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My dirty secret: I see a therapist


Therapy is for losers. For rich kids whose parents send them to therapy for their rich people problems. For the weak who don’t have the emotional or mental strength to deal with life on their own. I’m way too strong to ever see a therapist.

… which is what I thought, until I decided to see one. Three years ago I graduated college, moved to a beautiful city (Seattle), and had landed my dream job (at Excel). I knew a lot of people my age and I partied every weekend.

It seemed like I had all the pieces of the puzzle to be happy – but I wasn’t. This went on for about a year, and I wasn’t getting any happier. So I decided to swallow what seemed like a huge amount of pride and book an appointment with a therapist.

I remember what I said when I sat down during my first appointment with Melissa, my therapist.

“I don’t know why I’m here.”
“I don’t believe in therapy.”
“Let’s not get too emotional or touchy-feely here. That’s not my style”

I didn’t think I would be doing therapy for long, but week after week, I kept showing up. For the first year, I was really ashamed about it. I kept Melissa under a pseudonym in my phone contacts. I had our appointments under a code name in my calendar. No one knew – it was my dirty secret.

You know what’s amazing about therapy? You have someone you can talk to with no filter.

Even with your closest friends, or the love of your life, no matter how open and honest you are – there is always some filter that your thoughts and actions go through. It may be a very thin layer. Maybe you’re just rephrasing the way you say something, or choosing not to talk about it because it’s not right for the moment. But no matter how thin, the filter is still there.

It’s different with a therapist. If you so choose, there’s no filter. You don’t need to worry about hurting your therapist’s feelings, because he or she is not interwoven into your life. Your therapist doesn’t know anyone else you know. You get this black hole that you can pour your heart into, and never worry about anything getting out. There are zero consequences to expressing yourself completely.

It’s emotional freedom.

I figured out why I wasn’t happy. Mainly, I was lonely. I had a hundred “friends” but zero real friends. Also, I was really hard on myself. I felt like every waking moment of my life needed to be put to productive use. I didn’t give myself a second to relax. I was ultra competitive, constantly feeling the need to compare myself to others. That’s just a formula for unhappiness. Melissa taught me to go easier on myself. One unexpected side effect of being kinder to myself was that it made it a lot more natural to be kinder to others. I open up more now, weaknesses and all. Which means I do things that I previously thought unthinkable, like crying in public. Because I’ve opened up, I’ve made some real friends. I’m less lonely and definitely happier.

After a year of keeping the therapy a secret, I told someone. I hadn’t really planned on it – I was catching up with an old friend, and he didn’t seem very happy. And here I was doing this thing that made me happier – so I told him my secret.

After I told one friend, it didn’t seem so bad. So one by one, when I talked to friends who were unhappy or carrying around some burden, I would tell them that I see a therapist, and suggest that it might help them too.

It doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore. So here I am, telling the whole internet. I guess what I’m trying to say is – if someone as emotionally stunted and arrogantly proud as me could get over myself and go see a therapist, anyone can. And as for the whole “therapists are for rich people” thing – a lot of health insurance covers most of therapy, making it pretty affordable. Therapists help you understand yourself, and that is nothing to be ashamed of.

Understanding and feeling your emotions – that is living life in color. Suppressing and hiding from them is a world lived in black and white.

15 Comments

  • It’s the ability to speak without a filter that is key. I went through much the same thing a few years back. Catharsis is healthy, if rather painful and awkward to get through. Much like adolescence.

  • It takes a lot of courage to admit loneliness. In reality, everyone is lonely. You are not alone in being alone! 😛 The question is, how do you cope with loneliness? What do you do to make loneliness not so bad? How to conquer the challenge?

    So much freedom from being open. It is a great feeling to experience. I hope you find the person that makes you truly feel not alone anymore.

  • This is a great post, Karen. I really admire you for being able to open up about your experience and encourage others to seek therapy.

    It’s not a sign of weakness or insanity. It’s the hardest thing in the world to face up to your past and your problems and to be completely honest with yourself. It saddens me that it’s a taboo, but hopefully things will change and people will understand that it can be an empowering personal journey and learning experience for ANYONE.

  • I saw a therapist as a kid, for quite a while. Then, I saw a therapist in college, as I dealt with a bunch of identity and anxiety problems. The things I learned from my therapist in college are the routines and methods I use every single day in dealing with things. I love it. Thank you for sharing.

  • This is a great post! It’s exactly what I am going through in my own life. I started seeing a therapist, reluctantly at first, about six months ago.. After a slew of mini panic attacks, it was just time! And I am very surprised at how much it has helped me maintains my anxiety since then. I think a
    lot more people than we think are going through this exact same situation, so it’s great that you are voicing this!

  • Karen, thank you for having the courage to write about your positive experience with therapy–or, as many people like to call it, counseling. You’ve put your finger on one of the most important benefits of counseling: being able to say whatever you need to say, without fear of being judged. There are a few more things I’d like to say, but first:

    WHO IS THIS GUY (and where does he get off talking like this)?

    Good question. I’m a self-declared Nerd-American (I found your post on Hacker News). Years ago, I edited the first major home-computer magazine. I worked at the Apple mothership for 10 years. And now…I’m also an intern MFT (marriage and family therapist) who has been practicing in Silicon Valley since late 2005; I should have my MFT license within 6 months.

    I’ll try to keep this short, because I tend to go on about this subject.

    Karen, @LeeAnn, and @Adam, you’ve already discovered the value of counseling, so I’m writing this for people who haven’t. A few informed opinions:

    * The human brain is the most complicated entity in the universe, and we’re living in extremely complicated times, in a *very* judgemental society that gives us conflicting, unhealthy messages from the moment we’re born. Is it any wonder that we might be confused, unhappy, or worse? Counseling is an important resource throughout one’s life, especially for two occasions: when we’re *stuck* and don’t know what’s wrong, *or* when we’ve decided we want something in our life (which may be okay now) to be *better*. I’ve had hundreds of hours of counseling myself, and it’s helped immensely. It’s an upgrade that pays dividends for the rest of your life, so don’t hesitate.

    * Even without insurance, you can probably afford counseling. Most towns and all cities have some kind of public mental health clinic, and they usually have sliding-scale fees based on your income. Most of my clients in the last five years were living way below the poverty line, many with no reliable income. The counselors at such agencies already have a counseling-related Masters degree, and they practice under the license of someone who is already licensed, so you’re assured competent counseling.

    * Most counselors consider themselves to be resources for helping you live the life *you* want to lead. Good counselors will not tell you what to do. They ask questions, make observations, and offer suggestions. They provide non-judgemental, skilled listening. They have both training and personal experience to draw from in helping you. They are legally bound to protect your privacy, and they take that responsibility very seriously. (For example, I have *never* talked to my wife about any of my clients, other than to say something brief and vague like “I heard a very troubling story today. I have a new client who’s seen some really bad stuff.”) They exhibit what’s called “unconditional positive regard,” which essentially means their attitude toward you will be one of genuine concern and helping. Good counselors will never force you to do anything, but they may invite you to “stretch” yourself slightly beyond what you’re comfortable with (after all, that’s the only way anybody improves their life!).

    * Finally, know that the client-counselor relationship is *very* personal, and the best indicator of succcess in counseling is whether or not the client feels comfortable talking to the therapist. This is more important than the counselor’s credentials, theoretical approach, or years of experience. I recommend that you have three or four sessions with a new counselor, then ask yourself, “Do I feel comfortable talking to this person? Does it seem like she wants to help?” If you don’t like the answer you get, feel free to thank the counselor for her work, say that you’re looking for someone who’s a better fit, and ask for referrals (to other potential counselors). A good counselor will support you 1000 percent and will not take it personally. You ALWAYS have the right to do this.

    To whoever reads this, I hope this helps. It’s the advice I wish someone had given me, many years ago.

    PS: Karen, your Evernote app looks great! I hope you make it a reality someday!

  • Thanks so much to everyone for sharing their stories, and thanks to Gregg for sharing all of that good information.

  • You get this black hole that you can pour your heart into, ….. There are zero consequences to expressing yourself completely.

    Hummm why not just talk to yourself?

  • “After I told one friend, it didn’t seem so bad. So one by one, when I talked to friends who were unhappy or carrying around some burden, I would tell them that I see a therapist, and suggest that it might help them too. ”

    I have the same situation as yours but i didn’t tell them to see a therapist, insteadm i told them to learn and do EFT. I share them this site (http://eft.mercola.com/) to learn on. As of now, they are really great.

  • Yes, it’s scary to begin treatment, and awkward talking to a stranger about your personal life. All therapists have ways of helping people feel comfortable; as an Object Relations specialist, I pay close attention to the unspoken feelings revealed in your body language. I’ll let our conversation develop naturally, and I’ll invite you to ask any questions you might have, especially if they seem silly. I’ll probably make a joke, or try to, because therapy can also be playful.

  • Your dirty secret is no longer a secret. Anyway, i don’t think there’s anything wrong in seeing a therapist. There are times when we just can’t handle things on our own. I’ve never been seen a therapist but i’ve been actually entertaining the idea. I think i’m okay but for some reason, i want to be better and only a therapist can help me achieve that.

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