It was two years ago that I started to go to therapy. I’d dabbled in it before. Over a decade ago I’d seen a man who’d try to rebirth me through a vast knitted womb. I’d also sat in a village hall with a strange woman wearing a beret who smelled of cabbage soup. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t feel comfortable with either of them. In retrospect I wondered why. Was it them? Was it me? I wasn’t really sure. All I knew was that, sometimes, I felt desperate which is why I’d gone in the first place. I was aware something deep inside me wasn’t right. I was drinking too much, dating unsuitable men and never really saying – or possibly knowing – what I wanted.
I didn’t think too carefully about any of it. But, occasionally, I’d catch this terrible sensation that I was falling and there was no one to hold me or catch me and it made me feel so panicked I rifled through the address book and look under ‘p’.
I didn’t know it then but my half-baked idea that therapy would save me – or, at least, get me to face and possibly sort out my scrambled life – was one of the most important decisions I have ever made.
It didn’t really work back then but something lodged.
For the truth is, I just wasn’t ready for it back then. I was too scared, too sad, too messed up to really engage with it. Also, I was young. To a certain extent I felt invincible. Why did I need to come to terms with traumatic events from my past (my parent’s divorce, my father’s alcoholism, my own divorce, my then-partner’s alcoholism)? Wouldn’t it all come out in the wash? I had friends, family. I was loved. Wasn’t that enough?
This is what people and therapists often forget; I may well have needed decade-long analysis to work out why I was such a mess but no one benefits from therapy unless they actually want to go. Back then, I didn’t. Right now, it’s a lifeline.
I should know. I am training to be a therapist and what I really know is people go to therapy for all sorts of reasons but it is the very fact that they are sitting in the chair in front of you that starts the process. It’s not easy though.
Here I am, aged 49, finally sitting in front of my own therapist on a weekly basis and I can honestly say it has been one of the most frightening yet exciting journeys I have ever been on. It’s sometimes terrifying but often rewarding. It is intellectually fascinating and emotionally devastating. At times I have cried so much I can barely breathe. But I have also laughed. Most of all, I understand myself (and others) a hell of a lot better than I used to. I cringe at some of the things I have done. I want to make reparation to just about everyone I have ever known. I have gained friends and lost others. I love so much better than I used to and I stop looking to others to sort out the stuff I need to sort out for myself. I no longer believe other people can make me whole and I generally believe that however fractured our psyches can be, there is hope. In fact, there is always hope.
Sounds great doesn’t it? But would I have gone in to therapy myself if it hadn’t been a requirement of my training? I think I would have done eventually but I fully acknowledge that there are many reasons behind my partaking in this long analysis; part of it is that, in order to help others, I need to help myself. Clients have a strange way of bringing up in you the things you thought you had dealt with. It is imperative for me to be able to take all ‘my stuff’ to someone else. It’s all got to come out somewhere and I have sat in front of my own therapist endlessly working our way through all my defences. It has taken me an age to stop defending my childhood and the events surrounding it.
Also, even though I was convinced I knew myself well, I wasn’t prepared for how defended I was. I walked in to the room my therapist works from and I immediately liked her but maybe I wasn’t prepared for how gently probing it would all be. The room had books and plants and a cat that wanders in and out and I felt safe with her immediately but how prepared was I to go in to those horrible places of rejection, inadequacy, abandonment and fear. It takes time. I thought I was pretty open. I thought I knew myself very well. I thought I’d parked all the problems and moved on.
Ha! I had no idea how resistant I was, what an effective carapace I was hiding under. I was a wonderful person with my four kids and happy life wasn’t I?
I was coping, more than that I was doing a very successful job of it. Everyone thought I was OK and I would always be OK and I did nothing to convince them otherwise. I found it almost impossible to show any vulnerability at all. I’d be crying inside and falling down and desperate for someone to talk to and lean on and all I’d hear was, “you’re alright aren’t you? You’ll always be alright” and it felt as if someone was repeatedly cutting me with a blade.
But life throws curve balls and when everything in my private life fell apart I found it almost impossible to keep myself together. I cried all over the place and in front of people I barely knew. One day, I drove over a motorway bridge and thought ‘if life is going to go on like this, I think I’ll just drive off this bridge.” It was a fleeting thought and I’d not be the only person to have it but it really worried me.
So I decided to commit myself to my therapist. I made myself open up. I had no choice. I remember my therapist (a lovey Jungian) saying that she thought I looked close to tears about everything and that was it. I wept like a baby and it all came out; I couldn’t bear the fact I wasn’t giving my children a family home, a family life, two parents who were together. I’d imagined us dangling the grandchildren on our knees. The failure of it all was unbearable to me. My therapist held me through all this. She sat there and she cared and it meant more to me than anything.
This is what good therapy can do. If you go at the right time and get the right therapist, something happens. It’s a strange sort of alchemy. If the working relationship is strong, it can shift things. This is the idea. But I realised one day, as the tears fell down, that I needed to do two major things; I needed to trust my therapist and I needed to be brave. For, in the end, there is so much to talk about. I had endless wells of pain and hurt and guilt I wanted to let out.
So these are the things I know; therapy made me feel happy, sad, frustrated, angry, desolate, miserable, warm, in love, supported, defended. I’ve spent two years in personal agony once a week. I have been through deep feelings of guilt.
But what do I feel guilty about?
Here’s my list; I’m a terrible mother (sometimes my therapist would kindly contradict me about this). I had post-natal depression that went unrecognised. I once drove back to London when my eldest son was a baby and left him with my mother. I then went home and pretended he never existed. My mother told me to come home immediately or else she’d put him up for adoption.
I have talked endlessly about my father and the problems he had and that has taken up so much space in the room. He was an alcoholic, a depressive, a tricky man. I spent a lot of my 20s looking after him, taking him from one drying out clinic to another. He died 15 years ago and we never made our peace but it’s not possible to do that when someone is so far gone. This is what I have had to accept. I’ve also had to accept that often things aren’t great. Grief is a very difficult thing to deal with and it takes a long time and maybe life will never be the same after a loss but now I know that’s OK.
In many ways it has been hell doing this sort of rigorous self-inventory of all the horrible things I have ever done or felt.
But with the down comes the good. I am far happier than I have ever been – fleetingly. I see the void that I so feared as being a necessary part of who I am. It’s not something to be feared and avoided but embraced. I am softer, kinder, more open, more real, more understanding. I have learned what trust really means. I have been held through the rough and the smooth and I don’t think I have ever felt that before. My therapist listens to me and it’s just wonderful.
I am not sure how much longer I will go to therapy though. I know while I am in training it is vitally important for me but, sometimes, I want a break. I weary of thinking and talking about myself and sometimes I just take a few weeks off and it feels like a relief.
But, wile I am training and working in this field, it will never end. It’s a lifelong commitment and, sometimes, most of the time, it’s one I am happy and relieved to make.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF THERAPY
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. It is most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but can be useful for other mental and physical health problems. It works at changing the person’s core belief system over a series of approx. 12 sessions whereby the thought patterns change from negative to positive through therapy and exercises undertaken by the client.
This was developed by psychologist Dr. Carl Rogers who advanced an approach to psychotherapy and counselling that, at the time (1940s – 1960s), was considered extremely radical if not revolutionary. This therapy moved away from the idea that the therapist was the expert and towards a theory that trusted the innate tendency of human beings to find fulfilment of their personal potentials.The psychological environment described by Rogers was one where a person felt free from threat, both physically and psychologically. This environment could be achieved when being in a relationship with a person who was deeply understanding, accepting and genuine.
Brief therapy differs from other schools of therapy in that it emphasises (1) a focus on a specific problem and (2) direct intervention. In brief therapy, the therapist takes responsibility for working more pro-actively with the client in order to treat clinical and subjective conditions faster. The primary approach of brief therapy is to help the client to view the present from a wider context and to utilize more functional understandings. By becoming aware of these new understandings, successful clients will de facto undergo spontaneous and generative change.
This is the most trendy form of therapy yet it has been around for years. At the basic level, it is about a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It is about noticing what you do/say without becoming embroiled in a hotchpotch of destructive emotions. A good meditation is about ‘I am my body but I am more than my body. I am my mind but I am more than my mind etc.’ Ruby Wax is very good at explain mindfulness if you want to explore further.
is a set of psychological and psychotherapeutic theories and associated techniques, created by Austrian physician Sigmund Freud and others. The basic tenets of psychoanalysis include; a person’s development is determined by often forgotten events in early childhood rather than by inherited traits alone, human attitude, mannerism, experience, and thought is largely influenced by irrational drives that are rooted in the unconscious, it is necessary to bypass psychological resistance in the form of defence mechanisms and that conflicts between the conscious and the unconscious, or with repressed material can materialize in the form of mental or emotional disturbances, for example :neurosis, depression, anxiety etc. and liberating the elements of the unconscious is achieved through bringing this material into the conscious mind (via e.g. skilled guidance, i.e. therapeutic intervention.
Carl Jung is well known as the forefather of analytical psychology. He believed that religious expression was manifested from the psyche’s yearning for a balanced state of consciousness and unconsciousness simultaneously. Jung surmised that the collective unconscious was one shared by all people. The foundation for this theory was based on specific archetypes and patterns that dictate how people process psychic images. Throughout history and across all cultures, mythology and dream study have maintained a common thread. Jung believed that each person strives to achieve wholeness by attaining a harmony within consciousness and unconsciousness and that this can be accomplished through dream study.