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Searching for Dr. Right
It’s been hard to find a therapist who can help me
Maya Noy
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I have been in and out of therapy for as long as I can remember. So far, it has felt like a complete waste of time. But even though I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with therapists, I’m still looking for one who can help me.

Right now, I have a job and have been living on my own since I left foster care five years ago, but I feel so anxious and depressed every day. I don’t know if therapy is the answer, but I feel alone in the world and I want some guidance.

‘My “Friend” Needs Help’

It’s no fun looking up therapists, calling around, visiting different clinics and repeating my sad, pathetic story over and over again. Especially since one reason I need therapy is to get help with my anxiety, which makes it extremely difficult to deal with strangers. Then there’s the depression, which for me means not having the desire to get up and face the day.

I get nervous even before I pick up the phone. My heart beats fast and my tummy feels funny.

When they ask why I want to come for therapy, I want to say, “Because I’m a nutcase, duh!” Instead I usually say, “I have general anxiety—about life and my relationships.”

Sometimes I talk about “my friend,” because pretending to be someone else makes it easier.

No One ‘Gets’ Me

When I get to the office for the intake—the first meeting—I tell them I have been in talk therapy for years, and that I feel I need a more direct approach than I’ve gotten. They usually nod and agree and we set up another appointment.

Then it’s all downhill. At the next appointment, I am so eager to finally be able to talk to a willing party that I rarely remember that I actually need advice! And they let me go on and on.

I leave making excuses, like, “That was only our first (or second, or third) meeting. We need time to work on my issues. And they have to hear my issues before they can help.” That pattern goes on for weeks, maybe months.

Then I usually quit therapy because I don’t feel the person is “getting” me. I am never sure how to speak up and tell the person that I’m not happy with the therapy. There have been rare occasions when I try to explain, but I don’t like to hurt anyone’s feelings, so I usually wimp out and run instead. I don’t think I’ve ever been in therapy more than a few months at a time.

Going Back to the Past

I thought that in therapy I would talk about my childhood and the therapist would help me discover why I am anxious and depressed now, and talk with me about how to break the thought patterns that are keeping me down.

Most of the problems I deal with now are directly related to feeling unwanted as a child. In my mind, if my own mother didn’t want me, then I am worthless, and everything I do is worthless. I don’t know how to get past that.

I want to work on letting some of the past go. It’s a huge burden to carry around each day.

But when therapists ask only, “How are you?” or, “How was your week?” I feel limited to only talking about the present. And that hasn’t helped me so far.

Bad Medicine

One therapist was a young lady who appeared younger than I was (27) and had a happy-go-lucky personality, almost too happy. She would start by saying, “How are you?” and end by saying, “See you next week,” with little else in between.

Oh, and once she wrote me a prescription. It read:

#1 Look in mirror every morning and say to self, “I am pretty.”

#2 Take one bath for at least 20 minutes once a week.

How could either of those “medicines” help me with my childhood pain, or my adult anxiety and strained relationships? Was I missing something?

With this therapist, I rambled and smiled nervously. There were long silences that I felt I had to fill. It was very nerve-wracking. So I ran.

‘You Suck as a Therapist!’

image by Teo Romero

Actually, first I called her supervisor and asked if I could see someone else because I wasn’t comfortable with her. The supervisor told me that I should talk to her myself and explain that I was uncomfortable. “That would be good therapy for both of you,” her supervisor said. That’s when I ran.

All I could imagine was saying the kinds of things that run through my mind, like, “Hey, you suck as a therapist. I’m outta here!” I didn’t want to make her feel bad (wanting too much to be liked is a problem I have). And getting the proper words together is difficult, so I just avoid.

Looking back, I’m sure I could have brought it up gently, saying something like, “I have problems with confrontation, but I don’t feel too comfortable…” But I want a therapist who would notice my discomfort, or notice something, and ask about that without me having to bring it up first.

Can I Speak Up?

Recently, I pondered my experiences. I asked myself, “Am I closing myself off from being helped?

But I wondered if anyone could be helped by the methods of those therapists. Is it really therapeutic to let big long silences happen? Those silences just made me uncomfortable. I would feel it was up to me to fill them, and I would start rambling more and more. When I didn’t get any response to what I said, I would just get anxious.

At most, some therapists have made sympathetic comments here and there, but I believe I need more than that. Ideally, I would like someone to actually engage in a conversation.

I wonder if I am even on the right track in seeking therapy. Maybe I need a different kind of help. Maybe I need a life coach? Boot camp?

Maybe therapy won’t work for me because I often can’t verbally express myself in a way that helps people understand how I feel. And when therapy isn’t going well, I have trouble saying so, because I usually avoid verbal confrontation. I feel I need therapy to help me get to the point where I can be pushier about what I need.

A Woman With a Plan…

Often I think back to the one good therapist I did have, Janet. This was a woman with a plan. Janet knew what she wanted to see happen during our sessions, and invited me to try things her way as opposed to just going with the flow. What most impressed me was that she actually asked questions and even took notes. I hadn’t seen that in real life, just on TV. It showed me that she was interested in actually remembering our conversations, and would have something to refer back to if needed.

Janet told me that we should start with the past and work our way into the present, and maybe even the future. She started by talking about my childhood, and asked very specific questions about my life, how I grew up and what took place when. She even asked about my parents’ backgrounds, and how my brother was raised so differently from me.

Often Janet would tell me little sayings that related to our conversations, or gave me exercises when I had issues that needed work. She even gave me options, such as, “We could work on the past for the entire session, unless there are important matters to discuss immediately, or we could dedicate the first half to the past, and the second half to the present.” Janet seemed like a real person, not just a timer waiting to go off. I got the feeling that she was actually interested in helping me.

…and Practical Help

Best of all, she gave me resources when I had practical problems. If I said I couldn’t afford diapers one week, she would tell me where to go. Or if I was considering taking a class or needed help finding a job, she would give me leads, like the name and number of a place where I could get help with those practical things.

I liked having a hands-on counselor, someone who would pick up the phone and make a call and tell me, “It’s all taken care of, you just need to do this or that.” It felt good to have a helping hand in addition to therapy. But just when I felt like we were getting somewhere, I had insurance problems and was not able to see her anymore. How’s that for luck!

Now I’m looking for a therapist like her. Maybe I will meet Mr. or Ms. Right Therapist. It’s just like dating—sometimes you have to go on many dates before you meet The One. (I don’t enjoy first dates, either!)

Searching for the One

Just recently I started seeing someone new. I go because I need to talk, but I don’t expect to be helped. This therapist is nice and all, but I’m not totally confident in her abilities. She is a student, and I almost feel like a guinea pig. I am trying to be a little pushier about getting what I need, though.

Once I reminded the therapist that I was looking for feedback and asked, “Where is it?” She nodded and smiled, but I was in the middle of rushing through so many other things, just to get them off my chest, that I suppose we both dropped the subject of feedback.

Usually she lets me ramble on and on. At times I have asked her, “Am I rambling?” Her response to most things I ask is a blank stare and a smile. When she does comment, it is often polite, as if it’s right out of a book, like: “You are working very hard in therapy, and you have accomplished things, which is a big step, etc.”

Listening to Myself

Once again I’m feeling frustrated. But I am trying to care less about the therapist’s response. Instead, I have learned that I have to work on myself. I listen to myself while I talk to her, and go from there.

Listening to my own words, I think it’s obvious how my depression and anxiety are connected to my past. Growing up in an unhappy home, I didn’t learn how to enjoy life, how to grow and live, instead of just exist. And I haven’t been able to teach myself, because my fears get in the way. That’s why I’ve been looking for a therapist who can show me steps to take to separate the old me, a miserable child, from the new me, a capable adult.

From listening to myself in therapy, I know that I am so stuck in the past. I am trying to get unstuck. But I am not sure it’s helping me to try to be my own therapist. And hey, where’s my check?

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(FCYU-2007-07-32)

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