For a long time I was afraid to go to therapy. In my church, that just wasn’t what you did. But eventually I had some emotional bumps in the road I couldn’t deal with on my own. I went kicking and screaming, but I went to therapy.
My second therapist was the one who stuck. She is patient and kind, and sometimes funny. When I flop down on her couch and tell her I’m going to die alone, she laughs until I join her. When I tell her I’m worried that I’m a terrible writer, she stops me and points to everything I’ve accomplished. When I feel I’m not making any progress in personal development, she reminds me what our conversations were like when I first came to see her.
At first I went to see her once a week, but as things began to rebalance, we settled into a routine of every other week.
Maybe this happens to everyone, but I came to look forward to my therapeutic appointments. When things felt off in my life, I was doing something productive about it. When things were good, I was excited to get my therapist’s reaction to how I was using my coping strategies or standing up for myself.
At first she was treating me for a cyclical depression I couldn’t shake. Every couple of months, I would sink into it, unable to rise until it had run its course. It never lasted more than a few days, but a part of me always wondered if this was the time I wouldn’t come out of it. My therapist was on hand to remind me I always had before and that I would again.
In between depressions, we developed strategies for my anxiety, which I hadn’t known I had. When something has always been a part of you, it’s hard to know it isn’t normal. I thought everyone spent their lives a little nervous all the time, sometimes more than a little. My therapist assured me everyone does not.
I’m a quick learner, especially when I care about something. We worked through my responses, began to replace my negative self-talk with true words. You are precious, you are wanted, you are chosen, I tell myself now. You were intentional, you are loved. Sometimes she would text me little pin-able images with encouraging words on them, to add to my arsenal. When I began to freak out, I would listen to her voice in my head reminding me to check for evidence of the worst. She was right, of course. Even if I checked and double-checked, the worst was not happening, not this time.
It’s been almost two years since I first plopped down on her couch. I’ve shared my deepest feelings and thoughts. I’ve said things out loud I’d be terrified to say to another person. She holds space for me. She doesn’t make me feel too much or not enough.
A few weeks ago, at the end of our session, she didn’t reach for her schedule book. “You’re doing so well,” she said. “What do you think about decreasing our sessions?”
My stomach dropped. From the beginning, the goal was never to become dependent on therapy. She wanted to help me, and I wanted to be helped. She wanted to be there when I needed her, but not more than that.
I knew this was good news; I was doing better. It wasn’t just her saying it; I felt it in my bones. I had strengthened my emotional core muscles. I wasn’t collapsing as easily, or for as long. But it didn’t feel like good news.
One of the hardest things about therapy, for me, is remembering that my therapist isn’t my friend. She’s kind to me, and I tell her deeply personal things, but it only goes one way. I’ve heard therapy described as paying for a non-reciprocal relationship. Obviously, there is much more to it, but that has always rung true for me. Friendships, relationships of any kind, are hard work. It’s a gift to have a place where normal relationship rules don’t apply, but it’s not real life. I might feel close to my therapist, but though I know the basics about her, I know little else. This is as it should be.
I didn’t make an appointment that day. I told her I would consider fewer sessions. Maybe we can go down to once a month, I thought. I wasn’t sure I could make the leap to “as needed.”
Without therapy to look forward to every other week, I’ve become more intentional about scheduling social engagements. My friends are busy, and I am too. It’s fall, and friendship often gets lost in the shuffle. But I try again, and again, because when I’m listening to a friend struggling with what’s next, or another who is overwhelmed by the needs of her kids, or when I’m apple picking with a couple of toddlers, or catching up with someone over a glass of wine, I think, This is the real stuff. I went to therapy primarily because I so wanted to have healthy relationships. I’ve learned a lot, and now it’s time to go after relationships with the same tenacity with which I went after therapy.
But it’s not just that, I realize. I didn’t go to therapy only so I could be with people. I went so I could be at peace in my own head. I went to learn not to be my own worst enemy. I wanted to hold space for myself, and never tell myself I was too much or not enough. My therapist has modeled that for me, and my first fumbling steps toward wholeness have become strides.
But this journey isn’t linear. It can’t be tied up with a bow. Next week, or month, or year, I may find myself in therapy again, with a mountain that feels insurmountable. But unlike those first sessions, I won’t have to work as hard to tell my story: she already knows it. We have a shared vocabulary, a history to draw from. Even as we scale back our sessions, I know she’s there if I need her, and I am thankful.