My Therapy Experience

My Therapy Experience by Joanna Drot-Troha
I’m just glad I gave therapy a chance.

the descent into therapyThe first time I went to therapy was a bit of a disaster. I was in my mid-teens and suffering from anxiety, OCD and depression, although at the time I would not have known the intense emotions that were overwhelming me had official words, patterns of behaviour or even a precedent.

My parents, who were in the middle of a very acrimonious divorce, were worried that I was becoming withdrawn and when very stressed I would suffer panic attacks. These anxiety attacks had been getting worse during the upheaval of the break-up so it was decided that I would see a counsellor.

I kept my appointment a secret from my friends as there was a stigma about therapy — which conjured up cinematic ideas of mental asylums and lobotomies — amongst my impressionable age group. Education about mental health issues was not part of the curriculum and so, as a young film addict, I spent the entire tube journey to my first session gearing myself up for a meeting with a therapist like Ben Stiller’s con-artist shrink in There’s Something About Mary. As it turned out, my therapist was nothing like the person I had imagined and looking back, I can see that my first therapy experience was surprisingly useful to a young girl trying to make sense of the world.

Things are different now. Therapy is an acceptable way of getting support. It’s no longer taboo to have a therapist.

The new openness about mental health issues and the availability of help out there means that attitudes and access to therapy and counselling is at an unprecedented high. I can’t help but feel that had this been the situation when I was a teenager, I would have been in a less confused state when I met my perfectly lovely counsellor. The problem then was that I was resistant to responding to help and wasn’t aware of what a trained therapist can offer in support.

Young woman sitting on a couch with her therapistAshamed by what I thought was madness, I constantly censored myself. I simply didn’t want to tell this lovely woman about the unlovely thoughts that were plaguing me. I didn’t want to admit that I felt desperate and sad, and often just desperately sad but couldn’t think of adequate reasons as to why I should feel like that. I felt guilty for taking up her time and scared of the repercussions of being found a hysterical, pathetic freak.

I didn’t return for my follow-up appointments, and spent the next few years attempting to hide my emotions from my friends and family and like so many things in that turbulent time, I let it peter out, chalking it down a failed experience.

It took me a few years to clear out the memories of the first counselling session. I was still acting out in a foggy mess of raw emotions and incomprehensible actions that were governing my life. It took that considerable amount of time to understand that the thoughts I had been internalising were now controlling me. I would find myself drinking too much or breaking down into tears in public, unable to deal with relationships in any social context.

It was only when I made a new friend at work, a girl called Courtney did the clarity of help start to seep into my consciousness. The way that Courtney spoke openly about her own problems and her own experiences of therapy stuck with me as well as her disregard of trying to be a perfect person. She was realistic and hopeful about the steps of her personal development and encouraged me to try therapy again, ensuring me that despite what I thought, life did not have to be as difficult as it currently was.

A Counselling SessionIt was with this renewed confidence that I approached a clinic in central London and made an appointment as calmly as I would have booked a leg wax. My therapist seemed approachable, unshakeable and strangely funny. We could really talk. One of the most important aspects of the relationship was communication.

The thoughts that undermined my ability to function in normal social situations, were somehow teased out into small and logical processes that I could unpick and straighten out. I trusted her — she was consistent, empathetic and supportive. She didn’t judge me when I reached in to take out the worst that I had said, thought or experiences, ensuring me there was nothing I could tell her that she didn’t understand. In this respect therapy is a bespoke service.

You need to connect with the person who you’re trusting with your secrets and the dark misunderstood parts of yourself. Over our sessions I was given objective insight into my behavioural patterns and equipped skill set to constructively deal with them. I was taught how to be present in a situation and how to respond clearly to my surroundings and to my relationships. Slowly, with the encouragement of my therapist, my self-esteem was restored and my zest for life stabilised.

The writer and journalist Emma Forrest dedicated her 2011 memoir, Your Voice In My Head, to understanding the therapist who had helped her and saved her through therapy. Suffering from manic depression, episodes of cutting and bulimia, she was unable to communicate with her loving and supportive family but found practical and emotional support in her professional relationship with Dr R. She writes, “He was cheerful. He was an eternal optimist. There was nothing I could tell him that he’d tell me was as bad as I’d decided it was.

safe to talkA really great therapist allows you the opportunity to be candid about your issues with another person, allowing to make progress rather than shaving off the details as you might even to a closest friend. All personal relationships come with the weight of other emotions. My therapist was somebody trained in dealing with emotional matters and trained in how to get me to communicate my deepest feelings and concerns in a way that made a difference.

Some people dip in and out of therapy. Others maintain a connection for years. It’s different for everybody.

A relationship with a therapist is like any relationship; personal and individual to you. I have found that one of the most precious parts that I have taken away from my counselling sessions have been the privilege of having a dedicated, informed and educated listener when you most need someone to talk to.

Somehow therapy works. At least it did for me.

Joanna Drot-Troha is a freelance writer from the UK, living in Italy.