I first went into therapy when I was 14 years old. I had been self-harming; my mum found out and she took me to the GP who referred me to the local CAMHS. There I saw a Psychotherapist for a year but whilst seeing her for self-harm, I developed anorexia and subsequently got referred to the eating disorder service. I saw a Clinical Psychologist who offered CBT and alongside this, I also had family therapy with my parents. Eventually, after reaching rock bottom, things improved and I began to recover. However, when it came to my 18th birthday the ‘not so smooth’ transition from CAMHS to adult services left me falling through the net and I was left feeling alone and rejected at a time I very much still needed that support.
Over the years, and various moves, I continued in and out of the different mental health services and private therapy. Over the last 13 years, I have definitely seen my fair share of mental health professionals from counsellors to Psychiatrists. This, coupled with the fact I have a degree in Psychology, taught me how therapy worked; especially CBT. I learnt to give them exactly what they wanted to hear. I answered all their questionnaires and did all the homework like the perfect service user and when they discharged me, a few months down the line I was back to square one. Whenever I presented to my GP with various degrees of anxiety and depression, they would either increase my tablets or refer me to yet another 6 sessions of CBT. I learnt two things: CBT doesn’t work for everyone and GP’s hand out anti-depressants like they are sweets.
I have always struggled to talk about my feelings or to bring up anything sensitive that I couldn’t bring myself to say but so needed to. In adult services, no one really bothered to ask. CBT focused on changing negative thought patterns and the therapist would get me to do tasks like applying for that job I wanted but thought I might not get. Any mindfulness techniques left me feeling more anxious than before because I was suddenly noticing and feeling emotions I had pushed away for so long. And then they told me that I was too closed off and not willing to open up, to try harder or come back when I’m willing to emotionally bare all.
Counselling and trauma-informed care
Up until a few months ago, I was seeking help from an alcohol service to tackle my drinking. Over the year or so that I was there I had been passed around a few different key workers and every time I saw them it felt rushed and I felt like a burden. They even gave me anti-craving medication which I took for a few weeks then stopped. Again, like the perfect service user, I told them I had cut down on my alcohol intake and it was no longer a problem. I would leave the appointment feeling worse, often going straight to the shop to buy alcohol. Then I was passed onto a different key worker for my remaining time in the service and for the first time it felt like I was being listened to. I stopped lying and I started to open up more because I felt like I somehow mattered. He taught me what compassion really was and I realised that it was something I lacked in my life; I needed to learn how to be kind to myself and I needed the space to explore my thoughts and feelings and to discover who I am. And so I found counselling.
I’ve had a few sessions now with a counsellor and some days it’s harder to open up than others but I’m getting there. It can be a struggle to be ‘me’ when for so long I have given therapists what they want; the perfect, compliant patient all neatly boxed off. I’ve been able to talk about things I haven’t ever spoken about and it’s completed person-centred. I can talk as much or as little about anything I want to. It’s taught me to not over-analyse everything. That sometimes things just happen beyond our control and you just have to ride the wave and talk through the feelings that brings up. It’s not structured, there’s no right or wrong answers, no homework and no questionnaires to ace. She understands that my self-destructive behaviour is, and has been, a reaction to certain events in my life or things that have happened to me. I’m no longer seen as a set of symptoms or, as my GP once called me when I told him I felt suicidal, ‘highly strung.’ For the first time, I feel validated and understood.
If you are seeking therapy then know that it is different for everyone, what works for one doesn’t always work for another. It’s important to find what’s right for you at that time. But if something doesn’t feel right then don’t be afraid to try something else or to ask for a different therapist. Often, the relationship you have with your therapist can have a greater impact than the therapy itself. When you do find what works for you then stick with it. It can be incredibly difficult but so worth it. It’s not a magic cure, you do have to put work into it and talking about unpleasant things can be extremely difficult. But a good therapist will guide you through it and offer a safe space to explore your feelings. Always keep yourself safe and practice self-care. Do things that you enjoy. Treat yourself after every therapy session, whether that’s retail therapy, gaming, coffee with a friend, a Netflix binge or journaling. I find that a bubble bath, a good book and then a binge of ‘The Blacklist’ in my onesie works wonders for me.