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10 Things I Wish I Knew About Long Term Therapy
If you’ve ever wondered what to expect when you visit a therapist, you’re in the right place. Let me tell you about my first experience seeing a therapist and then beginning long term therapy. I didn’t expect to end up in long-term therapy, yet I sure wouldn’t be who I am today without it.
I first began seeing a therapist about five years ago. Once a week, I faithfully spend one hour with my therapist, Stacy. It was never my intention to see her this often, but now that I’ve developed the routine, I can’t imagine NOT seeing her this often. She offers a safe place to let out all of my frustration, anger, and hurt feelings. I can let the emotions flow with her and not worry that I will hurt anyone’s feelings or suffer any repercussions later for saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s roll back to the beginning.
How It All Began
About five years ago, my kids were all leaving the nest. I have five total. The first four are born within five years of one another, so they are very close in age. Lots of crazy things were happening in my world. My daughter was off at college and stretching her wings for all they were worth. My oldest son was in the U.S. Army National Guard and coming and going from training and planning a wedding in the middle of all of it. Another son was pushing all of the limits he could find, and the last son was working his way through his final year of high school. As all of this was happening, I had a sweet little tag-along son in early elementary school.
As you can imagine, my plate was full. I was struggling with watching my kids grow and leap from the nest. Most days, I cried at least once over something someone somewhere had said or done that was trampling all over my feelings. On top of that, I did not have a whole lot of support. My husband did everything he could to make me feel valued and wanted and desired, but I didn’t have a support system beyond that. That left me feeling abandoned and alone. I hadn’t realized how much I enjoyed my kids needing me and wanting to be part of my life, so it hurt when they all started “not” needing me and trying their hardest to get out of my life.
Related: 5 Things They Don’t Tell You about Parenting Grown Children
A Scary Surprise
Late one evening about five years ago, my daughter and her fiancé showed up at our home unexpectedly. She was still living at college about 90 minutes away, and it was a school night, so to see them show up in the doorway was quite a surprise. I quickly discovered that this was no pleasure visit. She was having a mental health crisis of her own, and she and her fiancé were in over their heads and needed some adult intervention.
My daughter is very open about her mental health struggles now, but she was undiagnosed at that time. Since she had been living away for the past few years, I had no idea how rough things had gotten for her, so when she showed up at my house that night with cut marks up and down her arms, I felt panic. I had heard of “cutting” but hadn’t experienced it firsthand. Cuts on the arms and wrists looked a lot like suicide attempts to me, and I had no idea what to do.
Read my daughter’s story here: How BPD Changed Our Lives – Parenting a Child with Borderline Personality Disorder
After drying up her tears and having some serious conversation, I knew that she felt just as overwhelmed with her new adult life as I was, so I called my pastor and asked for a referral to a good Christian therapist. I knew this was too much for me to slog through on my own. Fortunately, my pastor had a name and an e-mail address, and the following day I reached out for help.
Therapy Truth #1
Visiting a therapist isn’t just for times of crisis
I heard back from Stacy right away, and she was able to get Lexi and me in for a midday appointment the next day. I felt nervous, upset, awkward, and honestly, kind of like a failure to need help. After all, I am the mom. Shouldn’t I be able to handle this crisis!? Isn’t that what moms do!? Wrong. Moms teach their children that it’s okay to ask for help when they need it.
Stacy welcomed us into her office together that day and began by just asking us a few questions. The questions were simple: What brings you here today? Tell me about yourselves. Tell me about your relationship, etc. She was very cheerful and kind and sensed our nerves. After she spent some time listening to each of us while we were there together, she then spent a few minutes alone with Lexi and then with me. She immediately put my mind at ease and assured me that we weren’t dealing with suicidal issues here. We definitely had other things to be concerned about, but suicide was not likely one of them.
Oooh! Get all the dirt on me here: 10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Me
Therapy Truth #2
Visiting a therapist can be very reassuring
I don’t remember all of the conversations we had that day, but I remember leaving that office feeling reassured and better than when I had arrived. Why had I waited for an epic crisis to talk to someone about my heavy emotions!? I told Stacy that I wanted to see her again alone as soon as possible, and she set me up for the next week. I almost immediately knew that there was so much more for me to deal with than just the immediate issue of Lexi’s situation.
My daughter and I made it through her crisis with Stacey’s help, and Lexi moved back to her dorm at school, where she continued to seek help. The rest of her story is for another day. Today I want to focus on my experience with therapy and why you shouldn’t wait for a crisis to start seeing your own.
Therapy Truth #3
Visiting a therapist does not have to be scary
I began seeing my therapist under the scariest of circumstances. Don’t you do it that way if you don’t have to. Even if you do, know that you’re probably making the best decision of your life walking through those doors. Maybe you have some difficult family members. It could be that you have some unchecked anxiety. Do you have crippling low self-confidence? Are you struggling with your job, your parenting, or your marriage? These are all great reasons to seek help from a professional therapist. Stacey has helped me through all of these situations and then some. Here are some essential things to keep in mind when you’re ready to make that first appointment!
Another great read! When Dreams Come True: Photographing Bald Eagles in the Wild
Therapy Truth #4
You don’t have to be crazy to benefit from a visit to a therapist
Sadly, some of us still worry about the stigma around visiting a therapist. I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, raised by parents who taught me the value of pulling myself up by the bootstraps and moving forward in life at all costs. I had a family member who had some serious mental health issues in the early 80s, and it was top secret that he spent time in a local psychiatric hospital. No one was to know – and the only reason I knew was that I overheard a phone conversation not meant for my ears.
In my childhood, everyday people did not have words for serious cognitive behavioral issues such as anxiety disorders, traumatic stress disorders, depressive disorders, eating disorders, major depressive disorders, personality disorders, bipolar disorders, and the like. We also lacked value and the terminology around many therapies used today, such as focused therapy, behavioral therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and psychodynamic psychotherapy. The stigma surrounding mental health analysis and treatment was impossible to slog through.
If you’d like to see a bit more information about long or short term therapy and some of the terminology surrounding this subject, click HERE.
There was so much shame surrounding mental health in that era. My friends, we are lucky. We live in a time when therapy is not only accepted but is becoming hip. Gone are the days of hiding your feelings and needs. We are in an era where taking care of your needs is the mature adult way to handle life. If you still want to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, go for it – with the help of a therapist!
Related: How Do I Know if I Have Anxiety or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Therapy Truth #5
Don’t worry if you’re afraid or nervous
I’ve talked to so many friends about seeing a therapist. They all express some fear in one way or another. Don’t worry about being nervous. You are not the first person to walk through the door feeling awkward and wondering about this experience. Here’s the good news! Your therapist will be a professional, and she will be ready for your nerves. She will be able to lead the conversation and make you feel at ease.
Need some inspiration? Seven Inspirational Quotes That Will Inspire You
Therapy Truth #6
Talking to a therapist doesn’t mean you have to pour your guts out
The purpose of the first few appointments is for you to get to know one another. Like any new relationship, it takes time to get comfortable and feel at ease with the right therapist. You don’t need to cry or list all of your problems on your first visit. Most of my concerns have come out organically, usually when I’m not even trying to talk about them. A good therapist will genuinely listen and offer you helpful insights into growing and dealing with your complicated relationships or your anxieties.
Therapy Truth #7
Don’t expect to feel “cured” after just one visit
First, let me mention that not everyone has a match made in heaven on their first visit with a new therapist. I was fortunate that Stacy and I were a good fit from the get-go. Even she reminded me that some people take a few tries to get comfortable and connect with their therapist. If you walk away from your first few appointments feeling yucky and misunderstood, consider trying someone different. But don’t give up entirely. Your efforts to find the right match now will lead to better success later! I promise!
Once you settle in and feel comfy with your new therapist, don’t expect to walk away feeling cured that first day. It will take a few visits to start noticing differences in your daily life, and that’s okay. There’s no rule here that says you must have a particular problem solved in a specific timeframe. But once you start attending your appointments regularly, I promise you will start noticing changes in your everyday life. You will even begin to look forward to the insights your therapist will provide for you.
A fun way to practice good self care: Everything You Need to Plan a Photography-Themed Day Off
Therapy Truth #8
You don’t need to cry
I remember feeling like the whole point of seeing a therapist was for her to make me cry. I even asked her one day if she kept a tally of how many people she could make cry in a day! She just laughed at me! Most of the time we spend talking is filled with everyday conversation and even laughter. Stacy tells me regularly that she finds my delivery funny. She also tells me that she looks forward to my appointment every week. Maybe she tells that to all of her clients, but I still love to hear it!
Therapy Truth #9
Don’t expect to talk about the same things every week
Now, this doesn’t mean you won’t revisit subjects more than once. Just know that our mental health is affected by many different experiences in life with various people. We spend much of my hour each week talking about my role in my children’s lives, my parents, my friends, and even my blogging journey. I have learned so much about myself. For example, I have discovered that sometimes I am my own worst enemy. I have also learned that I have very, very big feelings, and I’m pretty good at holding them in.
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Therapy Truth #10
You have to put the work in
Remember that you’ll get out what you put into your appointments while going to therapy. If you can let down your walls and be honest with your therapist, she will better be able to walk you through what is bothering you. Your therapist’s office is not the place to keep secrets. You’re safe there, and a good therapist will remind you that you are in a safe place. She will also be patient with you while you risk feeling all the scary feelings.
And I really mean that
Just as being honest during your appointment makes a big difference, doing the work between appointments also makes a huge difference. If your therapist asks you to do something, know that she’s asking for your best interest, not hers. It will make no difference to her if you do the work between appointments, but trying her suggestions may make a life-altering decision for you.
One time Stacy noticed I was feeling particularly angry about a situation. She told me to take a dozen eggs and go out into the woods (aka my backyard) and throw those suckers at the trees as hard as I could. She assured me that it would help to get my anger out, and I would feel better. I felt silly doing that, so I didn’t do it. I just didn’t want to do it, and I was a little embarrassed to tell my husband what I was up to, so I just didn’t do it.
Several weeks later, I was still dealing with some of the same difficulties. One day when I arrived home, I marched straight to the kitchen, grabbed a bag of wrinkly old apples that were ready for the compost bin (there were no eggs in the house that day), and marched right outside to the path in the woods. I didn’t get very far before I found myself throwing those suckers against the trees with all my might! Ya know what? It was AH-Mazing!!!!
I began shouting as I threw those apples! One by one, I whipped them at the tree in front of me. If I missed, I picked it up and threw it again (hey, it’s hard to hit a narrow target when you’re releasing rage, don’t judge). Seeing and hearing those apples smashing against the trees was the very best feeling in the world.
I finished, marched into the house to the startled look of my husband, smiled reassuringly at him, and said, “I feel better. Now I’m going upstairs.” I then went and drew myself a lovely bath and had a good soak while listening to my favorite podcast. I couldn’t believe how quickly that made me feel better, and I wished I had done it sooner. If only I would have listened to Stacy the first time.
So, Should I See a Therapist?
If you are still unsure if therapy is for you, here’s a pep talk to get you moving:
You’re asking for help, and that makes you a hero! Your family and friends are watching you, and you’re setting a fantastic example of how to take care of yourself. Asking for help takes a special kind of strength, and you have it! I promise!
You can do this, and it will be worth it! A year from now, you can be feeling the same way you feel right now, or you can be on a path to feeling stronger and healthier.
You have no idea what a healthier mental mindset can do for you until you give it a try.
Related: 10 Benefits of Therapy You Won’t Believe – Part 1
Another One of the Benefits of Therapy?
Good self care
Now that you’re on board and ready to make that appointment, let me tell you my favorite secret about visiting my therapist. Stacey reminds me at the end of each session to take good care of myself. I love that part. I mean, who else reminds me weekly how important it is to take care of myself!?
Sometimes after an emotional session, I feel more tired than usual. It’s pretty standard to feel exhausted when you’ve put out a great deal of energy sharing thoughts and feelings. On those days, I make a point to take extra good care of myself. Some days I drive through McDonald’s for one of their delicious Diet Cokes (they are the best fountain sodas). On my ride home after my appointment, I will pop in some feel-good songs. One of my favorite songs for the ride is Be Kind to Yourself by Andrew Peterson. Sometimes I let myself have a little nap when I get home. Occasionally, depending on my schedule, I take myself to a movie, where I get to eat the popcorn all by myself and see whatever feel-good film I’d like. Anyone who forces me to treat myself is A-ok!
Related: 5 Minute Self Care: 10 Easy Self Care Tips For Women
How to Get a Therapist
At this point, I hope you’re ready to find your therapy match! Are you wondering how to do that? I get it – it’s not like a medical doctor. Where on earth do I find the right fit? Your first step is asking your friends, family, or someone else you trust. I asked my pastor. He was a great resource and could provide me with a name and number immediately. I found it incredibly important that my therapist be a Christian. I needed us to have the same fundamental beliefs, and I knew my pastor, who I trusted, would steer me in the right direction.
Ask a friend or two if you don’t have a church home or a pastor that you are comfortable with. Most people who have shared that they see someone will be more than excited to share their information with you.
Are you still feeling shy? Don’t want to let anyone know what you’re up to? That’s okay. You don’t have to tell a soul. Check out Psychology Today at www.psychologytoday.com. There you will find some general information about mental health and a tool to help you find a certified therapist in your area. Even if you don’t have a diagnosis upfront, your therapist can help you understand in the short term what your long term psychotherapy needs might be.
Now is also a great time to point out that many therapists have used online counseling appointments since Covid-19 rocked our world. I have been seeing Stacy via online therapy for almost two years now, and I sure appreciate her care for my physical health by keeping us meeting online versus in her office.
If you are interested in the science showing that long term therapy is indeed effective, check out this article from the American Psychological Association.
Do you have any questions about seeing a counselor? Be sure and ask. Reach out to me through my FB page or leave a comment below! I will do my best to answer and encourage you!