Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why I stopped going to therapy

32 was the year I finally started going to therapy. It was also the year that I quit therapy. (Since I turned 33 all of six days ago, I can say this with an air of detached gravity that comes from being older and marginally wiser.) So, now that you know the end of that story, let's start at the beginning. 

I wanted to get at some unresolved issues, and get at them my therapist did, in the manner of a pitchfork churning up long buried muck and slime and spreading it all out to air in the sun. Meanwhile I'm on the sidelines yelling, "Hey, I just cleaned that!" Being the writer/neurotic (redundant?) that I am, I thought I would jot down some brief notes after each session, hoping that over time I would begin to see some kind of progress. However, being the well-intentioned but often-lacking-in-follow-through kind of person that I also am, this lasted all of one (1) session. My thoughts following my very first therapy session ever (carefully recorded in an e-mail draft) read as follows:  
So, when do I start feeling better? Not so sure about this. Felt like I was drowning, and instead of throwing a life preserver she just watched, occasionally murmuring, "So, tell me how drowning feels." Also would like to know when we get to the part where she tells me how to fix myself instead of just nodding sympathetically. Sympathetic nodding is nice but not particularly helpful. 
And here is the part where you tell me, "Silly! Therapists don't tell you how to 'fix yourself'; they help you figure out how to do it yourself!" And yes, yes, I am well aware of that, but I was hoping for something a bit more...guided. Unfortunately, even after four months, it became clear that sympathetic nodding and boomerang questions were all I would ever get. Which is all fine and good, I suppose (her theory is that just talking about things can sometimes make the issues disappear--poof), but after four months of churning up and then re-burying the muck every week, I realized that, hmm, I didn't have so much to talk about, anymore. "Actually, I feel kind of...fine" only gets you so far in an hour-long therapy session, unfortunately, and so, prodded by my therapist, I would have to find some new muck to rake, and it's funny how after that, suddenly I wasn't feeling so fine anymore. This went on for weeks. I would go in even-keel, feeling that things were overall good, and leave burdened by the weight of all the past awfulness we had dredged up. All the pain and hurt feelings and disappointment of three decades past, condensed into a sixty-minute (or sometimes more!) session. Not exactly how I wanted to spend my lunch hour. After that I would bounce back and things would be good again, until the next week. Finally I realized, hey, if I feel pretty much ok until I start dredging up past shit, maybe I should...stop dredging up past shit? Like, hey genius, if it hurts when you poke it, maybe...give the poking a rest for a while? Now that I'm writing this down I realize it sounds kind of unhealthy and avoidant, but honestly, it wasn't like that at all. I had addressed the issues and discussed them, at length, and now I was ready to leave them alone for a while. Possibly forever. At least leave the muck buried deep down where I wouldn't have to see it and think about it anymore. Again, I realize that maybe this sounds the opposite of healthy, but honestly, I'm tired of wallowing around in muck; I want to run naked in the rain. (Metaphorically speaking?)

And so I realized it was time to break up with my therapist, which led to a not insignificant amount of stress. As much as I hate getting broken up with, I also hate breaking up with someone; I will move to a different country to avoid having to break up with someone. I was hoping to take the coward's way out and do it over the phone (ok, voicemail), but, like the professional she is, she made me face my fears and break up with her face to face. Which led to (seriously) the most awkward "it's not you, it's me" conversation ever. (She actually asked, "Was it something I said?") I reassured her (over and over), that it had nothing to do with her, and while I very much appreciated her time and expertise, lately our weekly sessions had been creating some unwanted stress in my life, both financial and otherwise. I pleaded poor and said it was hard for me to get away from work in the middle of the day, and even harder to get back into a groove at work after an emotionally wracking session. All of these things were true, and I stuck to that explanation, repeating it various different ways for her approval. She clearly didn't think I was ready to "graduate" from therapy, but finally said that she understood my reasons and wished me well. I left feeling lighter than I had in a long time.

And maybe it's because it's spring, with flowers blooming everywhere and summer on the horizon, but ever since then, I've been feeling pretty good. Like I tried to tell my therapist, I'm actually pretty...fine. I'm doing just fine. Thanks. 

And that's the story of how in my 32nd year, I started going to therapy, and then quit therapy. Feel free to chime in in the comments if you feel moved to share your own experiences.   

Kitty says cuddle therapy works too


  1. Happy 33 birthday! You are like three 11-year-olds now, but more awesome (or something).

    I have never really found a therapist I clicked with. Regular therapists seem to believe everyone needs to be in therapy for the rest of their lives, just talking about stuff. I like the idea of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (this is how you change your patterns and better yourself!), but those therapists all seem to want you to be fixed after one session.

  2. Maybe you didn't have the right therapist for you; maybe it's not your thing; maybe now's not the right time. I went for 10 years (not every week that whole time though), and deciding to leave was a tough decision, especially since I really liked my therapist. It really helped me to change my negative thought patterns, especially doing some EMDR therapy, and now I have the tools to see where my thoughts would spiral and recognize it and stop it when it's happening. But as I say, everyone is different.

  3. I too started therapy and quit within a year. I got a lot of tips at the beginning but it turned into a routine of me pouring my heart out and not walking away with anything that was actionable. Kitten cuddles are the best therapy EVER. Nothing makes me feel better after a bad day that curling up with my cat and just letting him purr.

  4. I have found therapy to be useless, and I don't think it's entirely because I'm an intractable person. My complaint with it is the same as yours; the therapist doesn't contribute anything useful to the process. I stopped seeing mine because after an extended discussion in which I repeatedly requested that he just tell me what to do and he repeatedly declined on the grounds that he wasn't able to make decisions for me, I mentioned that I had not yet paid his last bill and while I would pay it eventually, I was sort of not feeling it at the moment. He quickly got over his aversion to telling me what to do. "You have to pay it! You have to pay it now!" Heh. I fired him, waited three weeks, then paid the bill.

  5. Happy birthday!

    It's good that you feel like you don't need therapy and you're fine without it. I would just say to you and anyone else who has had a bad experience: don't let it put you off it you feel like you need to talk to someone again.
    Sometimes you just don't "click" with your therapist. I know I didn't with my first one at all. In fact, she put me off therapy for a long time. It was only when my doctor recommended it that I went again and I have to say, it's been working much better this time. This one doesn't make decisions for me, but she is more useful at helping me figure things out than yours sounded! Also, I would add, that it really is a process you have to commit to. Sometimes it is horrible to drag up that dirt and look at it, but eventually you do get to throw it away.

  6. I only had 2 therapy sessions and I didn't find them particularly useful, I wanted more. I went in with a specific problem (wanting to stay in Australia and my parents wanting me not to), but I felt like had a many other issues I'd like to work through and my therapist basically kicked me out the door.

  7. You can't stay in therapy forever. I think you made the right choice for you.

  8. Happy Birthday Girl!... and remember, therapists don't make any money if you stop going, i sometimes wonder if their job is not to fix anything cuz if they really helped everyone who walked through the door they'd be out of business eventually... besides people can fix themselves if they really try, it's just most humans feel the need to talk about it to someone else... talk is over-rated.

  9. It's different for everyone. I find dredging up past crap can sometimes be helpful if I can change my perspective on said crap. Anyway, Happy Birthday :)

  10. Different therapists are sooo different. I've had the nodding, sympathetic kind and the "use these tricks" kind and the actively engaged kind. Some worked for me and some didn't. If your therapist uses a kind of therapy that you can't relate to or work with, you need to look for someone who uses a different method. And remember that most therapists say it's going to get worse before it gets better.

  11. I am as old as 4 eleven year olds. After many years of denying that I had any "issues", I threw in the towel and sought counseling.
    What I ended up with was a drug addiction. SSRI and Xanax . . .which wiped out a lot of my personality, as well as a lot of my memory and killed my libido.
    After getting off the drugs (against medical advice) I later went back to therapy, hoping to get to talk with someone . .. to try and get to the very roots of my issues.
    What'd they do? Tried to get me back on the dope - even after I made it clear that I wanted to try other approaches.
    So, I decided that I will just remain screwed up. I am not suicidal or homicidal or anything . . .just have some issues. I think that I now realize that everyone has some issues and that I will be okay.

  12. You reached the same conclusions I did. Only I was suckered into the fantasy far longer, making a more intense investment, only to emerge feeling like a stooge. We all have doubts, wounds and fears, and being a writer can be particularly crazy-making. Congratulations for not falling into the pool.

  13. I disagree with saying all therapy is useless. It is true that at some point, you have to take what they tell you and put it out there in the community. It is also true there are bad therapists---trust me, I have had to field clueless and insensitive remarks by one therapist in particular I have had.
    All of my therapy has been free (yay studenthood, yay being young!) Though I've moved around a lot, and though I still have a long ways to go, and though I realize at some point I will have to terminate therapy and put what I've learned to use, I don't think I would have come as far as I have without counseling (and moving.) Each therapist I had told me something that was valuable to me later on, even if I didn't see it at the time. Without help early on for what happened, I would have probably attempted suicide by now or at least engaged in more than just one bad behavior. This is my feeling on the matter. :)