We’ve all called up a good friend and talked about a breakup over a few drinks, cried on a friend’s shoulder. Sometimes we even get good advice along the way. But what about some feelings you just can’t shake, or can’t understand? Let’s talk about therapy. Briefly, because it’s scary for a lot of people (and necessary for many too).
Therapy has saved me from my darkest self, from destroying myself, and has given me tools to cope with unbearable situations and feelings.
I never questioned spending that money on myself. We spend on our cars and homes and girlfriends without batting an eyelash. We tend to let our bodies and minds go without help or checkups, and that’s a bit backwards I think.
A friend referred me to my fabulous therapist about 10 years ago. Today, it’s easier to find a good lesbian therapist online. Googling a lesbian therapist in Chicago brings several results. Back then, not so much. However, word of mouth is still the best bet.
I’ve learned that if you don’t like your therapist, then you’re not going to be helped. If your therapist repeatedly misses appointments, is always late, and demonstrates other inconsistent behavior, find a new therapist immediately. A good therapist will at the very least be consistent, responsive, and on time. People who are lost or otherwise seeking help need that basic consistency. If you can’t connect with your therapist, or are otherwise distracted, or don’t feel comfortable in your sessions, look for another therapist right away. I’ve also learned that if you aren’t willing to do the work, no therapist can help you. Beware of anyone who claims to “cure” homosexuality or calls herself a reparative therapist.
The fact that my therapist is a lesbian at first was just a great bonus. But having worked with her on and off over the years, her being a lesbian is now an imperative piece, especially when dealing with relationship issues. I broached counseling in college, when I was starting to come out and was so confused. I got assigned to these two geeky grad student guys who treated me more like a lab animal, or a freak, than the young troubled woman I was. They knew nothing about lesbianism which was evident by their questions:
Them: Do you like men?
Me: Yes, but I like women more.
Them: How long have you had these feelings?
Me: Since grade school.
(long silence as they wrote on their legal pads)
Them: Why do you think you can’t have a relationship with a man?
Me: What??? That’s not why I’m here! I can get a date no problem. I don’t connect emotionally with men. I want to find out if I’m a lesbian.
Them: Why do you think you’re a lesbian?
And on it went for an interminable hour of scrutiny. I never went back but instead went to the library and read a lot of books, which helped, but it wasn’t all I needed. About 18 years passed before I sought therapy again.
My therapist has a good sense of humor, and allows me the freedom to express however I need to. She calls me on my shit, and doesn’t let me get away with much. Actually let’s change that to she never lets me get away with anything, just in case she reads this. She’s also open to alternative types of therapy and is willing to use methods that best fit specific needs. For example, art therapy after a breakup. I did a whole series of drawing my heart in varying stages of brokenness and healing. The combination of her flexibility in treatment for my variety of issues has yielded successful results for me when I’ve sought her help on and off over the years.
I have a good friend Joan who said she can’t even look at her therapist when she’s in her session because the therapist’s hair is such a mess that it makes her laugh. Joan says it’s worse than Phyllis Diller’s (actress known for crazy hair styles). She said she has to look out the window or anywhere but at her therapist during her sessions. And then her therapist starts asking Joan why she is so distracted.
When I stopped laughing and caught my breath, I suggested she look for a new therapist. But my friend has been working with “Phyllis” for years and wanted to continue on instead of starting from scratch elsewhere. I think that was a mistake, but for the sake of this story, I’ll tell you what happened.
One morning, Joan called me and said she’s on her way to see Phyllis. She was saying how she believes she must confront Phyllis about her hair because “I have some serious issues I need to work on and I can’t have this distraction. I think I have to say something to her.” I reminded Joan to be kind, and to let me know how it goes. An hour later the phone rings.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Honey, you are not going to believe this.”
“Oh my gosh. I can’t even believe it.”
“My therapist got a NEW HAIRDO!!”
We commenced a fit of uncontrollable laughter. Joan said it was God working in a way so that she wouldn’t have to have the confrontation. I thought it was awesome. Joan said, “Now I just have to work on her clothes.” I asked if she complimented Phyllis on the new hairdo and she said, “Yes, but I didn’t want to over-do it. You know how those therapists are – if you compliment them too much, they think you have feelings for them.” Therapists have a very interesting place in Joan’s world. Eventually she did move on to a new therapist.
I told this story to illustrate what’s wrong with it. Joan was too distracted by Phyllis to work on herself. She wasn’t comfortable enough with the therapist to say “hey, this is bothering me.” Honest communication is key. You have to be able to say what’s on your mind, even when you disagree with them.
My experience has been proactive, helpful and positive, but not without a few laughs. I’ve told my therapist at times, “you really pissed me off with” blah blah blah or “I’m feeling almost fixed today, thanks.” And my favorite, “You’re a fabulous therapist. Even though you don’t prescribe pills.” Hey, wouldn’t we all like to have an “easy” pill at some point in our lives? Psychiatrists can prescribe pills whereas social workers and psychologists cannot.
My therapist in many ways pushes me to be a better person, to take the higher road. Her objectivity has been most valuable. When I’m mired in something, she helps me see the bigger picture as well as options I may not have thought of. My therapist helps me stay on track, and keeps me grounded and accountable to the work I am doing.
At the very least, therapy is an appointment with yourself. We all need that time to get quiet, go within, to just be. And sometimes we just want to talk and need someone objective not only to listen to us, but to hear what we’re saying. If you are thinking about going into therapy, do it. Listen to the voice inside. That’s where the answers come from.
You’re not crazy for getting help and guidance. You’re crazy not to get it.
Find a therapist here:
Through Howard Brown/LCCP: http://www.howardbrown.org/hb_services.asp?id=1098
Through Gay and Lesbian Medical Association http://www.glma.org/
Karen is a recent escapee of corporate america and was raised in the Chicago area. She is quick-witted, non-political and non-comforming, but an astute observer of everyday life. Loves women.