I had tried counselling several times over the years, each time at the bitter end of a failed relationship, and each time I never really felt I got anywhere. This isn’t to say that the counsellors were bad, but I realise now that we didn’t even scratch the surface in the few sessions we had together.
I first saw a counsellor when I was 19, after a guy I had been seeing went back to his ex-girlfriend, and I was absolutely heartbroken. I knew that the extent of my grief was disproportionate to the relationship, and so I sought counselling. I remember being on a bus on my way home and sending him a text after we had split, asking if he would see me and he replied saying that meeting up was not a good idea, but he would see me soon and told me I’d be ok.
I will never forget the pain I felt, the raw, overwhelming and crushing feeling that there was absolutely nothing I could do to change the situation. No matter what I did, I could not pull myself out of it. I went to my doctor and I asked to see a counsellor. The experience was positive overall, I felt heard and comforted, but realised that this was how love and life was, people fell in and out of love and I was going to have to learn to deal with it if I wanted to survive. A tough message, but one I needed to hear.
It took me a while, but eventually I weaned myself off of this ex-boyfriend (I still saw him regularly at my lectures) and forced myself to step away. We remained friends, and despite still having feelings for him, I did manage to survive the rest of that year. He’s married now, and apologised more times than I can remember for hurting me, something that really meant a lot to me and I value to this day.
The next time I spoke to a counsellor was after the huge mess left behind by my explosive relationship of 4 years at the age of 27. This relationship started out badly in the first place, because I was with my first real love when I met my second love, and the two crossed over, leaving both confused and consumed with guilt. I was in the worst state I had ever been in, and signed myself up to 5 sessions over the phone with a counsellor. It helped, but it was nowhere near enough to really delve into the problems I was having.
After telling the counsellor how everything was my ex-boyfriends fault, that he relied on me both emotionally and financially, and I was in shock that he had met someone else, he said to me ‘perhaps you need to be needed’. I could also not believe what this puffed up counsellor was saying to me. How dare he tell me this was partly my fault! How could my ex-boyfriend going off with someone else after me giving him everything I had be my fault! I was furious.
A year passed, and I was coming to the conclusion that I was still not feeling any better than I had been the previous year. I felt very alarmed at the thought that I was not getting better, and those words rang in my ears ‘perhaps you need to be needed‘, the horror I felt that perhaps somewhere amidst all this torture that part of it was my fault was unbearable. I started to fall apart at the seams.
I had become an enabled victim, I looked around for someone or something – anything – to blame, because surely this couldn’t be my fault. My work began to suffer as a result, my relationships with family, friends and colleagues deteriorated, and I became a shadow of my former self. I was barely eating, out all the time drinking and trying to numb whatever this was that was eating me alive from the inside. I lost around two stone, and became unrecognisable to those close to me, but I buried my head in the sand.
One day, I had had an argument with my mum, and I ran upstairs to grab my phone and google what I should do. I found myself searching for a therapist, and searched the different types until I found one that I felt suited the best – Cognitive Analytical Therapy (“CAT”), a form of therapy that combines Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (“CBT”) with an analytical approach, i.e. analysis of your existing patterns and behaviours to understand them and the causes before looking to change them.
I realise now that somewhere underneath all of that turmoil, I knew exactly what I needed; someone to hear me, tell me that my feelings were both justified and normal, and help me find a new way to think and behave. I just didn’t realise I knew it at the time. I feel that I have been extremely lucky, because I have heard horror stories of people being physically, emotionally and mentally abused by therapists, but I could not speak more highly of mine.
I booked my first session with him – a taster session – to see if we were the right fit and whether he could help me. It was a 50 minute session after work in August 2012, and despite the whole thing being a blur, I also remember it vividly. I went in thinking that I would only have the recommended 16-24 sessions with him and I would be cured, 4 and a half years later I look back fondly on my 2012 self and wish I could give her some words of comfort and a hug.
By this stage, I had had increasing bouts of suicidal thoughts, my anxiety was completely debilitating and I no longer knew who I was. I hated myself for cheating on my first love and punished myself for losing my second. I went in to my first session ashamed and embarrassed, feeling like the woman with the scarlet letter tattooed across her forehead, and told him what I had done.
I remember him asking me if I had felt suicidal, if I had ever done anything about it or if I had any plans to try in the near future. He asked me about my family and their history of mental health, of who they were and who I was as a part of that unit, and I cried and cried at simply having him pay attention to me. He asked me how I felt and I said relieved, and he told me that he thought he could help me. He asked if I would like to continue and I nodded through my tears and gave him a resounding YES.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what I felt during that session, but the only way I can describe it was as if had become aligned with my inner self. I could feel in my gut that I had found someone who would be able to help me. I had no idea how long it would take nor how deep we would have to go, but it didn’t matter, I had found a moment of peace amidst the chaos inside my head. I held on to that, and those moments of peace grew longer and more frequent as he and I continued.
This was only the beginning of my journey, and I’m still processing the sessions and subsequent changes I have undergone over the last four years. It’s been a lot to take in, but it’s been 110% worthwhile.
To anyone curious about or considering undertaking therapy, in my opinion it is a process unique to each individual, and the relationship organic between therapist and patient. There is certainly no one size fits all and part of the beauty of it (excluding those instances of abuse of power and trust) is that you’re opening up and trusting another human being enough to let them help you.
Even from the patients’ perspective I can see what a privilege it is to be allowed into someone’s intimate affairs and to be able to help them. It is a form of support and personal development that I wholeheartedly believe in and I hope to be able to encourage others struggling with this decision by sharing my experience.