Therapy, My Third Attempt
I have just (last week) finished my most recent season of therapy. Seasons may sound like a weird way to describe it, but it kinda makes sense to me, and I think reshaping how we see therapy isn't a bad thing.
Each season has looked quite different, my first involved attending group therapy with 15 other people over 6 weeks as we focused on our 'low moods'. I didn't really feel I learnt much here, but talking with fellow 'low mooders' or depression suffers was something I found very helpful. We all seemingly know 'we are not alone', but actually seeing and talking to other people in a similar boat helped me to actually accept that.
This season also involved one to one over the phone sessions following the group sessions. These I found much more useful as I got to apply what we had discussed (in group) to my own personal situation. That said I don't think I really noticed the benefits of this first season until about 6 months later. I think I needed time for the discussions and learning points to sink in. Plus, this was essentially the first time Id had a dialog about my own mental health, it took time to understand.
Season two involved another group therapy, this time based at a local mental health unit. While there were some great learning points for me and some great metaphors, which I have since used to help explain what I and others have experienced. I struggled with some aspects of this season. It was in a much more office like environment, and the room was... at capacity. So it was not particularly positive or welcoming for me personally. It definitely put me in more of a 'work mode', so I found it harder to open up.
Following these 6 sessions, I again requested an additional 6 sessions of one to one. However I stopped these after 3 or 4 sessions as I didn't feel they were beneficial. That was partly because I had a different view of what would help to the therapist and subsequently our rapport broke down.
My most recent season has involved 15 weeks of one to one and provided me with much more opportunity to explore what I feel and how I think. I have had conversations that looked both at the past and present to help me understand more about how and potentially why I think and feel a certain way.
Some to the tools and resources discussed in my recent therapy were new, some were tools I had discarded from season one or two, that just didn't make sense or feel relevant to me at the time. This time round I had more time to explore my own thoughts and feelings before the tools were introduced, and when they (the tools) were introduced, it was gradually.
Additionally I believe my most recent season of therapy involved working with a therapist that I had a much better rapport with. Thats not to say it was bad with previous practitioners and therapists, there just wasn't the same connection or understanding. I believe this led to the third season being much more engaging, enlightening and useful.
That also meant some of this season was the hardest, because it facilitated real exploration. Three of those sessions involved crying and some heavy emotional moments. Particularly, for me, seeing some of what I had said written down was hard. It felt very much like being confronted with your own thoughts, which until then I had tried to push into my peripheral vision and not focus on. Through the sessions I learnt that its ok to not focus on it, but actually there needs to be a time that you do focus, consider and process it to be able to move on.
There was a lot of theoretical and abstract conversations, which I enjoyed and took a lot from. I need those before I'm ready to process 'real' actions or tasks. I value the theoretical/ higher thinking a lot, it helps me to invest in the tasks/ processes next.
For me this way particularly noticeable when looking at supportive tools and coping strategies. A number of those introduced where not new to me. But I hadn't invested in them before, because this tiger conversation hadn't happened. So I was less invested in my recovery and tools that would support that.
I was also able to discuss my 'non depression' symptoms, which until now had always been ignored by any service I had received. This left me with little idea of what was going on and what support would be useful. From articles and information I read online, including Mind, NHS and more, I believed these symptoms to be associated to BPD (borderline personality disorder). My third season therapist was the first person to be happy to have a conversation with me about this and acknowledge there was likely another illness at play (as well as my depression).
Through our discussion she brought up the list of symptoms you would need to be diagnosed with BPD from a European medical site. Once we looked at the 12 potential symptoms, of which you needed to experience 7-9 I think to be diagnosed. I only really felt 3-4 fitted my experience. Our conversation continued and PTSD was mentioned as a more likely illness/ related symptoms. This, linked to my sudden divorce and potentially the views I formed as a child.
I am not diagnosed with PTSD and I don't feel the need to seek a diagnosis. However this one conversation gave validation to symptoms I have experienced for a long time and had little to no support for. Additionally I now have a better idea of where I can look for useful support, tools, talks and resources for my non depression symptoms. Whether its BPD or a form of PTSD, just having that acknowledged was... important and meaningful.
Therapy has definitely been a journey for me and I'm not sure its over yet. I think there is more I need to unpack. But for now I need to to process some of the revolutions of my third season.
I do believe the way we all see therapy, including me, needs to change. It is not just for when we are in crisis, it should be used to keep track of our wellbeing, whether we are diagnosed with an illness or not.
Also, from personal experience, if you are in or near crisis point, therapy is going to have limited impact. I have found it much more useful, when, yes I'm not in a great place. But I'm also not in a state of crisis.
I hope you have had positive experiences of therapy (if you have accessed it) and have your own wellbeing tools to support your mental health. I would love to hear about your experiences, if your happy to share drop me a message on twitter (@Mike_Douglas_), maybe we can even get you on the podcast to share you story.
Until next time, you're not alone out there.