Wednesday, February 12, 2020

I Went To Therapy For The First Time Ever. Four Months Later, Here's What I've Learned.

Last November I told you I'd reached a crisis point with my panic, and I was seeing a therapist for the first time ever. It was a hard post to write, but wow, did you guys show up. I was inundated with love and encouragement, plus that day I had several close friends share their therapy experiences, when I had no idea they'd ever been! It just goes to show - again - that good things come when we stop trying to hide our struggles, and just talk about it.

Which I guess is the principle behind therapy, huh?

So here we are, 4 months later, and dang. What a difference. I can sleep without facing John now. I can go whole days without rolling over to check that he's still breathing. The sudden spiking terror has been replaced by a dull nagging - more a habit than an adrenaline-fueled need.

On a broader scale, I'm having deeper discussions with John, both about my own struggles and his. I'm a little quicker to tell him when I'm feeling stuck mentally. I'm also a little quicker to ask how he's feeling. John takes me to my appointment each week, and afterward we talk through it. Sometimes I'll ask him the same questions Beth, my therapist, asked me. Other times I'll just give him a quick synopsis of what we covered, which helps me organize it all in my head.

I feel a little more focused, a little more proactive. I'm a little clearer on what I want in life, on how I want to focus on people over productivity - and recognizing that I tend to reverse those things if I'm not paying attention.

So now that I've sung its praises, let me tell you how seeing a therapist has done almost NOTHING I expected it to.


Things I Thought I Would Get Out Of Therapy:

- Step-by-step strategies 

- Brilliant outside analysis into the inner workings of my psyche

- An exact diagnosis of why I'm like this

- Results


Things I Got Out Of Therapy Instead:

- Meandering conversations that often frustrated/baffled me  

- A scheduled safe space to explore my own psyche

-A begrudging respect for a process I still don't understand

- Results


So yeah, the first month was frustrating. I was still in crisis panic mode, and I just wanted Beth to FIX ME, not ask a million questions about things I didn't want to talk about. After an especially panicky session where I left shaking and questioning how ANY of this was helping, though, I finally had my light bulb moment. I realized I'd been sitting back waiting for Beth to fix me. I genuinely thought that getting myself there, taking the big Therapy Step to show up and sit on that couch, was all I had to do. Sure, I answered her questions, but I wasn't providing any direction - just following her lead. And since I was being so passive, Beth was left to dig around and figure out where I needed help on her own.

Once I realized this, I gave a big mental sigh, squared my shoulders, and dove in. The next session I told Beth exactly what I needed to talk about that week, and what I needed her to talk about. I admitted that certain subjects were setting off my panic, and asked for specific help in tackling that immediate crisis so we could circle back to the other things. I also started thinking ahead each week so I'd know what, if anything, I wanted to cover during our time. In short, I went from just showing up to actively working with her.

The change was immediate. From that point on, my sessions did a 180. Suddenly Beth and I were a team, and it wasn't just me talking and her listening, but a joint conversation. She gave me the homework I asked for, and assigned lectures and TED talks and even some meditation aids. If I had a specific topic in mind, then that's what we talked about. If Beth wanted to talk about something sensitive, then she checked in with me first, then throughout the conversation to make sure I wasn't hiding any panic.

We quickly moved beyond my fear of John dying, and have covered a whole gamut of life and relationship matters. I admit I still don't see how this is helping - why should I feel better when I still don't have any solutions, dangit? - but somehow, it is.

A few final thoughts:

I did a lot of homework in finding the right therapist, and I think that's why this has been such a good match for me. Part of my panic is rooted in religious matters, so I made sure to find someone with similar enough beliefs that I could comfortably talk about God and church and past traumas there. Obviously I don't think any therapist would judge me, but it's been comforting to talk to someone with a similar background. If that's a priority for you, too, then take some extra time in your search. If you're dealing with a larger practice, be sure to tell them the kind of person you're hoping to talk to.

And finally, I want to emphasis the lack of mystery to therapy. It's not magic, y'all. It's probably not going to blow your mind. It's just one more tool to help you navigate through life - and like everything, it requires you to put in some work! Over the years I've encountered several (well-meaning) people who've insinuated I was making a huge mistake by not going to therapy, as if I was somehow damaging myself by tackling issues like agoraphobia and self-hate the way that I have. I know now that's poppycock. Every week Beth affirms and affirms again that I've been doing the right things, and looking back with her over my panic victories has been incredibly encouraging. Would I have gotten here faster with a therapist? Maybe. Was I ready for therapy back then? HECK NO. So remember, be gentle with yourself and others on this journey. We all have our own timing.

Right, your turn: any thoughts on my thoughts? :D Have you ever had to course-correct with a counselor or therapist? Or have you been fighting through something on your own? Either way, any advice for others in the same boat?


And finally, since my last therapy post had a picture of John with cats, let's continue the tradition:

Just a Cat Dad and his girls. :p


*****

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46 comments:

  1. Good for you! Therapy is hard. I try to remember that struggle is a sign of not giving up, so struggling indicates strength, not weakness. Therefore, I can honestly describe myself as strong, even when everything still just feels like a struggle. I hope you have a fantastic week - keep living your best life and ignore the haters! :)

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    1. I volunteer on the Crisis Text Line and think I'll have to use this line about struggle! It's super insightful and think it might really help someone.

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    2. It feels VERY counter-intuitive, but it is true throughout nature that struggle brings strength. Which is why a chick and a butterfly have to do the struggle to free themselves from the egg (or chrysalis), and if you try to "help" them, it stunts their growth (or kills them!). It is also true that strength comes from lifting heavy things (not from sitting on the couch eating Oreos, no matter how much I hope that will get me in shape!)

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    3. The struggle insight, including the parallel with strength training your muscles - both are super helpful, thank you! I'm going to try to remind myself of this every time I feel I'm struggling (most days, at least a little). And lol about the oreos! :-D

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  2. I love this, all your progress is awesome! I've been working on picking a therapist for weeks ~mumble mumble~ (months), and this post is a great nudge to make the dang calls. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us

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  3. Hey Jen, thanks for the progress report! I am so happy you were able to find a therapist you can connect with. Keep up with the visits, in my experience they are totally worth the effort. I love that you have talks after your sessions with Jon, its awesome that the exercises you practice with your therapist can be used in your day-to-day interactions, too! I'm seriously proud of you lady, you are doing amazing!

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  4. What a great post. I'm so happy to hear you found a therapist who is validating and working with/for you. You ask why talking about it helps so much, even though it doesn't change things? Here is my go to explanation. It's Harry in book 1. Harry starts out saying Voldemort's name and the more he is exposed to people in the wizarding world he learns to say You Know Who instead. As you know, by the end of the book Dumbledore tells him:
    “Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

    When you are afraid to even talk about something the thing gets scarier. As you start to express those feelings, (especially to someone who can validate your fears, understand why you have them and help you to see that they aren't a big scary monster in the corner) you can suddenly face that "monster" knowing it's just a scared lonely boy named Tom Riddle who is doing everything he can to make himself feel important and scary. You see the truth of the thing, and the true thing is usually something that can be fought; but it doesn't have to be fought alone;-)

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    1. Jenifer, your comment hit me so hard I actually shared it with Beth. I had to explain it a bit since she doesn't know HP(!!), but she loved the analogy as much as I do. Thank you.

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  5. I'd really like to know HOW you got in to see a therapist, and how you were able to research them in the first place? I've called several different offices and all of them so far have told me that they didn't have any room for me. I've been trying for months with no luck. What am I doing wrong?

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    1. Anon- It's HARD. It's so frustrating because we're usually at the breaking point when we're asking for help, then to get tossed around, told "we're booked up for months," "We're not taking new patients," "We don't take that insurance," etc. I'm in that right now myself and I realize, I'm fortunate to have insurance. My employer has a plan that's supposed to be for emergency mental health care, but the people they assign me to have not worked out (to be diplomatic). A workfriend sent me a list she compiled of our local mental health centers that take our insurance, but oh my- trying to find someone that you'll fit with...that's the next hoop. My friend found hers & think it's going to work, because she did see the therapist make a presentation at one of our work staff development days. The one I meet next week fortunately put some of her talks on Facebook videos and I *think* we're going to be able to work together, but we'll have to see. Good luck to you finding someone and maybe you'll be able to find some good resources soon.

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    2. I was fortunate enough to know someone IRL who works as a counselor, and so got some recommendations from him. I will say my first choice was Beth, but she was totally booked up at first, too. Then while I was researching other therapists - and stalling, to be honest - her office called a few weeks later to say she finally had an opening. This is my first time down this road, but I think it might help to leave your name on a waiting list, if that's available, or at least ask for names of other counselors that practice can recommend.

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    3. if you have a G.P you like and get along with ask them for a recommendation. if there is a college close by with a psychology M.A or PHD program call them and have them recommend someone. my work has an Employee Assistance program that includes psychologists and Psychiatrists and they offer recommendations as well.

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    4. Just another option-- my daughter has so little sick/vacation time that she put off going to a therapist because she didn't feel like she had the time; so her room mate (a social worker major) recommended an on-line therapy site where she could find someone and do it over the phone, or facetime-- or whatever works for her. She says it's not cheap, but she's been going more regularly than ever before because doing it over the phone WORKS for her; and her counselor isn't in this town; but that doesn't matter-- so it opened up the number of people that WERE available. I can get the name of that site if this something that might work for you. It seems to be working for her, and I'm considering using it myself.

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    5. Therapist here. :) Another approach to finding a therapist (if you can't find recommendations, or recommendations aren't helpful) is to do research on what kind of therapy modalities you think would be most helpful to you, then do a search on psychologytoday filtering for someone who specifically works with that type of therapy. Therapists don't just talk and ask questions. They each have their own philosophy and training (we all have basic training of course, but then we go out and learn more of what we're interested in). If you're struggling with depression and anxiety and are willing to do homework, CBT could be a good fit. If emotion regulation, impulsivity, and relationships are a bigger problem, you might think about finding a DBT group (DBT can be taught individually, but is generally a group therapy). If you have trauma you want to work through, you might look into EMDR. The list goes on and on. Another thing to keep in mind if you go this route is that there are certifications for pretty close to everything. They aren't necessarily that important. You don't need a CBT-certified therapist to get good outcomes, for example. I would definitely recommend a fully trained EMDR therapist, but the EMDR certification isn't very important (it's mostly about paying for additional training each year and paying for the actual certifications, and therapists don't often have the money to shell out annual fees to be "certified"). Instead, ask how long they've been practicing and about how many clients they are currently working with using the type of therapy you're interested in. Let me know if you have other questions. :)

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  6. Good good stuff here. The point of a therapist is to give you tools and guidance to help you deal - to fix yourself, or understand yourself, or just accept yourself. It’s not always about solutions, as nice as those would be to have. You’re doing great. :)

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  7. I'm so beyond glad that this experience has been so positive and helpful for you! It's taken me a LONG time to accept that, while my husband would probably benefit immensely from therapy, he is NOT currently willing to be open, honest, or engaged the way you have been, so for now it wouldn't help.

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  8. I agree that therapy is going to be a whole lot more helpful if you work at it! It's a lot like PT; you need to do your homework, and when you're in there, you need to be working at it.

    I would note that many people also get tools - due to your self-work on these things, you probably already *found* most, if not all, of those practical "reduce the panic attack" tools before you went, but even just something like deep breathing is a revelation to some people. :-) (including, yes, stressed but not panicking early-20s me; you mean, we can do diaphragmatic breathing and it *does stuff* with the body so that there's a reduction in stress-related physical pain? Mind. Blown.)

    I also 100% agree with trying to get a therapist who will be empathetic to your core beliefs; if they are not, things can become... less helpful. You need someone you can trust. (and nerds sometimes need people who don't pathologize regular nerdiness) And how to find that, when you move to a different state and can't see your previous therapist anymore? No idea. Hmph.

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  9. Excellent! It's wonderful that you've found therapy helpful, and have made it work for you. I've been fighting depression for years now, and have contemplated going in, but some part of me screams back that doing so is "weak and pathetic and you're better than that", even though I know otherwise.

    It's been amazing to read your progress, and to read you baring your soul on things like this. You've no idea how good a role model you are for that. But how did you bring yourself to take that final step, and not just admit you needed help but actively seek it out?

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    1. Oof, it was hard. Super hard. I think the final push for me was hitting a new place in my panic, a place I had no idea how to cope with. For the first time in a long time, I was at a total loss on how to proceed, and couldn't see any light at the end of the tunnel. That's when I knew I needed outside help.

      Seeking out the help was another *super* hard step, but after so much terror I was desperate enough to make the first call. A few days later I was able to tell John, and he was so encouraging that carried me through the rest of the process.

      If you're in a similar place, I highly recommend confiding in someone to help you through the process of finding a counselor. It's too easy to talk yourself out of it, so have a cheerleader during those first steps is unbelievably helpful. It also helps to have someone close to you affirming that you need this, you deserve this, and you're a friggin' WARRIOR for doing something this hard. (And by the way: all of that is true!)

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    2. C.N.Wolf I have dealt with Depression for 40+ years. Let me tell you... YOU ARE NOT WEAK!!! The fact that you can post on here that you are dealing with it, the fact that you get up every day...That takes Strength!!! Would you say some one with cancer is weak for going to the Dr? Would you say that someone with diabetes was weak for taking insulin? Would you call a recovering alcoholic attending daily/ weekly AA meetings weak? They are all people dealing with hard stuff in their lives that need the experience, support and sometimes medication to get through Earth School!! There is Nothing weak about that!! You deserve to have a better life and getting counseling is not weakness! It's Self LOVE!!! You Deserve Better than that voice in your head that is saying ugly things to you! Tell that mean voice that you are not going to listen to it's bratty talk any more and allow yourself to seek out the right help to get your life back in balance!! You are right... You are Better than Depression so Show it who's strong enough to get help! Best life to you!

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  10. So happy that you’ve found a coping helper. That’s what I call my therapist, just a coping helper. Because you’re right, we cannot fix one another, yet we can be fixed because of another. The ability to cope is a learned behavior and sometimes we’re lucky to find the right guide or teacher. I’ve ran away from two therapists in my life because the pain was too hard to rehash during my visits. I decided to never do that again and let the therapist know why I don’t want to visit. I say that only to say, sometime you get to the point that you do not want to see them again. That’s ok too. If you ever feel like you need a therapist break, they will cope 😉

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  11. My husband was a therapist, and I can tell you from watching him work that he cared SO MUCH about the progress his clients made. He was always searching for books and resources that would help them. I am so happy that you have found a good match. A great therapist can help you change the direction of your life. I encourage anyone thinking about it to go for it.

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  12. Early in my therapy journey, I whined to my therapist one day, asking “how isjust talking about things actually going to fix me?” She gave me this metaphor that continues to help me, nearly 3 years into our work together. Every week I come in and takeoff the backpack of crap I’m carrying around with me every single day. And we open up that backpack of crap, and pull out one thing that’s relevant or bothering me right now, and we take a look at it and we decide “where did this come from?” “How did it help me?” “Does it still help me now?” “Do I still want/need to keep carrying it?” and “Am I ready to let it go?”

    I’m so happy you found a therapist you clicked with and that you’re ready to do this amazing and transformative and empowering work!

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    1. It's the Marie Kondo-ing of our day-to-day lives!!

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  13. Thank you for this post, Jen. It is Gold! Next time I see my psych nurse I'll ask him if he can recommend any local therapists. I don't think this will be covered by NHS but I'll make space for it in my budget.

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  14. So glad it's helping. I did about 18 months of therapy not long ago. My social anxeity had gotten so severe that i got terrible stomache cramps before anything even slightly stressful invovling people,and at the same time I was doing more and more professional public speaking. Of course, since therapy, at least the first time,is a stressful thing invovling a person, i nearly didn't make my first appointment, thanks to cramps. But the whole process was amazingly helpful.

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  15. Can anyone recommend to me what good therapy should look like? I'm trying to find someone for myself, and for my husband, whose military assigned therapist suggested things like breathing exercises, and putting all his problems in a mental box and imagining strong protections around it then taking them out one at a time. Which. No.

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    1. Unfortunately my experience is that good therapy is different for every person. What was suggested to me and worked well was for me to write down what I want in someone who is going to be paid to listen to me and help me work through tough things. I needed someone who wasn't too touchy-feely. I needed a empathy with a side of tough love because I can wallow and I need someone to pull me out of the wallow with a little bit of "suck it up and do the work". I also needed someone who I felt safe enough to cry in front of. I went through 4 therapists before I found one that clicked. It gets harder to do with our crazeballs insurance these days but I think one thing none of us are taught is that you really can fire doctors/therapists. If a medical or emotional professional does not work for you, find another one. It's hard but necessary. I hope this helps, I hope you find therapists that you and your husband click with. Much luck to you!

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    2. Therapist here. :) "Good therapy" looks very different for every individual. The things you mentioned can be really powerful, helpful things for some people, and for others, not so much. The essential part of "good therapy", from my perspective, is finding someone that you feel safe enough with to be able to have a conversation about what works and what doesn't for you. Often, you don't know who you will be able to have this conversation with until you try it out, which I know is scary. But like Jen said, if you don't have an idea of what could be helpful or what you want to focus on, the therapist will end up throwing things out there until something seems to stick, and that can be a frustrating process for both of you.

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  16. Epbot is one of the very best places on the internet, and I so, so appreciate that you post about things like this. It helps normalize being human--how strange that something like that needs to be normalized! <3<3<3

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    1. I love this - "normalize being human" - perfectly put :-D

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  17. I have been in some type of therapy off and on since I was a teenager. Sometimes I wasn't able/ready to put the work in, sometimes the therapist wasn't a good fit. I am finally in a good therapy situation. I have a counselor that I see in person once a week, and I also have an online therapist. I have a psychiatrist also, but he is mainly responsible for diagnoses and medications (I need this, not everyone does).
    Congratulations to you Jen on your progress!!

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  18. Jen, You're posts have helped me more than I can ever express and although I live miles away I am wrapping you in good energy and holding you in my heart. Therapy is tough but so worth it. I am so glad you knew to seek out a therapist that would fit your needs! That is just as important as taking the step to go to therapy. Thank you for sharing your experience, we all need to share our experiences in therapy more so it becomes less taboo, yes? Anyway, sending you love, energy and hugs. You're the best.

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  19. Thank you for this. I've been toying with the idea and the realization that I need help. You have given me the courage to admit that I need help and find my own therapist.

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    1. So proud of you, Tiona! Please keep checking in, when you can. I'd love to know how you're doing.

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  20. I’ve never had a choice to go to therapy. I had to go to a psychiatrist to keep taking my antidepressants, and my psychiatrist wouldn’t keep seeing me if I didn’t go to therapy...so I went to therapy. (I eventually gave up on both when I was unable to find a non-Christian therapist. Yay Bible Belt.) Now I’m forced to go to therapy again so that I can get testosterone for transitioning. The problem with going to a therapist when it wasn’t your idea is you don’t ever have the breakthrough Jen did up there. There’s no “oh yeah! *this* is why I’m here!” moment. It’s agonizing. Every therapist appointment I’ve ever been to has been a waste of my time and theirs. :(

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  21. I'm so happy you are diving into it to find more tools! There are a lot out there and I wish for you lots of illuminating moments!

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  22. I feel this song describes how it feels after a successful therapy session. The singer/songwriter, Dorothy "Dodie" Clark, describes on her official video that though she wrote this for the Moomin Valley TV show (in Britain only?), it reflects how her best friend helped her get past a particularly bad episode in her life. Good therapists become a unique kind of friend, don't they?

    I am including the link to the version on the soundtrack of Moomin Valley. "Ready Now"

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  23. Congrats on finding a good fit!

    I've been in therapy for about 8 years now. My therapist once told me that very few of his clients are as excited about therapy as I am. "Why am I doing this again?"/"Is this even helping?" is apparently pretty typical.

    You can totally ask Beth about a diagnosis, if that's something you want.

    -H

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  24. Several years ago, our marriage was at crisis point. We know we loved each other but somehow we didnt LIKE each other and didnt know why this had happened. In a moment of peace Hubs said "We need help. We need to fix us". So off we trotted. The first week afterwards we went for coffee at a busy 24 hour cafe in a quiet outside corner and carried on talking, something we realised we had stopped doing. We cried a bit, but we didnt get angry. We promised that after each session we would do this and talk more, and we did. Today, sometimes one of us will say "I need a Cafe Coffee" which is code for we need to talk on neutral ground. We saved out marriage.

    Over the years, both of us personally have gone to therapy just to get a "Brain Tune Up". I get stuck in anxiety and its not something I can make him understand how it feels. So I go to remind myself Im ok, and he goes to remind himself that he is ok.

    Then we go for Cafe Coffee xx

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    1. Wow, that's beautiful. You're right; it's so crucial for couples to talk, REALLY talk. I'm so glad you two did the work and came through stronger for it!

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  25. I'm glad it's working for you. I've tried therapy twice. I gave it a good shot. It did nothing for me, which was disappointing.

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  26. Congratulations on taking that step. I've done therapy/counselling a number of times over the last 20 years, and it's always so interesting how different counsellors have different approaches. And each time I go, I learn something different about myself and different tools to help me in my challenges with anxiety.
    I'm actually going to be starting counselling with a previous psychologist in a few weeks. This time it's been hard to admit that I need the support, but I'm reminding myself that it takes a strong person to ask for help. I have a lot of hard work to do, but I'm taking the steps.
    It can be hard to find the right fit. My most recent attempt brought me to a person who I didn't feel confident that she'd be there for me through a personal crisis - there was confusion around the date of my initial appointment, it changed to an earlier date (which was good), she cancelled my second because she does private practice part-time and works in the public system full-time. I ended up deciding I needed to see someone else.
    Self-compassion is so important. Patience and gentleness is so important. And remembering that therapy isn't a quick fix is so important.

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  27. <3 ! And yes, finding the right therapist can make such a huge difference!

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