Chapter 3- Speed Dating

If you’ve read the previous 2 chapters, you’ll remember that I compared the hunt for a therapist like the ordering of a mail-order bride – except that acquiring a bride by mail seems a lot easier than choosing a psychotherapist which is too bad cuz the relationship with a therapist might be more emotional intimate than the relationship experienced by some couples. (Sad, huh?)

I had planned to devote Chapter 3 to the first session with my therapist but I just can’t help but try to come up with some solutions or the ONE great solution to ease the difficulty that many experience when they decide to begin hunting for mental health help. Right now, I think it’s damn difficult to get going. But, maybe that’s just me. This is MY story, after all.

Not to expose my feeling of pride too much, you know, but I must tell you that my idea is brilliant. In fact, I am so sure of my brilliance that it will not surprise me at all if I’m nominated for the Nobel Prize once the community of mental health providers catch wind of my idea.

Nobel Prize for what?, you ask. It would be the Nobel Prize for Improving the Quality of Life for all Human Beings who Desire It. Pretty cool, huh? I believe that my idea would encourage many more people to wholeheartedly jump into the water of psychotherapy. And with more of the population with that willingness, their and our quality of life will improve.

Not only that, war and poverty will become a bad memory. I mean, really, if people better understand their emotions, they’re less likely to act out in violent or selfish ways. We could finally live in peace together. I can see that you’re getting on board with me, aren’t you. Although, initially, you probably thought it absurd to consider myself a candidate for the Nobel Prize, you’re now beginning to think it’s not such a bad idea.

“Wait a minute”, you blurt. “You’re telling us all the wonderful consequences of your idea but you haven’t told us one darn thing about the idea. It’s beginning to look like you’re selling snake oil”. (For the record, I’m not ‘selling’ anything. Of course, donations are always attractive.)

Calm, calm, calm, please. To get your interest I thought it would be best to share all the benefits of my proposal rather than to slam you with the details. Anyway, if you’re still reading, the details are next.

Okay – here’s the current scenario – we conclude somehow or another that it might be good to speak to a professional about our mental health, our emotions; then we look for names listed of those professionals; then, like pointed out in Chapter 2, we might use voodoo magic to select one of them; then we call; then we make an appointment.

First appointment is especially crazy. We’re supposed to go into an office of someone we don’t know, never met, and begin talking about our personal problems? Really? In what universe does that make sense? None–as far as I’m concerned. No wonder most people are not interested in pursuing therapy.

So, here my imaginative, intelligent, impressive, innovative (have I used up the best adjectives yet from the thesaurus?) idea – Speed Dating! Yep, you read that correctly. You know how speed dating works, right? Although I’ve never done it (seems like fun – no commitment, short conversations, lots of variety… I digress), I truly believe it’s the solution to the problems I recognize that exist in just getting going in the psychotherapy world.

First of all, the local therapist community would announce and publicize a ‘fair’, so to speak – you know, kinda like job fairs where people go check out who’s hiring. They could call it, “Get to Know your Friendly Local Psychotherapist Fair” or “Think you Need a Shrink, Take a Peek Fair” or “Curious what a Psychotherapist Looks Like? Fair” or “No Exposure Necessary…Yet, Fair”.

But instead of booths like what job fairs have, the therapists would sit at tables with a chair across the table. Or maybe no table –just chairs facing each other. These logistics can be decided later as the first event is being planned. I can hardly wait to be called on to be a (paid) consultant. Oh,man…

Those who sign up to scope out the psychotherapy scene, would spend 5 minutes with each therapist to, at the very least, see what they look like. More importantly, a short meeting can usually give a strong indication if there is some resonance between the two people. (I’ll discuss resonance a bit more in later chapters. Just know it’s kinda like, “I like you.”). The relationship between the client and a therapist is the most important part of therapy some experts declare. So, such a pre-meeting could go a long ways in pre-establishing a good relationship.

Whoops – I already see a few problems. First of all, if there are 100 therapists, say, in your area, you would be spending 500 minutes in ‘dating’. Ouch. Taking out my calculator and I learn that’s more than 8 hours. No one could do that. Even if you had the stamina to sit through 8 hours of interaction, how in the hey could you remember 100 people you’ve met?

Hold on – don’t worry, I think I’ve come up with a potential solution. Let’s divide the therapists into groups depending on their orientation. Yike, that also could be problematic because there are so many approaches in therapy and so many therapists use more than one technique.

Wait – I know what we can do about that. Condense the options for therapeutic approaches into 6 possibilities from the 40 (that were listed in my locale)- developmental, humanistic, transpersonal, transactional analysis, systems, experiential, cognitive behavioral, solutions-focused, mindfulness based, eclectic, emdr, systemic, dialectical, family systems, body-centered, psychodynamic, feminist, sex therapy, strength based, mind-body, multi-cultural, interpersonal, gestalt, client-centered, somatic, shamanic, NLP, psycho-educational, relational, attachment theory, integrative, contextual, differentiation based, character analytic, orgonomic/biophysical, communication (Satir), Jungian, expressive arts, play therapy, hypnosis, narrative therapy.

Remember I shared all of the above styles with you in a previous chapter. They’re the list as how my local psychotherapists described their own practices and there may be more possibilities, idk. Well, since I’m the one with the potential to win a Nobel Prize, I will be the one to narrow down the selections to 6. (Hmmm, am I qualified since I am ignorant of what most of those systems entail? Not to worry – I doubt it makes much difference)

My selections are – drum roll, please – cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic, solutions focused, experiential, mindfulness based, and client-centered. Oh no, I just had another thought – what if some these approaches are really the same but with different names attached to them? Or what if I’m selecting the least effective modalities? Or what if my local community doesn’t have many therapists who practice with those particular techniques?

O.k., I concede that the therapist community should select the 6 ( or 5 or 7) therapeutic approaches. You know, this brilliant idea of mine is making me feel a bit dizzy. I’m willing to do this work creating something easier only because I’m very fond of what’s easy. Right now, it seems to me that if someone is considering embarking on a therapy sail, it’s much too difficult to find the dock.

Members of the public who want to attend the fair will choose which group of therapists to speed date. AND, each therapist will need to choose their favored or predominant style of therapy in order to assign themselves to one group.

Oops, again. How does a member of the public know with which group to speed date? Ah ha! I do have a solution to that also. (That’s me in action – very solution oriented.) See, our therapist community will send out an information packet to each person who signed up for the event. In that packet is clear information about what each approach involves along with a questionnaire that can be completed to guide the person to decide which group to sign up for.

Whew! Now let’s look at a previous paragraph in order to compare the two methods. (Okay – here’s the current scenario – we conclude somehow or another that it might be good to speak to a professional about our mental health, our emotions; then we look for names listed of those professionals; then, like pointed out in Chapter 2, we might use voodoo magic to select one of them; then we call; then we make an appointment.)

Or, with my proposed method, we learn about modalities of therapy, we learn enough about ourselves to possibly know which modality will suit us better AND we get to spend 5 minutes with a variety of therapists in order to select one to begin to work with.

Dividing the group of, say, 100 into 6 brings each group to approximately 16 or 17. An hour and a half max. Doable, right?

But, I am a realist, at least in some things. And I do know the possibility of my creative and ingenious idea being put into practice is almost nil. And along with that, my hopes for Nobel Prize and world peace are in the realm of fantasy. Doesn’t hurt to dream, though, does it?

O.k., I promise that next chapter will describe my first meeting with my therapist. No, it was not like trying to swim across a river filled with alligators. Nor was it like putting on full body armor to defend against the dragon. These analogies serve to describe an instinct to protect ourselves as if the therapist were the enemy.

It also wasn’t like running into the arms of a long lost love nor was it like the cleansing and relaxing effect of a nice warm shower- metaphors to describe the happiness and relief of finding a safe and comforting place to breathe.

Nope – my first meeting was a bit more complicated than that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2- Mail Order Bride

Pre-Beginning

I’m not saying that I know what it’s like to order a bride by mail (can you order grooms?) but I am imagining it might be like trying to find a therapist…… except I can’t help but believe it’s easier to order bride/groom than to ‘order’ a therapist. With the former you can just list your requirements, 32 years old, brunette, knows how to bake bread, or in the case of a husband, 32 years old, brunette, knows how to bake bread, and voila, you have your candidates.

But how can I order a therapist? Is there a search engine anywhere where I can plug in my requirements: nice, helpful, and what else…? I don’t know. Uh, since I’ve never been in therapy I don’t know exactly the qualities I’m looking for so I’m in the dark. Even with that imaginary search engine, it would not be useful because I don’t know EXACTLY what I need. I just keep returning to my only thought – I need a NICE person who will HELP me. Hmmm, I wonder how many therapists advertise themselves as NICE people.

I revert to that old-fashioned method of research by opening up paper pages of a paper phone book. I know, I know – who does that anymore? Well, at my age I can defend my default habit of resorting to antique behavior patterns. Well, guess what? – there are only (only!) 130 names listed in the phone book. Hmmm, this should be fun. Just tear out the pages, tape them to the wall and throw a dart to choose a therapist – that should work.

Nah, there must be a better way. Therapists have their own business, right? So, they should have nice and tidy little websites to sell their wares, right? Just like other businesses. Give us your sales pitch and then we can make an informed choice – right? Shouldn’t be that tough, right? I mean, we live in THE INFORMATION AGE, right? So, good data is always at our fingertips, right?

Wrong.

Searching for a therapist is like searching for – I don’t know – like hunting for the holy grail, historically known as a silver chalice with magical powers but in my hunt, a magical person – A PERSON WITH WHOM I WILL SPILL My GUTS AND EXPOSE MY INNARDS AND LAY MYSELF TOTALLY EXPOSED AND EMOTIONALLY NAKED!

Phone book research a bust, not a sliver real information there, internet exploration next, I googled ‘Madison County Psychotherapists’ (not real name of my county) and 25 web pages later I still did not find any cohesive and clear list of my local therapists. Those few therapists who listed in the Psychology Today website did show up quickly in the search but they numbered only about 6 and did not grab my fancy, and a few haphazardly placed pages of therapists who took the time to create for themselves a webpage also appeared.

But the hits I got were mostly about physical therapists or massage therapists or sex therapists or even listings for technical schools in the neighboring states but no comprehensive listing of psychotherapists in my county. The link that did catch my eye, though, was ‘alien implant removal’. I kid you not. And that link appeared on the first page of a psychotherapist search – what does that tell us about the general consensus of the public’s (or Google’s) understanding of therapy? And what is wrong with Google? Shouldn’t they know better how to help? Is psychotherapy such a ‘verboten’ activity that it buries its existence in hundreds of miscellaneous and random pages. Aaarrggghhh!!

An idea crossed my mind to do a search by descriptive region instead of by county – you know – it’s like if you live in south Texas you might search “Gulf Psychotherapists” or if you live in Boston you might search “New England Psychotherapists”. I could have just as easily searched for “Mountain therapists” or “Seaside therapists”. I think this is a really loose way to identify a group but by that search I did come across a complete listing of my local therapists included in their own mental health providers association website. It was a fluke that I even thought to make a search by such a descriptor. Why their website didn’t appear in my county search I have no idea.

All of this hunting within the period of 2 days. This was not a casual relaxed search. It was a activity of desperation. Why was it so difficult for me to find that website that listed each therapist with their address, phone number, experience, orientation, etc. etc.? Well, who knows, but at least I finally have something to work with and now I’m faced with the dilemma of…how does one scroll through those NAMES and choose that PERSON who will watch you squirm and (hopefully) die to your old dysfunctional self (that is the goal, remember?).

Complicated and more complicated – these therapists have letters behind their names – LPC, MA, Psy.D, LPA, LCSW, Ph.D, LMFT – the list goes on. Am I supposed to know what those letters mean? I could google them (I’ve lost my confidence in Google) but still… what do those signs really mean? I’m wishing that at least one of them had the letters ABC and that is the therapist I would have chosen. ABC is soothing; ABC is nurturing; ABC is foundational; ABC is the beginning, I want to go to the beginning; I want a therapist who is ABC.

Being that there is no ABC therapist and succumbing to the harsh truth that I am ignorant of all things therapy, against the common sense that God gave me, I choose to slide into checking out the other descriptors those therapists give themselves.

Ah, modalities- those methods of therapy that therapists apply in their work- what a number of options. I think they’re also called ‘orientations’ or ‘approaches’ or ‘treatment styles’ or… I advise you not to read the following paragraph because I am going to list all the treatment styles that were named by the therapists in my area. I have no idea if some of these are redundant, being different names for the same thing, being ignorant of all things therapy and so for me it’s all gibberish just like it was all gibberish when I first read them and probably is gibberish for most of the population. So here goes:

Types of therapy: developmental, humanistic, transpersonal, transactional analysis, systems, experiential, cognitive behavioral, solutions-focused, mindfulness based, eclectic, emdr, systemic, dialectical, family systems, body-centered, psychodynamic, feminist, sex therapy, strength based, mind-body, multi-cultural, interpersonal, gestalt, client-centered, somatic, shamanic, NLP, psycho-educational, relational, attachment theory, integrative, contextual, differentiation based, character analytic, orgonomic/biophysical, communication (Satir), Jungian, expressive arts, play therapy, hypnosis, narrative therapy and so on.

Pretty scary, huh? Confused yet? I am. I was. I knew I was in over my head and made an executive decision to ignore all of the concrete yet unclear information I’d uncovered so far. Since I didn’t know what the letters behind their name meant in regards to how it would help me in therapy and since I didn’t know anything about theoretical approaches, I needed to narrow my search by some other methods. I decided on a very reasonable decision making method. I would choose a therapist to call by a deliberate, easy to understand, unique to me, process of elimination.

Hey, this is easy after all, I was thinking. I know I don’t want a male T so I eliminated all the men. Whoops, I only lost 10 names off of the gigantic list. O.k. – what other criteria can I use? I guess I can eliminate those who specialize in children or those who treat drug addiction. Great – now I’m 5 more down off my selection. Well, what other ways can I sift out names from this list?. Oh, I know – I’ll keep those T’s whose offices are within 5 miles of my house. That should get rid of a bunch more. And it did. Yep, college educated me with lots of experience in research knows how to make informed decisions, don’t I?

Progress made. Began with 130 possibilities and now I’m down to 40. Hey, I have trouble choosing between chocolate, vanilla or strawberry ice cream. How the hey am I gonna be able to choose which of the remaining 40 therapists to call? At least with ice cream I know what I’m choosing.

Things are getting tough now. I’ve used up my ‘easy’ methods of elimination but now I have to get serious. Hmmm, I guess I have to resort to a kind of voodoo magic. I mean, I never really thought of it in that way before but my options seemed to have petered out. What else could I do?

“Voodoo magic” works by applying zero thought to your actions. You just let your body do the work. Sounds easy huh? Well, it’s not. You really must let go off any idea of control or analysis or judgment. So what I did was eliminate those names on the list that I simply didn’t like. Yep, that’s it. I decided to make a choice based on the aesthetics of the T’s names. Now, I would never be able to defend or explain how that might work or if indeed the beauty and sound of one name was truly better than another, I just let my body do the work. (Oh, and ‘voodoo magic’ is just a term I made up to mean that I had no idea what I was doing and just needed a fancy dancy label to give it. I mean no disrespect to any of you who engage in voodoo or practice magic.)

And here we are – at the finale. From 130 names now to only 5 names. That’s good. I wrote them down. I looked at them over and over. Which one to call? I had no idea. I chose one name and then changed my mind. This was nerve-wracking. Who should I call? Back and forth between the 5 names. Well, voodoo magic to the rescue – and I zeroed in on one name and had a number to call.

Now, I know there must be a better way to find a psychotherapist but I have no idea what it is. I could gripe and gripe about how hard these mental health professionals make it for us to find them and I would complain and throw a fit but… who has time and energy for such a cause? Not me.

I think I have confirmed that the life altering experience of tracking down a therapist is much more difficult than the life altering experience of ordering a bride.

All this action and effort even before I made that first phone call. If you think I got exhausted, you’re right. And we all know that exhaustion is never helpful when fear is present. For many of us there’s plenty of fear to go around as we anticipate therapy. Even so, I somehow or another found that kernel of courage inside of myself and was able to take that very important step to reach out to a psychotherapist.

Man, so proud of myself. Oh, but it gets better. (Is the sarcasm obvious?) We ain’t even started therapy yet at this moment. The ride is just beginning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1- The Fly Flits

The Beginning

“I need to tell my story”, I spoke slowly into my cellphone, my voice tremulous, my knees weak as a 98 year old woman, my stomach host of those proverbial butterflies that riot when enclosed in such small spaces, my throat with a sign that screamed, ‘out of order’ which is why I could barely swallow or speak. The stranger and I engaged in a short conversation that no amount of hypnosis will ever allow me to remember exactly. This inconceivable act of daring would change my life forever.

“Daring?” you ask. “What is so daring about a telephone conversation? It’s not barreling down a 40-foot wave at North Shore, Oahu. It’s not squeezing your foot into a toehold in granite on Half Dome, Yosemite.   It’s not driving harrowing speeds in your Formula 1 car at the Indy 500.”

Ah, thou “doth protest too much, methinks”, my friend. Shakespeare (in the voice of Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother) and I share the sentiment. Let me educate you a bit. ‘Daring’ is any action that requires courage. I did not use a dictionary – just trust me. I was scared; I pushed through; I dared.

I received the call while in the office of the County Convention and Visitor’s Center on 2nd street in Old Town, as we call that quaint part of our little city. Enjoying visiting a friend who works there, my heart just about skidded out of my body when I saw who was calling. I scurried to the front door and stood on landing of the gray Victorian building overlooking the bay while soft cool drizzle ensured that I stayed on the porch. It was December after all.

The stranger spoke first, “Pam, hello. You called and wanted to make an appointment with me?” Like I mentioned earlier, I have no memory of the exact words. I am positive, though, that she didn’t invite me to go bungee jumping with her. I’m sure she didn’t call to purchase my Arabic language tapes. And, I am certain she didn’t call to inform me I had won the lottery. So, we can deduce that our conversation was simply to schedule a meeting.

I misspoke earlier. The more compelling act of courage took place 2 days previous. You know how it is when a crazy thought first appears. You swat it away because, you know, it’s crazy. But then the absurd idea continues to show up. “How silly”, you say to yourself, as you work to resist its message.

My cockamamie idea approached kinda like a fly that begins to flit around your head. You notice it at first and then forget about it. You believe it’s gone on its way. But the fly returns and it’s annoying as hell but you can’t ignore it. It’s in your face, for crying out loud!

It stubbornly refuses to be perturbed by your continual attempts to smack it to kingdom come. As the fly hovers, you realize it ain’t goin’ nowhere. The torment is similar between a persistent uncomfortable idea and the persistence of a fly that won’t leave you alone.

As you slow down enough to try to develop a strategy to be free of the fly/idea, you notice something – you notice that your idea is not as fearful and as ugly as it seemed at first. It’s like finally noticing that the fly is actually a rare Monarch butterfly, recognizable in its beauty with its orange and black wings. I was not able to see that initially because I had been living blind – blind to possibility.

Some of our ideas may be like the Monarch – dazzling yet delicate and at risk of extinction. Immense beauty lies within nature and within ourselves. But effort and a healthy dose of bravery are necessary to preserve that beauty and encourage it to thrive.

My idea seems so matter-of fact now but at that time it was revolutionary -take concrete steps towards self-knowledge and self-empowerment. What’s more exquisite than that? But, it’s difficult for some of us because feeling trapped in a known, yet miserable, place has its own attraction – it’s familiar and it’s easy. I love to laughingly chant, “I been stuck in the muck, gotta get (un)shucked cuz I’m almost outta luck.” I know, I know – pretty terrible rhyme, huh? You get the idea though, don’t you?

I’ve discovered that it’s risky and scary to try to undertake the work of saving and nurturing something that is illusive and uncertain. The mediocre efforts to save the Monarch may fail as will half-hearted attempts to save ourselves. You may believe I’m being melodramatic here and maybe I am. But doesn’t being able to act from our true selves a part of ‘saving’ ourselves? Well, to me, they’re one and the same -to you, maybe not.

An expression born in ancient times comes to mind – ‘gird up your loins’. Although stemming from the Roman and Biblical era in which loose and long clothing needed to be tied up so as to make movement easier, it has become an idiom meaning to prepare oneself for action.

So, I did. I girded up my loins, so to speak. How? I don’t know. But I was able, by some miracle, to find enough grit within myself to make the phone call to a psychotherapist. So simple -punch in the numbers, hear the phone ring, listen to answering message, speak into (voice) mailbox. Easy.

I know, right? What’s the big friggin’ whoopdedoo about that? Well, only those of you who have made that call from the emotional land of uncertainty & fear may understand why that action is bigger than a big deal.

I possessed no conscious understanding that I was on the way to exposing myself and disrobing all layers of protective covering. I didn’t know I’d end up naked. I’m sure my subconscious knew that truth. That would explain my overriding anxiety. Though my steps were faltering and unsteady, I acquired somehow enough will to move myself forward towards my goal.

Of course, you know I’m talking about this in a symbolic sense. But, even as shy as I am, stripping all clothes off and being seen in all my fleshy glory by a stranger might be easier than what I ended up doing in therapy. Self-knowledge is not child’s play – it’s deep and sometimes very painful work.

Hey, you, the one who hasn’t explored therapy yet. Don’t let my words scare you off. No good therapist is going to demand anything from you. How you use the therapist is up to you. If being naked is not your thing, no problem. If you’d just like someone to share make-up tips with or home decorating or current events, a therapist will probably oblige. They’ll understand that your comfort level with them is the first step in the work to gain emotional well-being.

I’ll tell you upfront that I will not disclose the emotional struggles that finally compelled me to find a professional to share my story with. I will inform you that I’m a middle-aged woman with 3 grown children and 3 little grandsons. Hilariously, as I look back, I saw myself as a well-adjusted, competent, self-assured professional- as teacher, business owner and mother. Just because I could juggle work and parenting and household chores does not mean that I had enough emotional intelligence to maneuver through life well. The ability to know and understand one’s own emotions is a subject that I believe should be taught in every school. (I’ll step off the grandstand momentarily).

My life is testimonial that one can muddle through life being mostly clueless and still no one dies; that most things turn out o.k. – even with the slips and slides, the merry-go-rounds, the spinning wheel and all shapes and sizes of confusion.

I have 2 stories – one to tell my therapist and the other to tell to you. My therapist heard, hears and will hear of my personal emotional challenges. In many ways the tales I share with her are not that dissimilar to the one I’ll share with you.

Both tales contain missed opportunities, misunderstandings and mistakes. To be honest, I can laugh now but some of the stories did/do carry a punch that many times knocked me to my knees.

You will read about the unbelievable ups and downs that the therapy process itself causes and about the unique emotions directed towards and stimulated by my therapist. The weird relationship I’ve suffered through and have been exhilarated by with my therapist is the topic of this book.

Will my story have as many thrills as those experienced by those participating in the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain? Eh, maybe, maybe not. Does my saga contain the confusion of emotions that a fiery soap opera presents? Hmmm, possibly. Does my little memoir hold an array of feelings ranging from melancholy to panic to shame to rage? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

But therapy basically witnessed the growth of happiness, gratitude, respect, admiration, joy and love – the goal, you know. A potpourri of emotions spills out in my tale.

It’s a big story. IMHO (in my humble opinion.) Hold on to your hat!!