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“Courage doesn’t happen when you have all the answers. It happens when you are ready to face the questions you have been avoiding your whole life.”
You’ve heard of Psychotherapy. And you’ve heard of Counselling. You’re not sure of the difference but you know they are both sort of the same (they are). You know that your uncle went to someone before for a while, but that was for alcoholism and you don’t have any sort of serious issue like that! You just get down sometimes and cry for no reason. Nothing ‘bad’ has ever happened, but you feel unhappy with your life a lot of the time. You’re not where you want to be in life and you feel helpless and hopeless. Sometimes your relationship feels like a cage and you don’t know who to talk to about it. You realise that you both depend on indirect communication and passive aggression and it doesn’t feel good, but you can’t talk to your partner about it, not yet anyway. Maybe your relationship with your parents isn’t great and you’re feeling sad about it, and you feel a weird sort of grief as you see your friends with their parents. Or your brother really hurt you a long time ago and you can’t seem to move on. Maybe you’ve just been let go from your job, or have just arrived back in Ireland after travelling, or have lost someone close. Maybe you’ve been dumped or gotten divorced. Maybe an experience from childhood keeps coming back and you don’t know what to do. Maybe you have no one you feel you can talk to about something that’s bothering you. And yes, maybe you are struggling with substance misuse, or maybe you’ve experienced trauma or childhood sexual abuse or violence or have survived a suicide attempt. All of the above and much, much, much more are why people go to see a therapist, in the same way we go to a doctor for a broken leg and for a throat infection. There are no rules on who gets to go to therapy, and the therapist will never be silently judging you on why you’re there.
So you’ve decided you want to go. You’ve made the courageous decision to step into self reflection; a difficult and challenging experience most of us avoid. Maybe you decide to go, and then put it off, think about it for months, years, even. You tell yourself you can’t afford it yet, you can’t justify spending that much money on yourself. That’s fine. You’re just getting ready. Take as long as you need. Now you have to find one. It’s scary. You google psychotherapy in your area, and balk at the prices you’re seeing. You notice ‘sliding scale’ but already feel embarrassment at having to admit you can’t afford the full fee and you’re not even in the room yet. You put it off for another month. Or maybe you can afford it but feel guilty at spending that much on yourself when it could go towards the kids.
You ruminate over how you know if they’re good or not, how to check their qualifications, you think maybe you should just go to your GP and ask her to refer you somewhere, but you’re feeling shy about telling anyone about your decision. You check to see if your college has a therapist, or maybe your workplace has an Employment Assistance Programme. You bookmark a few counselling centres that look friendly. You discover that there are accrediting bodies – The Irish Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, and the Irish Association of Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy. This is less confusing than trawling through google and you know that the therapists listed on these websites are fully accredited, have a supervisor, and abide by a code of ethics. You feel a little bit more secure, and take a look at the list of therapists in your area. It shows their areas of speciality, price scale and therapeutic approach. You google a few of these approaches. You pick one, choosing a woman, or a man, and whose office is nearby. You send an email, writing and rewriting it. She replies that evening and is friendly and warm in her invitation to come in the following week. You agree, feeling a surge of anxiety rush through your chest. You breathe into the panic and pencil the appointment into your diary. The therapeutic work has already begun, without you even knowing it.
On the day of the first appointment you feel anxious, like you have a job interview coming up. You can’t think of anything else. You lose your appetite and skip lunch. You arrive at the office half an hour early and nervously sit your in car, needing to pee, wishing you’d remembered your bottle of water, checking and rechecking that you have enough cash with you. You nearly go home. Finally you ring the bell, take a seat and wait, and are invited into what looks like a very small living room. Two cosy chairs are in the corner, by a tall light. A low table sits between them. It has a bowl of pebbles on it, and a candle. You pray that this isn’t some sort of candle lighting hippy bullshit. The tall window overlooks the city. Your therapist invites you to sit, gives you a glass of water, smiles at you and welcomes you to your space for the next hour. She looks nice. You smile back.
Congratulations, my valiant friend, you have given yourself what I truly, deeply, wholly believe is the greatest gift you can give yourself. You have stepped into a vulnerable space, with courage and bravery and a determination to prioritise yourself. You are going where most won’t go – into yourself.