What’s It Like To Have Therapy?
If you’re on the spectrum, let’s be honest: therapy could probably benefit you.
We’re living in a society that wasn’t designed for us, and which is psychologically toxic for us, and so it’s no surprise that a number of Aspies- the majority, I’d say- have gone ‘round the twist.
Some of us end up with anxiety disorders, some with depression, some with O.C.D., some with anger management problems, and some with P.T.S.D. With the exception of O.C.D., I’ve had experience with all of these.
The idea of going to therapy is strange and exotic for most people who haven’t done it, and therapy might even seem like a threatening concept. So I’d like to explain what goes on- or at least what went on when I had therapy- in order to help demystify it.
- It’s not like other doctors’ appointments.
I went to The Redpath Centre, and it looked like most other doctors’ offices. Redpath consisted of a neutral-coloured waiting room with a reception desk, and a hallway containing five or six offices. But most doctors’ appointments are nerveracking to some degree. They feel invasive. You don’t really want to go. You’re uncomfortable most of the time. Therapy is supposed to be different. “You’re not supposed to dread coming here,” my therapist told me. And, unlike other medical appointments, there wasn’t any particular structure to my therapy sessions.
- You have some amount of control over what happens.
There’s this thing called “client-centred therapy”, which is very common these days. It’s what Redpath does. Basically, it consists of meeting your clients (people who access mental healthcare) wherever they’re at emotionally, and taking your lead from them. Most other therapeutic models are, to some degree, prescriptive. There are steps and stages and things that should be done in particular ways. When I went to therapy, my therapist Shaughnessy and I just hung out and talked. We joked around. Not all the talk was about my problems. Sometimes an entire session would go by when the particulars of my life weren’t really discussed.
I also had this tendency to talk about things in reverse order of importance. I’d show up to a session, have three or four things I wanted to discuss, and I’d start off with the most trivial. Only in the last twenty minutes or so would I bring up what really mattered. I imagine this made me difficult to work with, but Shaughnessy just went with it.
- You’re going to have weird feelings about your therapist.
Everyone I know who’s gone to therapy has feelings about their therapist which seem intense and disproportionate. One of my friends had sexual feelings toward his therapist, which is actually really common. I know another person who referred to their psychologist as Judge Judy, because they thought she was blunt and judgmental (and also usually right). Hannah asked me why I found Shaughnessy effective, and I gave a long, rambling response which didn’t make much sense and concluded with me comparing him to God. These are all normal feelings, although
- You’re going to find there is no such thing as a normal feeling.
“I don’t believe in anger management,” Shaughnessy once told me. I was so shocked at this that I didn’t ask for clarification. In hindisight though it doesn’t surprise me. I don’t believe that Shaughnessy believed feelings should be dismissed. If a person feels angry, there’s a reason for that, and that reason should be explored.
All feelings are valid, and feelings cannot be right or wrong. You can’t assign value judgments on feelings. They’re not normal, they’re not abnormal. They simply are. This is another significant departure from other types of medical appointments. If you go to a doctor with a broken arm they’ll tell you to stop moving it. But if you go to a psychologist because you’re feeling sad, they won’t tell you to stop feeling it, because that’s not realistic. They’ll work with you to figure out why you’re feeling sad, and how to address the root cause. This will be uncomfortable, complicated and messy; much more so than slapping a cast on a broken limb.
- Be open.
I’m a cagey, secretive person who doesn’t tend to communicate well. Early on in therapy I realized I simply couldn’t do that with Shaughnessy. I mean, I could (client-centred and all that), but it’s a bad idea. You’re paying money to show up every week, and spending your time as well as theirs. Why go to all that trouble in order to keep secrets? Your therapist needs to have an understanding of you and your feelings and how you operate in order to do their job. If you’re uncomfortable telling them something, that discomfort suggests you should tell them. If you’re thinking, “Wow, this thought or feeling is so fucked up that I could never tell my therapist about it” then you should definitely tell them. It will open windows in the therapeutic process. Light will stream in. My therapy sessions had an impact on other areas of my life as well. I found it increasingly easy to communicate with other people once I allowed myself to openly communicate with Shaughnessy.