I’ve been in and out of the mental health system for more than ten years now. In that time I’ve had a few run-ins with talk therapy. The results have been varied.
The first form I remember was group sessions a bit after my daughter was born. I hated them to begin with, but after a while I learned to relax and participate, and it helped me to focus on what was important to me, to not try so hard to be perfect (a lesson which I sometimes remember), and to stop and refocus when my brains was starting to spin out. I’m sure I learned more, but that’s what I remember. These sessions were every day for at least a month or two – so very intensive. It took that long to start coming right again, even with both medication and talk therapies combined.
The second time was maybe a year or so later. I got pretty unwell again. So I had two types of therapy this time. One was a course of CBT, which was a flaming disaster. I hated the homework – ‘tell me how you felt today’ charts left me in floods of tears as I looked back on a day that I had survived and realised how bad I had felt through the day, and how often I’d thought of suicide. If I didn’t think about it, I lived through it all right, but thinking about it just made my world dissolve. And anything that required the use of smiley face charts made me feel talked down to. In fact, much of the therapy in that course made me feel talked down to, as though I was not too bright and needed even the bloody obvious explained to me.
The other therapy at this time was a course of counselling offered by a charity in a nearby town. It was partly funded by WINZ, and I think I got six sessions. Working with that guy was pretty good, he helped me to identify thinking patterns that were making my life harder, and helped to change them. It was over too soon.
Two years ago, my partner left me, and my mother had a stroke, within a couple of months of each other. I was given six sessions at the university counsellor, which was essential in trying to sort through both the emotions and the practical problems of becoming a single mother and having an unwell mother. That six sessions was not enough, but it was all I could get under that particular university system. I was referred out to a community organisation that was supposed to pick me up, but they lost my file for several months, and by the time they got their shit together I was only a couple of weeks from moving about 150km from their location. I declined their services.
Early last year I was given a counsellor at the university health clinic. I would see her every two weeks, and just vent. She would sometimes give me ideas on new ways to look at things, and I always felt that I came out of that office a little happier and a little lighter than when I went in.
The most recent talk therapy attempt was my time with the psychologist. She and I just never clicked, and so it turned bad fairly quickly. I didn’t feel like I could trust her, and I didn’t know what I was supposed to get out of those sessions. This most recent experience was pretty awful, in part because I felt I had to be there, that it was supposed to help me get better, and when it didn’t I felt I had failed in some way.
So my experience has been rather varied. I have probably forgotten other experiences I’ve had. But the summary seems to be that counselling-type things go well for me, and the gentle redirection of a counsellor helps me see things in a different light and deal with them differently. This was especially helpful in the high-stress times in my life, when I desperately needed some help in ordering and prioritising my thoughts. On the other hand, formalised therapy and me don’t seem to be friends. CBT was a disaster, going to a psychologist made me even more miserable. I don’t know whether it was just the people I was seeing that I didn’t click well with, or whether I don’t do well in more formal therapy settings. There may be a lot that I can learn from proper therapy programmes, but the truth is that I don’t have the mental energy to pursue yet another expensive course of therapy that might not work. Maybe later.