Friday, June 19, 2009

Treating PTSD Symptoms: Is Your Therapist Right for You?, Part 1

For 8 years I was with a therapist I loved and adored and whom I thought hung the moon. Too bad he wasn't trauma trained. Yes, we made galaxies of progress, but by the end of 8 years that's all I could say. I'd made progress. I wasn't healed. I used to wail at him, "Henry, when will we ever be finished?" And Henry would sagely reply, "You'll know when you get there."

Not good enough.

We all know that according to research conducted by the American Medical Association psychotherapy only has about a 38% recovery rate and even that result takes about 11.5 years. If we're going to be in therapy -- and I really believe in it as a foundation for healing -- then we need to set some ground rules for ourselves. We need to make sure we're in the right therapy. If I knew then what I know now, here's what I would have been thinking:

#1 We need to evolve - If we become stagnant in the therapeutic relationship we're doomed.

#2 Therapists need to be creative - If they feel stumped we're doomed.

#3 We need to make progress that releases us - If we circle endlessly we're doomed.

#4 We need to feel someone's guiding the boat - If we feel unfocused we're doomed.

#5 There needs to be a plan - If there's no structure to our therapy we're doomed.

The bottomline of all of this is that we shouldn't be the ones running the show - we should be partners with someone who knows more and sees more clearly than we do. There were many times I felt Henry didn't give me the guidance I needed to move me toward resolution. It's nice to be able to go into therapy and be allowed to talk about whatever you want. But if you're there because you have nightmares every night - and instead of discussing the cause of them you want to discuss, oh, I don't know just about everything else under the sun - then what's the point?

If a therapist can't gently guide you back to the reason you're in there then what's going to become of your quest for healing? Of course, we don't always feel like diving into the deep. But if a therapist doesn't help us build a framework for doing just that then we can't ever hope to be free.

There's no science to therapy, but even in the hands of a professional we must consider whether or not he or she is the right professional for us. Just because someone has a degree or is highly recommended doesn't mean he or she will be our personal Messiah. Wecan't just sit back, relax and say, "Whatever you say, boss." WE are the boss. It's our lives and healing that are at stake. We can't sit on the sidelines.

Even if the relationship fit is comfortable and supportive we still need to ask ourselves: Is this therapist going to take me to the place I need to go? If you find yourself (as I did) despairing that you'll never be finished, or feeling you're not getting anywhere or feeling that the therapeutic relationship isn't moving you forward toward freedom then it may be time to assess if it's the right relationship for you where you are now. We are all on a continuum. What's right at one moment can change in the next and we need to be aware of those shifts, and also, when it may be time to seek new help -- not as a decision made on the fly but as the result of some careful thinking and assessing of where we were, where we are, and where we hope we're going.

What are your experiences in therapy? Did one therapist take you all the way from struggling to healing?

(Photo: Lauren Anabela)


Anonymous said...
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grasshopper said...

I'm glad you posted this - I think we very much should be in charge of our own therapy, and trusting our instincts is a major part of that. Unfortunately, if we were brought up to ignore our own feelings and whatnot, learning how to trust one's instincts can be a major re-wiring process. So learning how to stand up to and fire (or at least change) therapists can be a big part of the growing and healing process.

When a person's instincts get warped by how important, powerful people in our lives treat us or respond to us (such as parents or teachers), it can be really hard to overcome.

For example, yesterday I read that human infants can swim within a few moments of birth, they don't need to be taught. The thing that *un*teaches us this innate skill is that most parents panic when they see a baby anywhere near the water. So we spend the next 5, 10, 15 years overcoming the trauma induced by our own parents in order to do something that is, or should be, as natural as breathing. Or maybe we never overcome it - this is the power our parents 'freaking out' at something that's totally natural can have on our ability to do that thing. What was natural becomes unnatural, and you can never return to that pure, free, uninhibited state of that newborn baby. But hopefully you can overwrite the 'programming' with a little help...

Hope that wasn't too much of an aside! I think my point is, a lot of the stuff therapy tries to address is just like the baby being so frightened by its parents' reactions that it 'forgets' how to do something that is basically a birthright.

Imagine, then, that all the other ways we get influenced by important people in our lives are equally powerful. To overcome such negative influences, we have to be around someone who deeply and intuitively understands that we basically start out as a healthy blank slate (barring physical abnormalities of some kind) and that any 'problems' we have are generally a result of some environmental imprint left behind by some person or persons who had influence or power over us in some way (teacher, parent, relative, sibling, best friend, etc.)

I'm personally at the point where I think most therapists are parasites - I'm angry and resentful about a lot of things in my life, and need a place to let such feelings out without feeling bad or guilty about it. I don't need to be protecting the poor widdle fee-fees of someone I'm paying fricking $90 an hour or such to listen to me talk! (oops, this is turning into a rant, sorry)

I'm basically pretty jaded about the whole profession - how can you believe in the genuine desire to 'help' of someone who charges such predatory fees? It tells you that therapy is really only something the rich can afford.

Well, I hope you find someone you like who helps you. Personally I'm having better luck with friends at this point, though it's taken me a long time to learn how to talk about the things that are bugging me without sending people running off to the bushes to hide from my 'intensity'. The legacy of an uncommunicative family, I guess - better late than never, but I'll never be as fluent as if I'd learned the language (of emotions) in childhood.

Good luck!

Michele Rosenthal said...

@grasshopper -- Personally, I think you're ahead of the game. That you're aware of all this stuff means you're in a position to transcend it. We do all have to overcome the things that have eradicated our natural, pure state. But knowing that is half the battle! The other half, I think, is trial and error of finding ways that help us develop the skills we need. Not an easy task but definitely doable.

p.s. The blog has moved -- come visit the new & improved site at

grasshopper said...

Thanks for the encouragement - I hope you're right!

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Great information in this post and I think there were many times I felt Henry didn't give me the guidance I needed to move me toward resolution.

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