The Therapist/Patient Relationship

Starting with a new therapist is hard. It never gets easier.

When we first moved back to my Hometown 9 years ago, my GP referred me to Ann. While Ann and I have had our differences ( read: I was emotional and didn’t want to face the truth also she remained calm and non-responsive hen I told her shocking things to get a reaction) I was grateful for her guidance, wisdom and non-judgemental ear when I was recovering from my Eating disorder and learning to manage my depression. She helped me make sense of my feelings and also justified some of them for me.

After a few years of seeing her once a week (trust me, those are some hefty bills!) and once a fortnight, I dropped to once a month. By this stage I had my meds down to a small dose, and they could be issued by a GP. When I stopped working 40 hours a week and took over the store, I could no longer afford her sessions. I was apprehensive leaving the security of her behind, but I had started to feel that I was just turning up to tell her what was happening in my life, like a very one sided friendship.

After I closed my store, coinciding also with some family-related issues and the start of a crack in my relationship, I sought Ann out again. Her office had moved, and it felt very different. Her new office was more clinical and less homely. The old secretary I loved to chat to had passed away of cancer. I tried to explain the general feeling of having the earth pulled out from under my feet, the compulsive suicidal thoughts, the betrayal I felt in my relationship and how I feel about my family but I cried the whole session and barely got half of what I needed to say out. Returning to Ann felt like admitting failure. I had failed at my recovery from depression. I was no longer managing it. A month later I saw her again and cried through the whole session again. I started to dread seeing her because it was costing me a lot but I felt I was unable to focus on what I needed to focus on, she’d take my lack of words as a sign to lead the session to something she felt was important, which if I had more time and money would probably be beneficial, but in the present I was feeling worse and yet another relationship I had depended on- that of therapist and patient, was failing me too.

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I started keeping a journal again, and that has turned into this blog, but I need a sounding board- someone real, tangible who I can bounce all my thoughts off without fear of scaring my few friends away (or having them try to section me). I feel like the years I have spent with Ann and other therapists, the many books I’ve read on my diseases and disorders and the sheer amount of navel gazing I have done has left me able to identify and even pinpoints causes of my symptoms. I know that the suicidal thoughts are a direct result of everything I thought was stable (my store, my relationship and my family) suddenly being unstable and in some cases gone. I know my sudden relapse of anorexic thoughts is a direct result of feeling like I have no control, the prolonged unemployment and feeling like I was not good enough in my relationship and for the fashion retail world.

What I needed was someone I could tell all that too, so it didn’t just go round and round in my mind like a skipping record. I need someone to help me when I can’t trust my own thoughts sort out which are rational and which are the disease. I know my prognosis and for the most part I know what I should be doing to manage and self-treat my illness, I just need someone to help me do that.

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D* found out that as an employee of the local Uni he gets six free sessions with a therapist nearby, and so does his family. We decided to use his sessions as a couple, to work through the poison that has infiltrated our usually strong relationship and find better ways to communicate and connect. We had our first session with Anita, and she immediately recommended I see someone else at the clinic alone- also free of charge.

It was hard enough trying to convey 11 years of relationship and both of our struggles with mental illness (D* has had small bouts of depression, but never prolonged and ongoing like mine) to Anita, but she only wanted to know about the relationship, and glossed over our personal histories. Claire, who I saw alone the following week immediately dived into questions about my upbringing, my family and my history of depression. I saw her eyes practically light up when I said I hadn’t spoken to my Mother or my sister for six months. She asked hard hitting questions about my previous eating disorder and even my suicide attempt, which most people quite close to me don’t know about (Its embarrassingly pathetic. I didn’t even go to hospital).

So much of me wanted to pull a Rebecca Bloom  (crazy ex-girlfriend) and quickly explain I’ve done the whole childhood therapy thing and blah blah I know all my issues please focus on what I want to talk about now. That all that past was just that. Past. Been there, psychoanalysed that and got the T-shirt. But I had to remind myself that if I had truly dealt with it, I wouldn’t be back at square one, swinging wildly between restrictive and binging mindsets. I wouldn’t have had that period earlier this year where I was afraid of being home alone, least I hurt myself. I wouldn’t be feeling like I was swallowing down my feelings and ‘crazy’ for the sake of appearing normal and keeping my existing relationships.

Dr Akopian

I do feel like I’ve cheated on Ann. When I think of my recovery I do think of those long hours spent in her cosy office, the coffee I’d grab to sip when I needed a minute to think about what I was going to say to her, her secretary telling me about her daughters and like a bad lifetime movie, I do feel I owe much of my personal development and life to her. But I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t getting what I needed from her sessions. We now shared too much history, she knew too much and couldn’t give me that outsider perspective anymore.

So two sessions in and I’m giving Claire a fair try. Her office is very clinical, in fact it changes room in the building each session, so it is devoid of personal touches and pictures. Her approach is very different to Ann, and the waiting room is too open and full of other people to really get to know the young girl behind the desk. I also have a finite number of free sessions, and a sense of ‘I have to beat this in that 6 session time frame.’ But I have faith that if it’s not sorted in that time frame, and somehow I doubt it will be, that she will help organise an affordable way for me to keep getting help. And that’s what this new relationship with a therapist needs- trust and faith.

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