If I had shared more fully my perseverating thoughts of annihilation, or perhaps if she had asked different questions, I might have felt heard. As it was, I walked out of her office and never went back.
Augenthaler says, “You should feel comfortable and you should feel heard, and if you ever get the feeling ‘You don’t get me,’ that’s not the right therapist for you.”
Anne Nayor, a licensed clinical social worker in St. Thomas, said it best, “Therapists are not gods, they’re just people, and they make mistakes.”
I stayed away from therapy for 10 years, until my 24-year marriage was threatened by my husband’s betrayal. He promised the affair had ended, but then refused to discuss or acknowledge it, and I couldn’t move on without talking about it. The licensed counselor I found through my brother advised me to make my home a more relaxing place for my husband, and when he was more comfortable he’d be more open to talking about the affair.
This advice felt wrong, but I didn’t know how to contradict the person with the education and training. Instead, I lit the suggested gaslights and stayed in my marriage while my husband happily carried on his affair.
Janice Seward, a doctor of clinical psychology said, “Therapy has an inherent power differential, and we’re much more likely to give over things like our gut feeling when we are in a relationship where someone has the perception of power. It’s important to continue to trust your gut even if someone has a PhD after their name. If you have a feeling that something’s not right, probably something isn’t.”
After a year of making my husband comfortable, my marriage finally imploded. This time I found the right analyst, through a referral from a friend.
John Gyra, a clinical psychologist, helped me unravel the truth of my marriage and heal. I also discovered why my previous therapists had been so unhelpful—I needed someone with the training and education to recognize the emotional abuse in my marriage. With his help and guidance, I grew the strength I needed to stand firm during my three-year settlement negotiations. He pushed me to feel the anger that I suppressed under my feelings of being victimized and to learn to work with those powerful feelings. He helped me find the words to have conversations with my kids about their father.
Finally, I felt seen and heard. Seward agrees with the other professionals I interviewed. “There’s been research about what’s actually therapeutic and curative, and it’s the relationship between the therapist and client.”
She advises you to reach out for help sooner rather than waiting for a crisis to hit. Know that what you’re feeling might be normal, given the stressors of these times, but it might also be outside the bounds of what you can cope with on your own.
Seward also says, “Thirty years ago there were three flavors of therapy; now there are five hundred.” If you work with someone who is licensed or registered, there will be a licensing board, whose primary purpose is to ensure safety for clients. It also sets a minimum standard that a therapist must meet.
There are also many “on-demand” online providers such as BetterHelp, TalkSpace, and if you’re in Canada, Online-Therapy.com. There’s been a paradigm shift since I last saw Dr. Gyra, almost 15-years ago. It’s made getting help much more accessible and affordable.
Ask your medical doctor, friends, and family for recommendations. If you’re employed, contact your HR or employee assistance department. Don’t hesitate to talk to several therapists until you find one that you feel comfortable with. Most will offer an initial 10- or 15-minute phone conversation for free. Peruse therapist websites, read their bios, and look at their pictures to see if one resonates with you, or specializes in the issues you think you’re experiencing.