My stomach turned and I wondered how I could email my way out of this. I think if she hadn’t walked out at that exact moment to call me inside (because no waiting rooms during Covid!) I would have bailed.
“When did you know you needed to reach out to a therapist?”
Well...5 minutes before my client was due to arrive in my office, I found myself frantically trying to wipe away tears, fix my mascara, and make it look like I hadn’t just been bawling at my desk. That’s when.
This particular client follows my (professional) IG account and I know she had seen me post earlier that week about the loss of a dear friend, so I’m sure she would have been understanding if she saw me having a moment. In fact, I think it’s important to let clients see that we are human and we don’t have our emotions under control every second of the day. However, we are trained to pack our stuff up and leave it at the door to be fully present with them, and I happen to believe I do it very well. In fact, I love being lost in someone else’s story so that I don’t have to think about mine sometimes.
Here’s the thing: If you are a therapist and you haven’t done your time on the couch yourself, I worry for you. Not every profession requires you to have worn the shoe on the other foot. You don’t have to have experienced a heart attack to be a good cardiologist for example. But with our profession? I think it’s needed. So needed. And I think we are better therapists when we know what that level of vulnerability feels like.
I pulled up psychology today and narrowed down my preferences. I’m fully aware that I only know my preferences because I know all the different options there are. I cannot imagine starting the journey of looking for a therapist without all the knowledge I have. The process is overwhelming.
This unicorn I was looking for didn’t exist, I was being way too picky. In fact, it didn’t populate a single therapist who I didn’t already have a professional relationship with. I had to let go of a couple of my expectations, and eventually landed on a therapist that is in the building next to mine who had an opening next week. Step One: Done.
I spent the next week feeling absolutely silly and crazy. What did I even make the appointment for? There is nothing wrong with me. I shouldn’t need this. I’m actually fine. I don’t really need this. My life is not that bad. I seriously do not want to practice what I preach here.
But nonetheless, I pulled up outside her office on Tuesday (with one minute to spare because I absolutely hate being early for appointments. It gives me anxiety) and I think for a moment “Wow- the people that come to see me are incredibly brave because I 100% don’t want to do this right now.” My stomach turned and I wondered how I could email my way out of this. I think if she hadn’t walked out at that exact moment to call me inside (because no waiting rooms during Covid!) I would have bailed.
She leads me inside and I sit on her couch. I notice things I’m sure most clients don’t. How her chair is positioned closest to the exit for her protection in the event the client (me, right now) becomes violent. How the lighting is too bright in here and I pat myself on the back for the soft lighting I’ve set up in my office. I’m looking for something to tell me I’m not completely vulnerable here and somehow a slight criticism helps? I wonder what clients have criticized me for.
I even notice how she sits, her body language, how hard she is trying to smile from behind her mask to make me feel comfortable. I immediately like her and I’m so relieved. I’ve seen two therapists in the past who I totally ghosted after the first session because I got a bad vibe from. Actually, they were probably perfectly nice, normal, and competent, but I wasn’t ready to be there. One lady exclaimed that my wedding ring was so “purdy” and I immediately wanted to end the session because I didn’t want to connect with her or her country accent. How insanely judgmental we can be when we are uncomfortable with ourselves.
“What brings you in today?” There’s that big, open-ended question where I have to start somewhere when I have no clue where to start. I took the easiest way out and replied, “Because...2020?” She laughed, nodded in understanding, and gave me some validation. I thought back to what I wrote on her intake forms 30 minutes before I arrived (I’m a do-it-at-the-last-minute kinda client) which is for her biopsychosocial, but also to get me thinking about what I want to get out of therapy. The best way I can sum up what is bringing me in today is grief. 2020 has felt like loss after loss for me and the tears at my desk make me think that maybe it has finally caught up to me.
The conversation flowed, but I was ready for the hour to end. I talked about things I didn’t expect to talk about- therapy works that way sometimes. I walked away with a lot to think about and a good feeling about seeing her again.
Reaching out for help is hard. Getting started is hard. Opening up to a stranger is hard. But I know it is worth it. If you have found yourself wanting to do this but a million things have gotten in the way, I encourage you to reach out to me so I can help walk you through the process. I don’t have to be your therapist- I’m happy to help you find the best fit for you somewhere else. But I can certainly be a resource in helping you on this part of the journey.
On the ride home I thought about several of my long-term clients who now walk in and say “OMG JULIE GUESS WHAT HAPPENED??” before they can even sit on my pink couch. They almost can’t wait to fill me in on their lives and they are so excited to share with me. I’m reminded that wasn’t how their first session was either and how long it’s taken for them to get there. And I wonder if one day I will be bouncing into Kristi’s office, ready to share, comfortable enough to cry, able to let her see me. For some reason the thought of that possibility makes me smile :)