There is a Wrong Way to do Therapy
My efforts to do therapy right impeded my progress and set me up for failure.
I did therapy all wrong.
My anxiety increased even as I wrote those words. I like to do things right, follow the rules. So when I finally sought treatment, I thought I could do it right. What I didn’t know was that there wasn’t a single right way.
Unfortunately, there was a wrong way.
How do you do therapy wrong?
Go to therapy for someone else
I didn’t go to therapy for myself. Instead, in my estimation, any trouble I was having was minor when I weighed and compared it to my husband’s struggles. I felt selfish when I considered tackling my trauma and mental health struggles.
We both had experienced trauma as children. Both of us had struggled with our mental health, but neither of us had sought help.
Then suddenly, my husband’s condition could no longer be ignored. It impacted his work and our survival when he couldn’t get out of bed for two weeks.
Ultimately, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and received medication. He considered it resolved. Therapy was not anything he’d agree to.
I, however, felt like life had just gotten infinitely harder and didn’t know how to deal with it. What if I made him worse? How could I hold him accountable for anything? He wasn’t well.
The issues that had existed in our marriage previously may have been in part due to his illness or could have been the result of two people who never should have married. No matter the cause, his diagnosis created one more pressure on me. I refused to be that person who left someone because they were ill.
This messy situation was the backdrop for how I finally made an appointment to see a therapist. I intended to develop coping skills and learn how to best support my husband and not make things worse.
I was doing it wrong.
2. Use therapy to increase your tolerance for stress
I was buried under the expectations of being a mother, a teacher, a wife, and the primary wage earner. Adding one more complication felt like it would be the tipping point.
My goal for therapy was to find out how to broaden my shoulders so I could carry more, not to lighten my load, or learn how to set boundaries. Boundaries were not even a word I knew or understood at that point.
I never dreamed of learning ways to reduce stress, just tolerate it more. I didn’t think that my past experiences or current circumstances were the issue. Instead, it was me failing at dealing with life adequately.
This intention quickly left me frustrated with my therapist, who did not seem to be willing to help me with my goal. Instead, I tried a different tack; I would beg for homework, thinking that completing a certain number of rote steps would fix me.
3. Aim to Please your Therapist
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for my therapist to pinpoint that I had issues to deal with first. She wanted to dig into these. I was frustrated because I was not there for my trauma or my mental health struggles.
She persisted, and since she had EMDR certification and I had trauma, I think she saw a perfect match.
I felt this was my chance to get it right. She would tap, I would figure out what or how I should respond, and I would finally be a success at therapy.
Interestingly enough, I made absolutely no progress regarding my trauma. For years, I was convinced that EMDR was a waste of time. However, with some time, treatment, and perspective, I realized the tool wasn’t the problem. The therapist likely should have known that something wasn’t right. Training should have prepared her for just such occurrences.
4. Completely Blur Lines About Who Your Therapist is Treating
So far, I had gone to therapy for the wrong reasons, tried to accomplish ridiculous goals, and then faked it to please my therapist. I didn’t set out to find yet another way to get it wrong, but I found one anyway.
I was not mentally well and was trying desperately to get therapy right. When my therapist suggested that she begin seeing my husband and me in couples therapy, I agreed. I wanted to please and wanted to be a better wife, so in my mind, I thought this could be the way to do it.
It was not. While there is no rule against it, for us, it was not a good situation. Soon our counselor asked to see my husband individually. He now liked her, and with a history of refusing therapy, I once again put someone else’s needs first.
Now in couples therapy, she would reference things that they discussed, but in a cloaked way that kept the secrets from me. Eventually, she felt that he needed more individual therapy and that there was a conflict with her seeing both of us. She asked me to give up my spot in her schedule.
We had now come full circle, my original belief that his mental health was more worthy of support, mine wasn’t a priority, and that I needed to be a good wife all seemed to be the outcome of my first foray into therapy.
How Did This Inform Future Therapy?
Doing therapy wrong in every possible way did help me to figure out a few strategies that I used when I finally attempted therapy again.
I had likely not gained anything therapeutically from my first counselor, but I did learn how not to seek treatment in the future.
- If it doesn’t feel like a good fit, don’t stay.
- Therapy is about you, be ready to engage, to bear your soul, and if you don’t feel you can, refer back to the previous tip.
- Just because a therapist says it, doesn’t make it the rule. Years later, when the next couple’s therapist wanted me to cater to my husband’s needs over my own, I got the hell out.
- Find a therapist that challenges you and doesn’t just accept your bullshit. I had far too many of the second kind before I found one who pushed me out of my comfort zone and demanded I take responsibility for my part in treatment.