Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Psycho Therapy

Psychotherapy is a strange thing. Difficult to define. I've been through around 300 hours of it by now, between individual and group therapy sessions. I also attended a 2-year, part-time program with the intention of actually become a practicing psychotherapist.

There have been times when I hated being in therapy, and times when I felt that it was the one thing that kept me hanging on. It has alternately comforted, confused, enraged, frustrated, clarified, supported, and bored me.

One thing psychotherapy always did: it refused to let me sit in a rut and wallow.

I see the role of a good therapist as supportively confronting: always giving that little push to get you out of your comfort zone. It's always amazing to me how devoted people are to their old, familiar ways, even when those ways are self-sabotaging. (Including me.) Even when people think they want to change, and say they want to change, in their heart of hearts they often resist, kicking and screaming all the way.

In my second year of school, I realized that I don't have enough patience to be a therapist. I have enough inner resources to support myself and manage my own inner crap, but just barely, some days. When we were in class on weekends for 8 hours at a stretch, doing case studies on each other, I ran low on compassion. I didn't want to hear another sad story. I didn't want to watch yet another classmate break down in tears as they accessed their inner child's pain.

When someone finally let down their defenses and sobbed, the class felt that we'd really gotten somewhere. Therapy isn't all about looking for bruises to push on, but sometimes it seemed like that to me.

I still go to a group once a week. We sit in a circle, and talk about the stuff that's going on in our lives. The group has alternately comforted, frustrated, clarified, bored, and supported me. Sometimes I look forward to it. Sometimes I'd really rather go home and watch TV instead. I keep going, because it feels good to know that there's 2 hours in my week when I can be in a safe space with other people and we all share the goal of trying to be honest with ourselves and with each other.

If we can just see through some of the lies and illusions, and really see ourselves and each other just for a little bit, that makes the rest of life easier to survive. That's what it means to me.


Tequila Mockingbird said...

i want to go to the kind of therapy that you get those foam bats and get to beat shit up. SIGN ME UP!!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow you must have problems! Sitting in a circle with other people sobbing? That's messed up. How can being in that environment make anyone feel better?

You're supposed to run away from the sick people. Not dive head first into their crap too!

If you want to get better you should spend your time around normal healthy people. You don't get fit by hanging around with fat people.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

Group therapy?? Holy crap!! That would totally shut me down. Heck I like to keep my breakdowns exposed to the smallest number of people possible. And why is it that when you are in therapy and they ask you a question they look disappointed when you don't start crying?

Sparkling Red said...

Tequila Mockingbird: I did a two-day anger intensive, during which the six participants were encouraged to howl and beat the furniture with foam bats. One woman literally beat the stuffing out of a pillow - fluff flew all over the room. When she was done, she looked very satisfied.

Unsigned: But normal, healthy people are boring... ;-)

Ron: Therapists have egos, and some of them really have an agenda regarding what "progress" is going to look like for you. I actually prefer group, because the relationship between the group facilitator and each participant isn't nearly as intense as the relationship between a therapist and their one-on-one client. I can talk when I feel like it, and fade into the background when I prefer. There's always someone else around to take a turn in the hot seat.

Aurora said...

Thank you for being brave enough to share how meaningful therapy is to you. Our society has a crush on surfaces: things we can buy and watch. I imagine therapy gets its bad rap precisely from this kind of impulse. It's safe to watch Britney unwind, but not to consider why you want to.

jameil1922 said...

i'm almost completely certain i couldn't do group therapy. people share their baggage w/me enough regularly that i feel like i'm in group therapy too many hours a day and not getting anything out of it. i wouldn't mind one on one tho.

San said...

I enjoyed this sincere post, Red.

When I was having problems with menopause, I went to a tiny support group for women in midlife "transition." We passed a talking stick and did evocative little art projects and spent some time in guided meditation. It was most helpful.

R.E.H. said...

You know... I've never been much of a believer in therapy. The idea of it all is nice - but I have a hard time believing some stranger therapist would genuinely care about me... he's just doing his job, right?

Now, I went as a kid for a while - a few sessions. Going as a kid is useless, because all I remember was sitting around playing board games for an hour...

However, the knowledge and some of the theories behind therapy are quite interesting.

One thing you said here, may be pivotal to my own "self cure program", it struck a chord with me as I read it.

Even when people think they want to change, and say they want to change, in their heart of hearts they often resist, kicking and screaming all the way.

I will keep that one in mind!

Jenski said...

I tried seeing a therapist once and did not click with her after a few sessions. I realize from others that sometimes it takes a while to find a person you trust, but I don't feel like putting in the time. Maybe a group is the way to go.

Sparkling Red said...

Aurora: Not only that, but there seems to be a belief that there is one monolithic experience that is "therapy", when really there are dozens of different approaches. Some of them are pretty useless, and some have a lot of value. The value also depends on the individual therapist.

Jameil: Yes, knowing you, group would probably drive you crazy.

San: I like the talking stick technique. It ritualizes sharing and makes it more special. That sounds like a good group. :-)

R.E.H.: I agree with you that the "caring" of a therapist can never equal the caring of a peer, because they are being paid to do a job. I could never get past that either. That's another reason I like the group. The other members aren't being paid to care about me, so I know their opinions aren't biased in that respect.
Putting the caring issue aside, my best therapy experiences have come when a trained professional pointed out to me how I was unwittingly sabotaging myself, or ignoring difficult truths. It opened up options to me that I wouldn't have seen on my own. That was worth paying for.

Sparkling Red said...

Jenski: It's equally possible to click or not click with the facilitator of a group. The best way to go is if you can get a referral from a trusted friend. I found my various (3) therapists by answering an ad that appealed to me, by referral, and by attending classes taught by a therapist and subsequently becoming her client.

Karen said...

i have never done therapy, but i think that is because i have a supportive group of friends who are there for me. i have plenty of issues, but i know what they are and how to fix them. it is just the fixing is not always easy and fun.

Sparkling Red said...

Karen: You're lucky to have good friends. It's great that you have the insight and willingness to take stock of yourself and see what changes could be made. And if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

nicole said...

I don't know.
Sometimes I think I have a big sign around my neck that only others can see.
People I just met for example usually pretty quick warm and open up and spill their stuff right at me.
And no, I'm not the most patient person......

Sparkling Red said...

Nicole: My mother-in-law had a shirt that said "I'm sorry, you must have mistaken me for your therapist." You need to wear that shirt!