Monday, September 16, 2013

Therapy Myth-Busting

Little known fact: I went to counseling for four months.

I had a good family support system, faith in God, financial security, and a promising future. I also had anxiety. I was reading the worst into every situation, to the extent that even from the inside I could tell things were getting ridiculous.

My counselor used the first meeting to get to know me and what struggles I was currently facing. She laughed. "So, you're finishing your degree in May, moving to a different city and so changing homes, churches, and social groups, getting married, and starting a new job in September. I can't imagine why you're stressed!"

No really, I'm fine. See my smile?

Therapy Myth-Busting

Therapy is for people with serious issues. I hadn't recently experienced trauma or grief. My anxiety was nothing earth-shattering. I had no panic attacks, no phobias. I certainly wasn't incapacitated. But problematic thoughts or behaviors become a disability when they impact one or more major life functions. For example, my anxiety was impacting my ability to concentrate and to interact socially. I wasn't enjoying life.

Therapy takes years to be effective. For the first month, I went every week for 30 minutes, working through the issues that had first prompted me to get help. Then every two weeks, then finally we let it go a month. I checked in at the end of the month, a calmer and happier me. She wished me well; we were done. I think I had a total of 5 hours in her office. Certainly therapy can take years, but it usually doesn't.

If I get therapy, they're going to put me on drugs. I wasn't in need of any mood stabilizers, much less the more potent psychiatric drugs. In some cases, the best course of action may be combined counseling and medication*, but you always have the right to say no. If you want to avoid medication, try using a counselor or psychologist rather than psychiatrist.

Therapy is prohibitively expensive. I went to a local agency sponsored by the Catholic church. I don't know how or why, but there were no fees. They never took my insurance information, didn't even know I was Catholic. I guess it was just an act of charity, one for which I am quite grateful. Check out local resources if you want help but think you can't afford it.

Therapy means I'm weak.No, therapy means you can take care of yourself. If you break an arm, you go to a doctor to fix it. If your sink isn't working, you call a plumber. If you struggle with anxiety, depression, obsessions, compulsions, body image, etc., you use a counselor. If you're concerned what others will think, just don't tell them! Or work with your counselor to plan a way to tell people.

*Very rarely is medication without counseling the best treatment. You might mask the symptoms, but you're not curing the problem. Your physician probably has limited training in diagnosing and treating emotional/cognitive conditions. Just because medical doctors can give you a prescription doesn't mean they should.

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