Time to Talk?
By request, this week is about therapy. I was asked when it’s helpful and how to find a good therapist.
Here’s the thing about social anxiety in particular: talking to strangers is a trigger. Talking to a stranger about the anxiety that makes it hard to talk to them? Seemingly impossible. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it.
When is therapy helpful? There are two things that are required. The first is a desire to be helped and the second is the right therapist.
I saw a therapist named Sarah during the spring of my senior year of high school and the following summer. The only reason I did is because I was self-harming and having suicidal thoughts and knew I needed help fast. I had a desire to be helped.
But I’d had a desire to be helped twice before that, and neither of those panned out. Why? Because I’d had the wrong therapist.
The first I saw before I was diagnosed. She said there was nothing wrong with me and tried to teach me to walk with confidence, because if I felt confident I wouldn’t worry so much about things that didn’t matter. That was the only time I saw her.
The second is the one who diagnosed me. But after that, she talked a lot about overcoming my anxiety and seemed to want me to not feel anxious at all. I felt like I was failing her. I only saw her three times.
Then I was tired and convinced therapy wouldn’t work for me. I stopped until I was in the mental low I mentioned above. Then I started seeing Sarah.
I’ve mentioned her in pasts posts. She’s the one who asked me why I didn’t love myself enough not to hurt myself (here). She’s the one who made me write a list of everything I loved about myself (here). She’s the one who helped me learn to think of my anxiety as separate from myself (here).
I didn’t always like Sarah. She made me do things I didn’t like. She told me things that were hard to hear. But that’s also exactly what I needed.
During my first appointment, she told me I was probably going to have social anxiety the rest of my life. She told me we were not going to cure it. We were going to work on managing it until my anxiety got to a level that didn’t interfere with my life.
I was peeved. I’d gone to her because I didn’t want anxiety anymore. She was supposed to fix it and she’d straight-out told me she wasn’t going to try.
But she was also the first person to give me a realistic goal, so I went back. Sarah made it clear that she could help me, but she couldn’t fix me. She was very straightforward in everything she said, and I needed that.
Sarah taught me that my goals didn’t have to revolve around overcoming my anxiety, but rather accomplishing tasks I thought my anxiety prevented me from doing. For example, she changed a goal of “feel no anxiety during my English presentation” to “do my English presentation.” That was a big mental shift. I began to learn to stop hoping anxiety wouldn’t come and started looking at how to do things despite its existence.
She helped me immensely and it was through my time with her that I went from self-harming and having a suicide plan to a college student who mostly had her life together. More importantly, a college student who wanted her life to continue.
But as much as I didn’t like them, there wasn’t anything wrong with the first two therapists I saw. They just weren’t for me. The first was too hopeful. The second had the wrong goals. Sarah was realistic and her personality and approach fit well with me.
Therapy isn’t easy, and neither is finding a therapist. If you’ve already been to one and felt like it didn’t help, don’t force yourself to keep going. However, I would encourage you to try to find someone different.
Look for practices whose values line up with your own. If your faith is important to you, find a faith-based practice. Find a therapist who specializes in your specific diagnosis. Be straightforward about what works for you and don’t be afraid to stop seeing someone if they don’t fit.
But keep trying. Because if you have that desire to be helped, then therapy will help you as long as you’re talking to the right person. As exhausting as it is, you have to try therapists on and see how they fit. Not all of them will. The ones that do will be worth the looking.
In completely unrelated news, I have a brand new blog about writing and an official author website you can check out here.