I don’t know how open and honest you may be with the therapist(s) you’ve seen, but I’ve often had a lot of problems. Last year I wrote here about one constraint that often held me back – the fear of expressing strong emotions. A few days ago, I realized, when answering a question at Health Central, that there have been other barriers to talking freely. That prompted me to put up a post on my blog there about truth-telling in therapy. I hope you’ll take a look at it.
I mentioned three problems in the post but then the reader comments reminded me of a couple more. Here’s a brief overview:
Needing Approval: For a long time, I felt so much shame and worthlessness that I needed the approval of others to feel justified about being alive. To get that approval from a therapist, I instinctively tried to be the model patient. That meant showing steady progress, even if I was in a despairing relapse. If I were to tell him the truth, I was afraid he’d give up on me, get angry, tell me I couldn’t handle therapy – or I don’t know what.
Empty and Numb: There were times when I couldn’t imagine having anyone’s approval for anything I did or said. Instead of talking openly, I’d be thinking that I couldn’t do therapy any better than I could do anything else. I was empty, nothing to say, nothing to feel. Whatever I might bring up wouldn’t be worth the time. What’s the point of trying?
Certain I’m Faking: In another mood with matching frame of mind, I didn’t even believe that I had any real problems. In a way, I was internalizing stigma and prejudice about depression. – I’m not depressed enough to be here. I’m a fraud, pretending to be sick. I’m making things up just to avoid life. He’ll find out I’m a fake and get rid of me. So I have to be careful what I say.
Wanting to Run: Then there were the times I felt the urge to get out of therapy, convincing myself I didn’t need it anymore. I couldn’t very well confess to feeling bad when I was desperate to stop all this talk about feelings and relationships. Everything was looking up, I’d say, and assure him I’d be able to handle things on my own. Just let me out of here!
Locking Up the Beast: Even talking about strong emotions I was feeling at the moment stirred a deep fear. On some primitive level, I was afraid of releasing a destructive power I had locked within me. I worked hard at suppressing almost all feelings, presenting an impassive face to everyone. Most people thought I was incredibly calm no matter what was happening, but the opposite was true. There was no way I would let myself go in a therapy session.
So telling the emotional truth in therapy was hard when I couldn’t see around these powerful constraints. It wasn’t always that bad, though, and there were times when I could work effectively with a therapist. I’m thankful for that!
What has your experience with therapy been like? Does any of this sound familiar?
Image by Erik Charlton
Dear John: This is great help as I start theraphy with a new counselor. I really want to be totally honest and let it all out emotionally. I am tired of pretending, of looking for approval. I just want to get better, to learn to live life each day to the fullest and to the best of my abilities that day. I hope and pray that this therapist is the right match. I had one session and it when well; the first step was to determine if I have a physical illness like underactive thryroid… the second one was to start exercising again, Zumba classes to be exact, since I love to to dance, and we agreed I needed to do somehting fun for me. Agreed to stop drinking wine on weekends as well. Last thing my brain needs is a depressant. So my desire is to tell the therapist the truth, the whole truth. I pray I have the courage to to do so. I will get the book and read it while I embark on my road to recovery.
Thank you for this article. I often wonder about these things as well. And the “I need you to like me complex.” and the “I need a letter of recommendation to do X (go back to school…)” and want you to do that.
Good evening, John.
I’m very happy you found that book. Stuart Perlman is the author. I’m sure you found the same one. I don’t think many psychologists would be as brave as Dr. Perlman and publish what really happens in the mind of a therapist. I think he’s a very brave man for doing so. He’s also a patient and writes his thoughts from that point of view, too. I saw myself over and over in his words.
I can’t wait to read what you think of it.
And I hope we all have inner peace, my friend. 😉
John, I just left a wordy post on the other site, but I recommend the book, “The Therapist’s Survival.” It addresses a lot of all these issues you are bringing up. The fear we all have in therapy. The author describes his position as a therapist and also as a patient. I found the book riveting as it was as if he had been in my own mind in regards to my thoughts, concerns, apprehension with therapy. I wish I had read it long ago. And I think everybody in therapy should read it.
Thank you for your own honesty. I have not felt so alone this past week having discovered the other blog and now this site.
Hi, RH –
Thanks for suggesting the book – I’ve found it through a library network so I should have it soon. I’ve been looking for books about the practice of therapy and this sounds perfect. Thanks a lot more for your probing comments at Health Central. That great dialogue has helped me see that the whole subject of therapy is a lot more powerful for me than I had thought.
I hope you can get some inner peace soon about the horror with that therapist.
My best — John