Before I dive into this topic I just wanted to point out that I decided to write this post because a reader asked me to (which is great). His basic question was: Is therapy worth it?And what was your experience? Pretty basic on the face of it, but actually the events leading up to this and the subsequent therapy I underwent were rather profound, at least for me.
I first want to talk about what happened to me before I went into therapy because I want those of you that see yourselves in me to consider therapy if you haven’t before. Like drugs and other treatments, therapy doesn’t help everyone but it helped me and I want to explain how.
Picture it, sunny southern California. I was a junior in college and I was doing well in school but I had no real social life to speak of and things were in the dumps mentally for me. By this time anxiety had arrested the party in me. I didn’t drink, do drugs, or go out very much. At this point I was anxious almost all the time, I was having panic attacks like clock work, and I seriously thought I was losing my mind. It was a very dark time in my life.
One night I had some friends over and everyone was in a good mood. People were talking, playing games, others were just around. I was lying on the floor, using my left elbow for support and watching the television when I suddenly became panicked. I felt like someone had poured semi warm water on me, and my brain (probably scalp) began to tingle like crazy. I was having palpitations, and so I told a friend to please take a walk with me in the cold night air.
The temperature for me was irrelevant it turned out as I walked up and down the street with my buddy who clearly could not understand what the hell was happening to me. I thought I was going to die, but worst of all it was the first time in my life that I honestly questioned my own sanity. I was afraid, I felt alone, and very helpless.
The next day I vowed to get help so I did. Therapy can be expensive, but I was lucky that my university offered mental health services for students. I called a school hot line number and the person on the other end asked me some basic questions. Like, "are you hearing or seeing things?" I said no, and then they put me on hold. Several seconds later I was connected to a therapist. The therapist continued to ask more questions about my symptoms and then asked me to come in later the same week.
After the phone call I felt better right away. I guess it’s a psychosomatic thing, I asked for help and believed that I would get it soon. All of a sudden I felt not crazy and even though I still had this nasty feeling of anxiety I felt like I had some hope for the first time.
I just really wanted to point out that when I went in I was desperate and terrified. Don’t wait that long if you have the means, or if you can look into programs that offer reduced cost or no cost treatment through schools, state or local governments, and even non-profits. If your reading this blog it’s because you are at least somewhat internet savvy, use those skills to find help.
My Therapy experience:
I was in therapy for about six months and I went in about once a week. During my first visit the therapist took out a copy of the psychologist’s bible called the DSM, which is basically a reference book about all things related to mental conditions of every type. So he cracked open the book and started to read to me details about anxiety disorders, including all the symptoms I had been experiencing.
In retrospect what I think he was doing was trying to educate me about what I had, but more importantly about what I didn’t have. To introduce and reinforce the notion that I was not crazy like I thought I was. After detailing my condition he diagnosed me with general anxiety disorder. And I have to say that this was a huge relief. It’s not to say that I was happy to be labeled anxious, but I was happy to know for a fact that I had something that could be managed.
Over the next six months it was like the weight of the planet was taken off my shoulders. During this entire six month period I was still having panic attacks and general feelings of anxious nastiness, but at least I was confident that I was moving toward something positive and not just stuck in the dark about my particular problem. We talked a lot about anxiety, depression, and life in general.
He did not recommend drugs for me at the time, and after six months sent me on my way because he felt that I had attained what I needed, and probably had more serious cases to handle. But ultimately it was a good experience. In some ways therapy is just talking, but it is a bit more than that. After all this guy had a PhD, was thoughtful, listened to me, and was patient. To a guy like me at a time like that it was pure gold.
The office I went to every week was devoid of the "couch" that we so often hear of. He really didn’t try to probe my mind for deep seeded causes either. For me it was more about examining anxiety, it’s causes, manifestations, and coping techniques. Looking back I wish we would have engaged in CBT because this type of therapy literally tries to change your thinking and doing this, in my opinion, is as close as you’ll ever come to a cure. To change your thinking and ultimately your reaction to anxiety and depression will make it manageable.
This post could have been much shorter I know, but this experience was both the most painful and hopeful time in my anxious life. Talking to a professional is just better than talking to a friend, although you should do that if you can too. And if you don’t have insurance and have to be careful with your money than you have to do your homework. You have to look for reviews, check the therapist’s credentials, experience, and just make sure you kick the tires and don’t throw the phone book open and point.
Honestly most people would do well to see a therapist. We all have issues and for the anxious those issues are abundantly clear. Having a therapist, even temporarily, is like having a trainer in the gym. We all can’t afford to have one forever but if you consult one a few times you’ll be able to build on what you already know, fill in the holes, and obtain more coping tools and hopefully a little more peace in the long run.
Is therapy worth it? For some people it is and for others it’s not. It worked for me but you’d have to try it yourself to know for sure.