Its a big commitment.
Money, time and emotional work.
Why do the hard yards if you are not going to get anything out of it?
With the right therapist you can feel safe to bring out your most vulnerable parts, to explore those parts of yourself that might be hidden or repressed. With integration as the aim, psychotherapy allows us to discover and re-integrate those lost parts and to become more fully ourselves.
To commit to the process of psychotherapy can be financially and emotionally challenging but without a full commitment, you can never do the hard work of changing your own life.
Having been through the process myself I can say that it was – and has been, life-changing.
It’s been a journey that’s sometimes been challenging, often irritating, at times frightening, often enlightening, always engaging, and, at times surprising – and most importantly for me – deeply creative.
It has been the only space in which I could explore my inner worlds fully – and safely.
I had come back to Melbourne with my tail between my legs after a fulfilling and well-paid role interstate finished. Luckily I had savings behind me. For a while I stayed on the treadmill of applying for roles, being flown around Australia for interviews, only to find the position allocated to someone less qualified/more aligned/more successful in pulling in research funding or who had managed to hang around long-enough to convince the hierarchy that they should be rewarded with an ongoing appointment. It was humiliating and exhausting. Every position I applied for had at least 80- 100 applicants. I was tired and fed up. Enough was enough.
I had always had an interest in helping young people. I had enjoyed mentoring honours students as part of my role at University and was slowly fanning the flames of an interest in therapy and counselling.
I started having counselling myself and although my counsellor was great, we weren’t getting anywhere. He agreed that it was time to move on and recommended that I see a therapist he had met during his ACT training. Sally (as we shall call her) had just completed her registration and psychiatry training, was working psycho-dynamically (my preference) and had a practice nearby.
I had a picture in my head of the perfect therapist for me – someone warm and fuzzy like Judd Hirsch in Ordinary People or perhaps a wise and witty German like the diminutive septagenerian Dr Fried in I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. I imagined someone seasoned, perhaps slightly overweight with thick eyebrows and grey hair, dispensing life advice and witticisms from a swivelling office chair. Definitely not a tall young blonde with an incisive gaze and cool blue eyes.
I was probably taken aback by her attractiveness, but I stayed and told my story while she listened carefully, keeping her assessments to herself.
And so my journey in psychotherapy began.
Those first few sessions were hard.
I wasn’t having therapy, but I was describing my pain and in many of those early moments, reliving it.
After this initial period of assessment, she indicated that there was something to work on (I always wondered if this carefully worded phrase was part of her commitment to understatement – a quality which I learnt to value rather than dismiss) and that she and I could work on it together.
Initially I was raw from the events of the recent past, but it wasn’t long before we got to one of the many paths that lead backwards, into my childhood.
Psychotherapy has been a mainstay of my emotional life. Somewhere where I have felt safe and nurtured. A place to explore and find myself. A place where all the parts of me were welcome and greeted warmly, but where I was also challenged and confronted. A relationship where I was listened to and thoughtfully considered.
Sally has been there in my life for the last 10 years. Every Friday, and for a period, on Wednesday as well, I would come to her rooms, tap in the code and wait impatiently on the undersized chairs of the hallway waiting room, feeling as if my life was hanging out for everyone to see, trying to avoid the eyes of any other clients.
I will miss her rickety hatstand (a public liability suit waiting to happen), the comfy chair I would inhabit for 50 minutes (and sometimes, rarely, a smidgeon more) and the psychiatry texts lining her bookshelves. Amongst those weighty tomes my eyes were always drawn to a battered copy of Marie Cardinal’s incendiary and poetic memoir The Words to Say It, carving its own special niche above the fireplace.
I will miss the smell and feel of the room, the lamps and paintings, the gauzy texture of the curtains keeping my vulnerabilities and my tears out of the public eye. I notice that I don’t say I will miss her – perhaps because it feels too sad. Although we go into psychotherapy to find ourselves, we do so through a relationship, and our therapist becomes special to us, re-parenting and honouring our most vulnerable and fragile parts through the perilous journey of self-discovery.
It is hard to leave.
Sally knows art is important to me. Without her I don’t think I could have got back to it. And of course, now I am here trying my wings as a therapist myself.
When I started therapy I was all over the place. Now I feel stable and centred – able to find meaning and to give back.
So what has she done for me?
Its not something for the metrics of randomised controlled trials. Nor a glib and packaged testimonial.
Its something for dreams perhaps or poetry, something to contemplate on those days when I am grateful to be alive.