Ginny Kochis shares four encouraging truths about therapy for mental health issues.
My mother took me to see my first therapist when I was eight years old.
I was a highly uncooperative client.
It was summer, and I sat in a giant plastic chair on the other side of the therapist’s executive desk. I eyed her warily, just waiting for her to make a move. After a few minutes of unproductive conversation (“How are you feeling today?” “Fine.” “What’s school like?” “Fine.”) she leaned across the desk to hand me blank paper and a pack of crayons.
I’d seen enough TV to know this was the oldest trick in the therapeutic playbook. I wasn’t playing.
You wanna see my angst on a page, lady? Here. Have a waterfall. And a rainbow for luck.
I grew up. Over the ensuing years, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety and coped well on the meds. I was proud and I was busy and I didn’t have time to talk to anyone about my feelings. Supplementing my serotonin levels with Prozac and Zoloft was life-changing enough. I didn’t really think about the other side of the therapeutic coin.
35 years after my first ill-fated therapy appointment, however, I found myself in a dark place. My medication was helping, but I didn’t know how to maneuver on the level playing field it had given me. I was anxious, depressed, and feeling cut off from God.
While I still disliked the idea of seeing a therapist, I began to realize that nothing would change if I didn’t go. I had a box full of tools but no idea how to use them. On my husband and mother’s encouragement, I reached out to a Catholic practitioner.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, when it comes to therapy, I’ve noticed that most people (myself included) are woefully uninformed. There are more misconceptions about the therapeutic process than bats in my family belfry, and that’s saying something. Hopefully, if you’ve been thinking about therapy or (like me) fighting it with every fiber of your body, the following points will help clear things up.
Four Things No One Tells You About Therapy
It doesn’t mean you aren’t holy enough
As Catholics, we are blessed to have access to the liturgy and the Sacraments, to say nothing of our rich Tradition of Catholic prayers. All of these opportunities are powerful and healing. We have a Divine Physician who heals us, body and soul.
But (and it’s a big one), people who suffer from mental illness aren’t suffering because they don’t pray or receive the Sacraments with enough frequency. You wouldn’t tell a diabetic to pray for more insulin; you’d take her to the doctor. The same holds true for mental illness.
It doesn’t mean you are weak
There is strength in vulnerability -- just think about Christ on the cross. When you humble yourself to seek out therapeutic assistance, you are working in cooperation with God’s will for your life and your vocation. God doesn’t want you to wallow in your suffering: He wants you to find joy and contentment and grace in the opportunities for growth He’s given you. He wants you to praise Him in the midst of the storm.
It can take a while to find the right fit
Don’t be discouraged if you have to see a few different practitioners. You’ll eventually find someone with whom you click. I was blessed enough to find the right therapist on the first try, but as she so often tells me, it takes an average of five to six practitioners before you find someone with whom you work well.
It gets worse before it gets better
Going to therapy is like decluttering your closet. Everything you’ve stuffed inside there comes tumbling out the moment you open the door to get started, and then you have to do all the hard work.
Therapy is similar: you’re doing the hard work of sorting through all the odds and ends you’ve hidden away. And you’re likely to reach a point where the mess in front of you seems way worse than the mess you had shoved away in your heart’s closet. Your therapist will help you sort through it all, piece by piece, moment by moment. Eventually, you’ll have more progress than you do moments of doubt.
So, my friend -- if you’re struggling; if you’re feeling lost and alone and cut off from God, don’t be afraid to find a Catholic or Christian therapist to help you sort through and make sense of the emotions you’re feeling. Don’t wait 35 years as I did. You’re worth it now.
Copyright 2021 Ginny Kochis
Images: Canva Pro