When the Solution is part of the Problem

4 09 2015

Chimera Smyth

Okay, I know I’m in trouble, and I’ve got to do something about it.  I know what I have to do, as soon as I can.  And I know what not to do.

Counseling. Therapy. That’s what they always recommend, don’t they? You go there and sit and talk (getting the words out of your head) and the kindly expert helps you to work through your issues and deal with your problems. It’s a sensible, appealing, thought. But, like all those uplifting motivational memes I ranted about in my last blog, counseling just doesn’t seem to work out for me. I’ve tried.

The worst was the couples counseling. I faced every session in a cold sweat of terror. I’d sit there, my brain frozen in panic, while the counselor and my husband looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to respond to some comment or question hanging in the air. It was like standing up in class and the teacher has asked you to summarize Proust.

I’d manage to stammer out something, and it would come back to haunt me. Perhaps I was trying to figure out some aspect of myself, and I blurted out whatever my working theory was at the time. Once spoken, it became Fact. If later I decided I was totally off-base and tried to recant, I was judged to be In Denial.

Or perhaps I just couldn’t force myself to say something I knew would hurt badly someone I cared about.  It went against all my instincts.  Sometimes I did force myself to say it, telling myself, That’s what I’m supposed to do, isn’t it?  That whole honesty thing?  I always ended up regretting it, hating myself for causing harm.  So instead I’d try making up something safely plausible, just to satisfy them. Making up stuff is not a good idea. That too, once spoken, becomes Fact.

I was pushed into trying to examine the influences of my parents and childhood. Certainly a valid course, if one has any material to work with. My memories of my parents and childhood are scanty at best, and there is no one left to ask. Anyone in a position to provide any useful information is gone. So this line of questioning is pointless. Yet I dutifully tried to oblige when I could, becoming confused when I was questioned more closely, finally dissolving into tears because, frankly, much of what I do remember isn’t terribly happy.

Oh, but I must confront such unpleasantness as part of my therapy.

Been there, done that. In private. Wept, grieved, sorted, sighed, taken stock of the ill-fitting pieces I have to work with and figured out how best to make do. Asking me to go through it all again for the benefit of a stranger, however well-meaning, is humiliating and pointless. Undress for us. Show us the ugliest parts of your body so we can all look at them. It’s all right; we’re trained professionals. It’s all part of the therapy.

Except that none of it ever made anything any better for me.  Quite the opposite.  And I get the blame. I’m told I “resisted” counseling. I didn’t “let it work”. Is this how a dyslexic kid feels when he fails reading? After all, the teacher used methods that worked for everybody else in the class. Obviously he isn’t trying.

I think it was during these nightmare sessions that my emotional self went out and bought the box and began lining it with thick padding and soundproof insulation.

Honestly, I did my best. After the initial disasters I refer to in my blog, I tried twice again. Went through the whole tedious process of searching data bases, figuring out which practices my insurance covered, filling out the paperwork, sitting through the initial awkward introductory sessions. Granted, I’m a difficult patient. Already burned, slow to trust, uncomfortable with opening up to a stranger (or anybody, for that matter–except on paper, so it seems). But each time, after several months, I gave up. I got more out of listening to MBCT lectures on CD and meditating (and writing) than I’d ever get out of these uncomfortable, unproductive sessions.

So, yeah, I know I’m in trouble.  And I know I have to do something about it, although right now it feels like trying to treat PTSD in a war zone.  But please, no counseling. Isn’t it more logical to do something I’ve tried and I know works (see my Colebrook Journals) than to keep attempting something that I’ve tried and I know doesn’t work? I am absolutely delighted at how well talk therapy has worked for other folks. Good for you! Keep at it! I promise I won’t push MBCT on you if you don’t push counseling on me.

Because, looking back, counseling has been a huge part of the damage done.




8 responses

4 09 2015
Vernon John

May I suggest “The Road Less Traveled”. It was helpful to me in times of trouble especially the first sentence but as with any self help book , take away what you can use and throw the rest away.

4 09 2015

It just so happens that there is a copy here in the library. I will give it a perusal.

4 09 2015

Ugh. I am so with you. I can’t even talk to the people I love, much less some jump-to-conclusions therapist. They never seem happy unless you cry – I bloody well hate to cry in front of anyone! And they focus on weird stuff…
I was also never able to be 100% honest. Maybe not even 80%. I totally understand why it doesn’t work for you, either.
But what is the alternative when we start the slide, or in your case find yourself half-way down the slope and are fighting to arrest your progress?
I’ve gone off my meds, BTW. I didn’t think they were helping and just getting a Doc to pay any attention to what I’m saying is impossible here.

4 09 2015

Keep very close track of yourself as you adjust to non-med functioning. Feel free to contact me if you get anxious. Meds have a nasty way of getting you dependent, giving you such unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that you are pulled back on again. Also, there are folks who do function better with them. Just not nearly as many as doctors tend to want to prescribe for.

As for the alternative, there has to be a middle ground between going it alone (unhealthy and frankly terrifying) and submitting oneself to the Counseling Machine. Maybe it’s just finding like-minded folks and sharing the strategies that work for each other. A self-selected therapy group (unlike the ones one finds oneself thrust into by those in the profession, which cause vastly more stress than they help).

Me, I have a 17 year old son who is amazingly perceptive. He had a superb counselor in school (sometimes you get lucky) when he was diagnosed with Aspergers. He had grown into a very self-aware person who totally “gets” where I’m at. So, a.) I can talk to him and he understands and b.) the parent in me scolds, “What are you putting that kid through for pity’s sake? Having to counsel his own mom! Dear god, get your act together, for his sake if not for your own!” And thus I am motivated to dig my fingers into the gravel and grit my teeth, stopping the downward slide.

He and I, by the way, have a “suicide pact.” He swears he’ll never consider suicide because he knows what it would do to me, and vise versa. Not wanting to cause a person you love that amount of pain is a great stabilizer.

4 09 2015

The pact is amazing. To be so honest and both understand… you are both lucky there. Don’t feel badly that he helps you – he wants to, he knows how, and you help him, too.
I am concerned about you, though. You are so awesome and geeky and special, I am worried when you lose the things you love to love.
I’m okay, actually. The only difference is my pupils now stay the same size for both my eyes. I think that is why I just gave up – my GP said, “oh that is odd,” when she saw the weird eye thing and that was…it. Yay.

4 09 2015
Mary Jolles

Each of us is so individual, and what works for one person does not necessarily work for another. I think you are onto something worthwhile with mindfulness and meditation. In fact, I think I’ve seen it working. Physical activity helps me a great deal by relieving stress I didn’t even know was there. Calm reflection and being “in the moment” helps one shed a great deal of unnecessary worry. The past can’t be changed and the future isn’t here yet. One of my favorite rhymes from a long time ago is: “For every trouble under the sun/ There is a remedy or there is none. If there be one, seek till you find it/ If there be none, never mind it.” Simplistic but true.

4 09 2015
Patricia Heath

Hi – Pat from 8th grade here. I’ve found that MSW- counselor types are stuck in their “training” and theiir own issues that drove them into counseling in the first place. I knew one who believed that if her patient’s weren’t progressing (to her satisfaction) after six months, it was time to move on.

I just started back up with my psychiatrist after a six year layoff. It’s a lot scarier because it’s my agenda that drives the sessions. When I was seeing him before, it was about hanging on, now it’s about managing my depression and teasing out the difference between what is taking care of myself and what is letting myself off the hook. After 10+ years (off and on) I have no idea goes on with him, or what he thinks of me. He listens, and it turns out I need that. And when I was first his patient, he let me be angry at him. All the time. And I needed that too. And he doesn’t tell me what to do. I’m so good at failure, I don’t need someone else to set me up for it.

I know you said no counseling, but maybe an old-fashioned, detached shrink would help. Meanwhile, I’m here in the stands, urging you on. Wishing you the best.

5 09 2015

Hi Pat, of course I remember you! I wish you luck and fervently hope your psychiatrist can help you. It’s a great deal like teaching — every kid has a different learning style; similarly, each of us has our own needs and quirks. The last time I researched for a therapist I studied the write-ups, qualifications and personal philosophies, and I still ended up with a mismatch. I also can’t just pick anyone — I have to go with one covered by insurance. (Some might say paying out of pocket is totally worth it — I suspect these are folks who wouldn’t be choosing which bill not to pay in order to budget funds for their therapy.)

Thank you for sharing your take on it. Good luck with the hard work.

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