(an actual email I received)
“Hey, Alisa. You talk a lot about therapy and the benefits of going regularly. What are your recommendations for finding the right therapist? I found one last year and went three or four times before I realized it really wasn’t working for me. Can you offer some suggestions? Thanks!”
Okay so. I’m choosing to respond to this email publicly because so many of you have asked almost the same thing. And this is my response:
So many of you have the misconception that therapy is walking your messed-up selves into an office, throwing yourself on a chaise lounge, telling this stranger all your issues and problems and gripes and secrets, and walking out at the end of the 40-minute session with all your problems solved and a brand new lease on life. If this is what you think therapy is, you’re wrong as two damn left shoes.
Lemme talk to y’all real quick about what therapy has been like for me.
I started therapy in January 2016. I spent the first year in therapy crying and blaming everybody around me for my problems. I’d go into my sessions already knowing who I was gonna rant and rave about that day. It was my mother’s fault. It was my old principal’s fault. It was my ex’s fault. It was the economy’s fault. Hell, it was even Satan’s fault a few times when I couldn’t find anyone else to blame. My therapist sat silently while I ranted and raved, but I kept going, despite her silence. There was something incredibly cathartic about complaining about all the people that had me fu– I mean, all the people with whom I did not see eye to eye in life.
At the end of my first year in therapy, I finally ran out of people to blame and realized that I was really the problem all along. Can you imagine? The startling realization that I was the reason that things in my life were not how I wanted them to be emotionally paralyzed me… and I was completely shellshocked and stuck in that realization for an entire year. The reality that I was actually at fault brought on a full onslaught of depression, low self-worth, low self-esteem, negative self-talk, weight gain, and a year-long pity party. So I spent 2017– my entire second year of therapy– crying because I was worthless, because I can’t do anything right, and because clearly everybody, even God, hates me. In fact, I looked like this during almost every therapy session I attended last year:
It was really, really ugly.
And my therapist sat through that second year silently, asking occasional questions, nodding, and passing me tissue.
It wasn’t until the beginning of my third year of therapy (early 2018) that I finally decided I was ready to address my shit. I walked into my therapist’s office in January and said, “I am finally ready to fix my life.”
My therapist smiled. “Finally,” she said. “Now the work can begin.” Two full years of sitting on that couch and whining and crying and lamenting and raging had to happen before I could get to the place where I was ready to do that work that would give me the life I wanted.
Therapy is work, beloved.
Like. Hard work. Hard, grueling work. It’s not pleasant. It requires accepting really ugly truths about yourself, changing things about you that are much a part of you as your hometown accent, and accepting that “this is just how I am” is NOT an acceptable excuse for being a shitty person. It requires effort, honesty, and real and extensive reflection and introspect.
The therapist ain’t supposed to work for you, love. You are supposed to work for yourself. Your therapist only guides and facilitates your work. Unfortunately, though, sometimes there is a lot of bullshit to wade through before you can get to the parts of you that need fixing. You gotta get through your denial, through your entitlement, through your hurt and your anger and resentment. You gotta get through your fears. You gotta unearth some of the things you’ve desperately tried for years to forget. Once you get through all of that tough outer layer, you will find that part of you that needs and deserves the work… and you’ll be ready to work on it.
So. The answer to your question, my love, is that therapy isn’t supposed to work. You are. And I promise it will take more than 3 or 4 sessions for you to clear away all the crap that is necessary to clear before you can get to the parts of you that you wanna change. Your therapist won’t be able to help you work until you decide that you want to do more than sit on a couch, cry your lashes off, and tell all your childhood secrets to someone who is bound by law to never tell a soul what you’ve said.
Find a therapist that fits you… and then, once you have them, commit to the process. Stick through the discomfort, the rage, the blaming others, the hurt, the denial. Stick it out. Keep talking. Keep going. Keep trying. And I promise you… One day after listening to yourself talk, after really looking at yourself in the mirror and seeing yourself for who you really are and not for who you’ve convinced yourself that you are, one day after you’ve run out of people to blame and get tired of wallowing in self-pity, you will be ready to do the work… and your best life is on the other side of that work.
Three or four sessions is not enough time to change your life. Go back. Try again. Give it time. Rome wasn’t built in a day… or in four sessions. Hang in here.
I’m here if anyone wants to talk about this or anything else related to depression. I got time… and I got answers. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Maybe I’ll publish the answer to your question.
Love y’all. Happy Monday.