Here’s How Therapy Can Help (From a Non-Therapist)

OMG it took everything I had to get myself out the door to visit Bill and Kimberly Harticon and their family on Sunday. I was so depressed and so just dead inside and I didn’t want to be with people. I could barely move myself forward. But I knew I had to go. As it turns out sitting on the beach with their wonderful family was just the right medicine but I cannot emphasize enough how hard it was to get out that door.

The detox from court this week proved to be more thanI expected. There’s always a little ripple in my existence after spending time in Sacramento, but for some reason this time really triggered me. Maybe it’s because I wrote the lie-detector blogs. Maybe it’s because I took Katie with me. Or maybe spending time with more survivors ended up making things even more real for me – but I had one of the worst nightmares ever early Saturday morning. The kind that drops a shadow over you and lasts all day. In fact, so bad that when I walked back into my bedroom on Saturday night, I didn’t want to go to bed!

I slept like crap both Friday and Saturday nights and moved to the couch early Sunday morning because I could not shake off the crazy thoughts. With two kittens, the minute the sun comes up, they start moving and it was only their parkour insanity that distracted me enough for a few hours sleep on Sunday morning (if you watch that link, the guys from The Office absolutely replicate what is happening in my house with these kittens). I really wanted to go see Bill and Kimberly and the kids, but how in the world would I do it? Thankfully, I managed to get myself to New Brighton beach and spent a lovely afternoon with them and their family (amazing kids bytheway). It was the therapy I needed.

People ask: would I benefit from therapy and how?

As I have moved through this space called post-arrest, I’ve received a lot of questions about how or why someone might want to get therapy. Since I’m from the land of fruit and nuts (California), you know I’ve been to therapy. Let me see if I can answer this in a way that’s helpful and also provides a way for you to “shop” for the help you might need.

It’s not easy to find the right person.
This is freaking true. I think I saw as many as six people before I found the right person for me. As far as I was concerned, the right person had to be smart and have an outstanding bullshit detector. That’s because my denial was so strong, I didn’t even realize it was in my way for like two years. In fact I remember the shift on the day I quit fighting the process and finally let go. I’m not sure what the secret is to finding the right person, but if you feel like you could go back (even if you hated it) you’re probably on the right track.

The process is only as good as you want it to be.
Think about it. All a therapist knows is what you tell them. If you aren’t forthcoming (and even have in your mind what you want to change), it’s going to be rough going. For me, I wanted to get my shit together so I’d be a good parent. I really struggled to love myself and I knew if I couldn’t love me, it would be hard to love a kid in a healthy way. It can be the simplest statement: I’m tired of being afraid; I want people to take me seriously; I have unexplained rage; I don’t seem to exist; I do all the emotional work for my whole family. You get the idea. Figure out how to state your pain and state it. The work comes from being honest about why that pain exists. And it is work.

You don’t have to go it alone.
A lot of the benefits I gained from therapy were done in “group”. There were about seven of us and we’d agree to meet as a group – with our therapist – for about a year. The session was about to hours long and each person got a chance to talk every week. The upside of group therapy is that you don’t have to do all the work. I often benefited from someone else’s work just by watching and listening. I really liked group and I think it’s actually a little faster than individual therapy. Individual usually lasts about 50 minutes and in my experience, it takes a good 20 minutes to start getting productive. But it’s private and personal and better if you need to talk about something you simply can’t do in front of anyone else.

It should have homework.
Change won’t happen just because you want it to. Homework is critical. A good therapist will usually give you assignments that can help you observe your own behavior, try new behaviors or even stop yourself from doing bad behaviors (like exercises to slow down anxiety or putting a serving of food in a bowl if binge eating is your thing). It doesn’t have to be big or hard but it does help create change. If you aren’t getting homework, ask for some. At a minimum, Dr. Jen will tell you to journal.

You’ll need a refractory period after your session.
When I went to group, it was on a Thursday. Thankfully I would go home to Seinfeld, Fraiser and ER. I would not take phone calls. I had a Diet Coke and popcorn for dinner and I would just decompress. The last thing you’ll want is people yapping at you – or even worse – asking “how was therapy?”. I hate those people. It’s none-ya, as in none of your business! I strong recommend sharing insights after some contemplation. You discovered your insight when you were vulnerable. Others don’t know what it took for you to figure things out. Sharing without context or the space for conversation could undermine your progress. Pace yourself and tell nosy-Nellie’s to go away.

Therapy has gimmicks that work.
Some of the gimmicks used on me with good results: confrontation. This one is classic because it’s simply a “I call bullshit” moment. As you peel back the layers of the onion on this one, denial is typically called out and defenses can start being chipped away. Another is reframing. This was huge for me. When I thought I was so awful people said I killed my dad, it wasn’t until it was reframed for me that I let myself off the hook. My dad treated me so badly I would have had justification to be that angry (not kill him but be that mad at him). Reframing is powerful and you can use it to help your friends. All you have to do is put the problem in a different light. Suddenly it’s easier to understand and process. One more is compassion. This isn’t about someone having it for you, it’s about having it for yourself. Easing up on the negative self-talk and unrealistic expectations that are working like a trap to keep you from moving forward. There are many more techniques used during therapy, I’m sure the internets can tell you about them. The point is, a good therapist will use them and you will make progress as a result.

It takes time.
I took roughly seven years. I could have done it way faster but I fought it for at least two. Then, after my pivot, I kind of loved it. I ended up working on things I didn’t expect to and it helped me a lot at work as well. How long it takes is really up to you. My main point is, don’t let time be a deciding factor. If it’s about money, figure that out with the therapist. You can establish a progress plan and remove money as a worry.

It’s totally worth it. 
I am a believer. The process works. The benefits include reducing depression, anxiety, self-doubt, learning about boundaries (where you begin and end), and learning coping strategies that can last a lifetime. I’m happy to answer questions if you leave a comment. I know getting help can seem scary and expensive, but the investment is worth it. And you’ll find once you’re feeling like you’ve got things figured out, you’ll make a much better friend and supporter for others because you’ll be able to practice what you’ve learned.

As for me. The sunshine helped. Telling Bill and Kim I was struggling helped a lot. I didn’t even have to go into specifics. Being reassured they had zero expectations of me helped me feel safe. Spending time with the kids made me feel relaxed. Knowing I could manage to push through when I wanted to quit, helped me get a good night’s sleep and today has been 100% better.

2 thoughts on “Here’s How Therapy Can Help (From a Non-Therapist)

  1. Jen,

    Thanks for this. I have just begun my journey to get better. I have been feeling lately that at 49, it might be too late. I have so much denial and baggage to Wade through. Your words helped in helping me force myself to get up tomorrow and go back to the therapist. I’m not ready for group yet. I still have stuff I can’t speak of out loud.

    Did you go the CBT route? My therapist wants to start on EMDR, and I am on the fence about whether I buy into it. Just wondering what your experience was with the different therapies available.


    1. Kelli! So sorry for the late reply. I got a little overwhelmed.

      I did CBT and learned about EMDR later. The Cognitive Based Therapy helped me with a lot of the “stinkin thinkin” I was doing about who I was and how I interpreted things that happened in my childhood. My therapist was really good and helping me undo things and redo them in a healthy way. I have a lot of anxiety but it’s really come forward in the last five years or so. With that, I do use EMDR to myself to stop intrusive thoughts and lower the panic. Now time has passed so tell me, what did you choose to do (if you want to share)?

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