Isn’t a therapist just a paid friend? Is a therapist even a friend? Is a therapist just a person who gets paid to sit and listen? Are they truly invested in our wellbeing or are we just the next on the schedule?
These are the things I have gone over in my mind over the years. How do I have to categorize the therapist so that I can benefit from the experience?
I’ve had many therapists. My very first therapist I had as just a young girl. I can’t remember much about what we talked about because a lot of that time period is just blocked out. I saw her about 25 years later at a bowling alley. I recognized her and she hugged me. She remembered me. We spoke for a few minutes and I thought what a kind and gentle person. I’m glad that at such a bad time, such a gentle person was present.
My next therapist I started seeing when I was around 22. I was having nightmares every night. I saw her every week and made progress. I kind of noted She always had her hair up. At the end of a very powerful session she asked me if I wanted to cross the bridge to my past and find out where the nightmares originated. I said I would tell her next session. The next session her hair was down. As we started she kept arranging and messing with her hair. It was very curly, red, and all over the place. One strand kept falling in her face and she kept moving it around. Here I was ready to cross the bridge but my therapist was so busy with her strand of hair that she didn’t even remember asking me this monumental question. When I told her I was ready to cross the bridge and she said to remind her what that was, I was done. I made small talk until the 50 minutes were over. She continued to blow her breath up at her hair strand and tuck various pieces behind her ear the entire time! She was only human I know. Who knows what was on her mind but it definitely was not me during that hour. I felt like she had become someone I trusted. I was letting her join in on this journey with me. I was trusting her with sacred things. But I left that day feeling like she was just a paid friend. I didn’t want a paid friend. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. Maybe I wasn’t ready to cross the bridge yet. I’m not sure of the answer but I was very disappointed in her. Interestingly she retired a few weeks later.
My next therapist actually became my friend. We ended up talking as much about her as we did about me. She ended up not even charging me for sessions because it was more of a friendship meeting. She was wonderful at hypnosis and in exchange for hypnosis we just hung out and chatted. That was very confusing. I really needed to move forward with this therapy and get to the root of these nightmares. I needed guidance and I needed structure. I wasn’t getting it there.
My next therapist was just plain too sterile. It was like talking to a robot that talked back but not in a way that made me feel like going down any bridge with. After one session she knew it was not what I was looking for. She informed me that she was a clinical psychologist and I needed just plain ole talk therapy. She referred me back to the same “friend” therapist. I asked the “friend” therapist if she had any ideas of who could see me as a strictly client-patient basis. She said her coworker would be perfect.
So onward to my next therapist. She had a very kind gentle way about her. Just like my childhood therapist. Unfortunately she had unruly curly hair so I was right off the bat watching for any hair distractions. But there were none.
We all want a therapist that we can trust. One that will hold our precious hearts in their hands and let them be open. We want to leave the office feeling better than when we came. We want to feel that if a secret is released it will be comforted and soothed. We want one person who we can unburden our heaviest weights to without feeling like we are truly burdening them. We want coping ideas. We want a plan, a purpose, a clear direction for healing.
This therapist had my trust. I decided to cross the bridge to the past with her holding my hand. I told her everything. I told her about the men who abused me. I told her about my parents and how I felt that they did not protect me. I told her details that no one knew. I told her the secrets.
Crossing the bridge is scary. It is like writing this blog. It is new territory. It is vulnerable. Sometimes it stirs up things that have been dormant for a very long time. Crossing the bridge is like riding through a hurricane just to end up in a tornado with beasts clawing at you the entire way. I imagine this…I cross the bridge, I get to the past horrors and I face them…and the second bridge appears. That bridge has still waters beneath it. That bridge is crossed effortlessly as the sun warms my face and the breeze cools my skin. At the end of that bridge is contentment.
Well the first bridge has taken longer than I anticipated! I made it through the storm and kind of found myself sitting in the middle of the second bridge.
The water is still choppy. Facing the past and moving past it was not quite as easy as I thought it would be.
These things take time. This therapist got me to a certain point and I needed to take a break. She was very good at listening. She was very good at validating and consoling. When I was ready to resume seeing her, I was informed that she was now seeing another one of my family members and could nolonger see me. My mother. Now, I understand why my mother would choose her because I had raved about her for years. But…I was speechless. This therapist was the person I had chosen to cross the bridges with. I had given her my hand to walk with me and told her…everything! She told me that she could refer me to someone else since I really hadn’t seen her in some time now and that it was perfectly appropriate for her to be talking to my mother. It didn’t feel appropriate. My mother was not even speaking to me. My therapist knew how I felt about my mother. My therapist knew how I felt about my entire family. How could my therapist then be speaking to my mother? She needed the money? She felt she could keep what I had told her confidential? But my mother had hurt me. How could she be holding my mother’s hand now?
I received a letter from my mother in the mail a few weeks later. It said that she had spoken to MY therapist and MY therapist felt like I was just angry. I have no idea if this were true or not. How could my therapist tell my mother that I was angry. Was that even allowed? I was outraged.
The betrayal ran deep. I’ve been betrayed many a time in my life as we all have. But to have my therapist psychoanalyze me to my mother was the worst betrayal I had ever experienced.
When you are sexually abused everything is a betrayal. Your trust is betrayed, your childhood, your vulnerabilities, your goodness. Everything is stripped away. Making a choice, a conscious choice to cross the bridge to the past is ONLY done in the hopes that we can make it to the other side and reach the bridge of peace. Therapists can peel back the layers of protection that we had to put up to survive. They can permeate the armor we put on to get to the little child. I needed this therapist to be THE therapist. I needed not to feel betrayed.
What are therapist supposed to be?
Therapists are not just paid friends. They aren’t our buddies. They are educated in helping us to breakthrough the barriers, while being our cheerleaders, and while holding our hand. Each therapist has led me a little closer to my goal. Even though the last one burned a bridge with searing betrayal, I have chosen to use that as a lesson as well. In feeling her betrayal I was able to face the other betrayals in my life. Each obstacle I face and conquer matters. Because of her I still moved forward. I chose to turn something bad into something I could grow from and isn’t that the ultimate goal? I faced the beast of betrayal.
I haven’t given up on therapists infact I am looking for another one now. I could have all the friends and support in the world but they just wouldn’t have the knowledge and experience that I need leading me into the next phase of my life. There is no shame in saying you need the help of a therapist. This is big stuff! There is no shame in anything that happens after sexual abuse.
So here I am on that second bridge with my feet dangling in the water and my head resting on the rail feeling too tired to get up and walk any further yet. I am not sure what it will take for me to stand up and take a few more steps. A new therapist? God? A friend? I’m just waiting to see. I really look forward to making it to the other side.