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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

insights: this is not the therapist you want

I consider myself to be a logical person so when I realized that I was sad about the progression of things and when I started thinking "Why me? Why me?" I realized that the logical step would be to find someone who would help me make sense of it all. When I broke my arm, I had a doctor. When I wanted to change my eating habits, I hired a nutritionist. I decided to find a therapist and I wanted to meet with someone immediately.

So I started looking. I did some research online and found a therapy office not far from me with seven or so therapists. I looked at their pictures and picked the woman who was older and smiling and looked like she would probably have homemade cookies in her office for her clients. Disney would have cast her as the 'Loving yet strict grandmother.'

I was happy with my selection so I called the office to make an appointment.

"Oh, she is lovely, isn't she?" said the receptionist "But I am afraid she is all booked."

There goes my fantasy of eating warm cookies while wrapped in a blanket and being told exactly how to fix my life by 'Nana.'

"Hmmm," I said "Nothing available soon?"

"No," she said "Afraid not."

I looked at the other pictures and chose 'ABC Sitcom Mom.' She was smiling and blonde with a little head tilt as if to say "I know you had a bad day and we're going to fix it and make it all better!" I just knew that she would tell me it would all be OK within 30 minutes. OK, good. I found a new therapist.

"Oh. Sorry! She is booked too through the next 5 weeks!" The receptionist laughed a little nervous laugh.

I looked at the photos of the other therapists.

"Niles Crane*?" This therapist was smiling and wearing HUGE glasses. He reminded me of my high school Physics teacher. I wondered if in sessions he would absentmindedly forget that his glasses were perched on top of his head.

"Hmmm. No. Sorry"

"Um, how about Marcia Brady*?" This therapist was YOUNG, had long blonde hair, wore no makeup  but had a huge smile. She looked like she had just graduated and would be the kind of person who knew the latest things you need to know in psychology and I'll bet she would have a bowl of pumpkin seeds in her office for snacking.

"Wow! She is on vacation! We're not doing well, are we?"

"No, WE are not."

I went through the others except for one and they were all booked up for the next few weeks. It left just one.

This last therapist looked SAD. She was frowning, her brows were furrowed and she looked like the before picture in a makeover. She seemed annoyed to be having her picture taken.

Silence and then "Sylvia Plath* is available" said the receptionist tentatively.

I looked at her picture. No, no, no. There had to be someone else. I asked "Is there anyone else? Anyone? Anyone new or visiting from another office?" I pleaded.

"Sorry, but she is wide open and can see you tomorrow night. Friday night."

"OK," I said. I realized I was probably being judgmental. She was a therapist. She had to be OK, right? I filled out the pages and pages of paperwork about my history.

The next night I arrived at her office on the second floor over a strip mall.

It was a beautiful, warm evening but as I walked in the heat rose to the second floor and it was stifling. In her brown, hot waiting area was a brown tweed couch, the kind you would never want to sit on at fraternity parties.

I waited and stared at the paneling. The door opened and a family walked out. I waited for Sylvia Plath* to come out and welcome me in. Nothing.

"Next!" I heard from her office.

I stood up and walked towards her office. I looked in and in the faded light I saw a woman sitting at her desk. She said "And you are?"

I didn't even know what to say. "Um, Taylor. I have a 6pm appointment."

"Sit." She motioned to the matching brown, tweed loveseat from her waiting room. I squinted in the hot darkness. I looked at the couch and looked for another seat in the office. There was none. I sat on the low itchy couch.

"How can I help you?" she said.

I started "Well, my job was eliminated and. . ."

She stopped me. "I have some rules we should go over first."

"If you have any weapons with you, I ask that you leave them in your car. Or better yet, they should not be in the parking lot."

"If you tell me that you are going to hurt someone or yourself I have the right to let the person know you are going to hurt them."

"There is no eating and no drinking in this office."

"I ask that you not be drunk or high when you arrive."

I sat there squinting at her in my Ralph Lauren white Oxford shirt and khaki capris. I didn't think I looked at a criminal. Had I been brandishing a small .45 while picking imaginary spiders off my shirt, I get that she would have to do this speech.

"Do you understand?" she asked.

I had to get out of there. This was not someone who was going to help me. Yet, I stayed. I thought maybe I was overreacting and this session could only get better from this point.

"I understand." I should leave my guns, daggers, knives, weed, cocaine, alcohol, Twinkies and Starbucks Macchiato in the car.

She stared at me waiting to hear why I was sitting there on her couch. I started to talk as she sat behind her desk and I looked up at her from my low couch 6 feet away. She was looking down at her pen and indeed looked as unhappy and angry as her picture on the website.

I was sweating in the hot, dark room. Done.  I cleared my throat and said "I don't think this is going to work."

"Fine," said Sylvia Plath.

"I'm sure you are a very good therapist but I need to leave."

She stared at me with her pen in her hand "I have to put something down on the diagnosis for the insurance company. What is wrong with you?"

"Um, I'm sad. The job that I loved for a company that I loved was eliminated. I lost my baby. My heart is broken. I'm sad. But, you know what? Don't bother submitting it to insurance. I'll pay for this session myself. How much should I write the check out for?"


It was worth the $165 to get out of there. I thanked her, wished her all the best and walked down the stairs into the balmy sunset. I called my husband and told him he wouldn't believe what had just happened and thanked him for not letting me brings my machete to the session. (Kidding.)

This story does have a happy ending.

I met an amazing therapist who is light and happy and joyful yet can be stern with me and call me on my bullshit. She is absolutely certain that there is happiness in my future again and encourages me to take the (sometimes hard) steps I need to be The Happy Girl. She keeps blueberry tea in her office for me and hugs me when I see her. Best of all, SHE'S happy. She's like your sensible older sister who wears the coolest clothes and says exactly the right thing. Plus, she has never once asked me to leave my weapons in the car.

If you are looking for a therapist, ask your friends if they can recommend someone. If you are affiliated with a religious organization, try talking with a minister. They may be able to guide you themselves, or recommend someone.

I used to think that there was a stigma in having a therapist but I look at this as one of the smartest decisions I have ever made. I think it takes real courage to say "I need help. I need to feel better." This is a strong move. It means you know that you are not living the optimum life that is out there for you and you want to be the person you know you can be.

Oh, and one piece of advice? Never, ever bring your sword to your therapist's office.

P.S.    If you can't find a great therapist in your area, Vicki Keough, a Behavioral Health Specialist (rock star!) works with people around the world.

* names have been changed

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