• jess

Getting started with Therapy

So, your head is a fucking nightmare. You know you have anxiety and depression… there are a few other things floating around… but you haven’t gotten the answers or coping tools to make a difference in your life.

I feel you.

For 20-something years I didn’t see a professional who was able to help me. I was limited by finances, professional specialities, and thinking it was impossible until I was 28 years old. In that time, I visited 2 terrible mental health providers who effectively fucked me up more than they gave me answers. The first, when I was 11; she tried to force me to reconnect with my abusive, substance-addicted dad for all our sessions. The second, when I was 21; she diagnosed me with PTSD and never gave me the tools or education to do a single thing about the life-exploding diagnosis.

When I finally found a trauma-specialized therapist who believed in holistic healing and progressive lifestyles, everything changed in my life. I left every appointment with her elated. I would call everyone in my phonebook to tell them about the cool new shit I learned that day and brag about how my life was starting to make sense. She’s my rock. I wouldn’t be here (metaphorically or practically) if it wasn’t for this trauma-informed angel.

So, how to finally get started seeing a therapist after years of ignoring the idea or finding that you wind up disappointed? It’s a battle. But here’s what I’ve learned so far.

The good

Find a therapist with a trauma informed care background. You don’t want to visit someone who only helps with anxiety, stress, and depression… You want someone who has trauma training. The difference is enormous. You want someone who knows more about your diagnosis than you do, and can really guide you through what you’ve been experiencing and how to approach recovery. Trauma is tricky. Find someone who has years of training in the field before you wind up talking about surface level daily stresses… and never getting to the intricacies of your past invading your present.

Consider finding a professional who works with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). If you’re open to working with an innovative field of trauma recovery, possibly find someone certified in this specialized practice. They’ll be able to help you identify and reprocess traumatic memories with guiding your eye and bilateral body movements. Sounds like witchcraft? It’s just brain wiring.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is very helpful for trauma recovery. It teaches you that your experience is compiled of three axes; emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. The power is in learning that if you impact one, you can impact the other two. This is useful in trauma, anxiety, depression, and obsession treatment, where the three separate areas often seem like one massive melting pot. You can focus on one axis - behavior, for instance - and find positive change in the others. You also start to learn the basis of your emotions and thoughts - and how they might not be rooted in the same reality your peers are experiencing. Powerful tools.

If you’re not sure how to get started finding a therapist who has the “right fit” for you, consider using an online search engine, such as the one provided by Psychology Today https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/ I recommend this, because you can choose lifestyle factors that might make you feel more comfortable with your future therapist. Even if you aren’t a member of the LBTQ community, for instance, you might want to select that filter if you want a progressive professional to talk to.

If you start seeing someone (give it a month, if you just “aren’t sure”) and the conversation seems awkward for reasons beyond your inner walls… just try again. Shop around. Don’t settle and don’t get defeated. This is your life we’re talking about.

The bad

I wish there was an easier way to spot a bad apple. Unfortunately, you probably have to research reviews and form your own opinion before you can judge whether someone is an effective therapist or not.

In my experience, a lot of social workers and psychologists go into the profession to learn about their own mental disorders - which is great! … As long as they’ve learned how to manage their mental illness and core beliefs. If you start seeing someone who expresses harsh, unprofessional opinions or makes recommendations that seem off-base… consider that they’re just a human being like you are. They might be dealing with their own mental fuckery. They might not be in a place to act as a balanced authority figure in life direction or mental health management. Hear them out, but trust your gut.

If you’re seeing someone who just seems… disconnected. Go ahead and find someone else. Nothing is worse than seeing the same therapist for a year and realizing that they can’t remember anything about you. Repeating the same details of your life over and over gets old fast and leads you to wonder if they’re really listening at all. Jump ship if they constantly refer to your notes or have to ask you to repeat information that’s been discussed in detail.

From my own experience - if your therapist is yawning or acting distracted while you’re meeting, get out. Don’t waste your time in their office. They obviously haven’t set aside the time for you.

If you see someone with suspicious boundaries - think; telling you a lot about their lives, asking you questions that seem unrelated to therapy, talking openly about your session in front of other staff/clients - don’t stay under their care. If you’re being disrespected or drawn into their personal world, something is awry. You’re paying to see a professional who is reporting to the office to help you. If the professional and helpful nature of this person is questionable, find someone you feel better about hiring.

The finances

What makes it even harder to get into therapy? Affording it. There’s no doubt, insurance is a huge obstacle to seeing a mental health professional. Without it, office visits are astronomically high. With insurance, the co-pays still might be completely out of the realm of possibility. It’s a horrible battle to find a way to afford the help you need.

I recommend looking for providers who offer a sliding scale for session costs. No, this still isn’t a life-saving option… as many therapists still consider “sliding scale for disparate populations” to start at $80. This was my experience, and the reason why I didn’t see a therapist, for 28 years.

Personally, I’ve had luck personally using and recommending Open Path https://openpathcollective.org/ for super affordable therapists in your area. I was able to find the ideal therapist for only $30 a session through this service. You pay $50 up front to access the network of participating providers, and this one-time fee lasts the rest of your life. If you don’t connect with your first therapist, feel free to reach out and try again. You’ll negotiate pricing directly with the provider, so you can hopefully find a price point that enables you to get the help you need.

What else can I do?

Motherfucker, I wish I had great answers. Finding support and guidance is super important; outside of paying a professional trauma-informed therapist… I’m not sure what your most viable moves are.

You can go to a regular doctor and inquire about SSRIs and anxiety reducing medications… but in my opinion that’s only going to get you so far. It’s like putting a bandaid on a festering wound; maybe it’ll hold your guts in for a short period of time, but the infection is still raging underneath. Without treating the source of your trauma, you’re not really recovering… just patching yourself up to make it through another miserable day.

You can also start to learn about trauma on your own. Having some education and background information might at least empower you to stop feeling like you’re individually fucked. If there are books about it (there are) then clearly you aren’t crazy for having these experiences. And, learning where these brain and body sensations are born from can be very grounding.

The Body Keeps the Score

Complex Trauma; From Surviving to Thriving

Besides that… Can you find free support? Well, kindof. It depends on what you’re looking for. If you just need some community to feel less alone, that totally exists. If you want real help settling up your faulty brain mechanisms and thinking patterns, though, you probably aren’t going to find what you’re looking for, for free.

So, here are plenty of free apps and online community forums you can check out to talk to other people in your shoes. But in my experience, for whatever that’s worth - a lot of that shit is TRIGGER-ING. By that, I mean, people are often reporting from currently-horrific circumstances or over-sharing about their past experiences… without having any recovery “meat” to their posts.

I.e. There’s no lesson to learn or semblance of hope… it’s just a shitshow of upsetting information that puts you back in a bad place. People yelling “FIRE!” and hoping a chatroom full of strangers is going to make them feel alright.

Some folks are honestly asking for help and advice, which is understandable and heartbreaking. Others seem like they just want a personal pity party and pat on the head. Either way, I haven’t - myself - run across a useful free resource for treating trauma.

I wish that wasn’t the case.

I wish all of this was easier.

Wrap up

If you’re struggling with continual mental distress, please start working towards finding a professional who can help you.

I know it feels impossible and worthless. I know you don’t trust anyone. I know you’ve been burned before. I know it isn’t financially easy. But you can do it.

You’re a determined Motherfucker. You made it this far. You’ll always find a way.

Just get started.

If you ever need immediate help, https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/