with a MSW at a county facility. I don’t know how much experience she had, but she was fucking terrible. Excuse my language, but there’s just no other way to express it. She was older than me, so she should have had some experience. It scares me to think of how many clients she’s had and how many she fucked up.
My first clue to her incompetence was her diagnosis of me. She diagnosed me with depression secondary to asthma. My hospital discharge papers didn’t even list depression. The psychiatrists in the hospital told me depression really wasn’t my main issue at all. And then, asthma? I’m depressed about my asthma? By this point, I had been living with asthma for 14 years. Asthma was the least of my problems.
I only saw her every other week, thankfully, but that was enough for her to still fuck my mind up. During one session, she suggested that I try drinking alcohol to help relieve stress; she even mentioned that it was something her and her boyfriend did. Not only was this a horrible suggestion to make to any client, but I had a documented history of alcohol abuse. I was speechless.
For a few weeks, I felt myself slipping into suicideality again. I admitted this to my therapist, who told me that feeling suicidal was normal. I wanted some kind of help. At this point, it had been nearly two months at the county facility and I had yet to see the psychiatrist for an evaluation. But she did nothing. She brushed it off as normal.
I ended up admitting myself to the hospital shortly after because I had recurring thoughts of walking out in front of a bus, to a point where that was all I could think about. I also had access to an enormous amount of medication. I was hospitalized for just under a week…and sent back to the same horrible therapist.
I told myself I would really try to make it work this time. I couldn’t do it. When I expressed anger over my mother’s extreme control of me, she downplayed it and told me that my mother was just concerned for my well-being. When I discussed my mixed emotions about my mother because of my past, she said “I get it, I have problems with my mother, too.” Really, did your mother abuse you? My anger shifted from my mother to this woman parading as a therapist. She went on to defend any action my mother had ever taken. It made me sick. I left therapy feeling worse than I did going in.
I made the decision to stop seeing this woman. I had to, for my own sanity. During what ended up to be our last session, she gave me a book on attachment disorders. She told me she believed that I had an attachment disorder based on my relationship with my mother and that I should read the book to learn more about my problem. During the same session, when I expressed my desire to move out-of-state and leave my family, she told me “you can’t do that, you can’t just abandon your own family.” I knew that was it. I never went back.
My coworker suggested (while I was still seeing the woman I have dubbed as SSW – shitty social worker) that I start going to counseling at a place where he had been going. It was far, but he offered to drive me there and back home. I was desperate, so I took him up on the offer. I went right after work, so my mother never suspected anything. This therapist was young – younger than me for sure, and I suspect not out of grad school for very long. But I gave it a shot – at this point I had no other choice.
I decided to take a different approach and let it all out in the first two sessions. I didn’t want to have to waste my time with another therapist who wasn’t going to acknowledge my issues. I don’t think she was quite prepared. It took her some time to come up with responses. But she tried, and I appreciated it. I continued seeing her every week up until the week I moved out, mostly so I could just have someone to talk to. I admit I wasn’t a good client; I often shut down and would sit in silence. I don’t think she knew how to respond to that, so very little progress was ever made.
My hope for humanity finally came when I met two therapists at a retreat for my support group back in April. They were knowledgeable, experienced, and caring. They were down-to-earth and spoke to you like you were just a normal person. At one point in the retreat, I had broken down and one of the therapists sat next to me and held me while I cried. This…this was something I never had before. Someone who wanted to help. Someone who actually cared. From that point, I knew that I could find a therapist that would work for me. After 14 years of shitty experiences, I finally found a positive.