- Janyne McConnaughey, PhD
I Went to Therapy
Staring at the large white Victorian house in front of me, the safety and comfort of my car seemed to wrap around my terrified body and mind like a blanket. I had memorized the instructions. “Go in the front door and up the stairs, there is a waiting room to the right where you can sit until I come to get you for your appointment.” I went over it and over it. Then I took a deep breath, and got out of my car. At the age of 61, I was and going to my very first therapy appointment.
The term hypervigilant is familiar to me now, but on that day I only knew it was necessary to look in every direction to be sure no one saw me walking up the ramp, across the porch, through the large front door, and up the staircase. Everything was as the therapist had said. I found the waiting room and sat as far away from the door as possible. My heart pounded every timeI heard a door open, Thankfully, no other clients came into the waiting room. It probably would have caused a complete collapse.
My entire body jumped as a petite white-haired woman walked in and looked at me with the kindest blue eyes I had ever seen. “Janyne?” I nodded yes. She introduced herself and asked me to follow her, as she appeared to glide to her office. Shutting the door behind us, she motioned for me to have a seat. I chose the couch.
I was so completely perfect that day as my flood of words threw flags all over the office. The terrified ‘me’ who sat waiting suddenly turned into the engaging and delightful ‘me’ who told her all about my family, friends, places I had traveled, how I had lost 100 pounds, and how I didn’t want to sign my faculty contract for the following year.
Absolutely nothing in my first therapy session could have indicated the journey upon which this therapist and I were embarking—nothing but an occasional glimpse of mother issues. I was in absolute denial and convinced I only needed a bit of life coaching about signing the contract—and what would happen if I didn’t. Dr. Sue on the other hand, recognized my need to be perfect. I even told her I was stellar—a lot. We laugh about it now.
It was some time before I told her how God had directed me to make an appointment. It wasn’t a generic prompting to therapy; it was specific direction to make an appointment with a particular therapist--with her. The clarity of this prompting held me through periods of overwhelming doubts and fears along the way to healing.
It is understandable why God was so specific. I would have run circles around a less seasoned therapist. This is not a diminishment of others with less experience but I was a student of psychology and survival and was well-versed in dodging and hiding--but this therapist disarmed me. Aside from all Dr. Sue’s professional qualifications, her most important attribute was caring. Her deep concern for me melted my shell of protection. Our mutual goal was complete healing. The result was an unprecedented level of healing in two and a half years. (The story of this therapy process is the basis for my upcoming book.)
Another key to healing was the use of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). This type of therapy is becoming more widely known and is a research-proven method for processing trauma (often used for PTSD). Dr. Sue’s background included Level II EMDR training. The skill level of any therapist using EMDR is essential, but equally necessary is the client’s willingness to do the very deep work. The mind and body have built-in protection systems to block the deepest pain from surfacing. I had to be willing to pursue truth relentlessly. When the full extent of my trauma is told, complete healing will seem impossible. I have no problem believing it because I know how hard we worked—and how many boxes of wadded tissues I left behind.
The fear I faced that day while sitting in my car staring at the looming Victorian remained with me for over two years. I never walked into the office without surveying my surroundings. I knew I was healing, but I also knew a single thoughtless comment from someone who did not understand could dissolve months of work. My fear eventually proved to be well founded and my slow, careful sharing with those I trusted was a wise choice. The hiding was necessary for healing.
My fear was partially because ALMOST NO ONE talks about going to therapy unless it is related to some type of professional preparation for counseling careers. This is particularly true in Christian circles where going to therapy seems to indicate an inability to trust God. Seriously, God must sigh at this. We are like those who won’t go to doctors for physical ailments. Do we not consider psychological understanding as a part of God’s truth? Knowledge of how we, as created beings, use God-given coping mechanisms to survive trauma is essential to our understanding of mental health.
During my processing, I was completely stunned by the realization that my religious upbringing taught me my feelings held no value, self-care was a selfish act, and God believed I, in and of myself, had no worth. This can only be mentioned in passing right now because there is so much to unfold on this topic, but it is the premise upon which I was kept from seeking healing. There is nothing in these three misconceptions that would have encouraged me to seek therapy, heal, or speak freely about my story and mental health.
My freedom in speaking now is because I have carefully navigated the cultural stigma of seeking psychological help for the extensive trauma held in my mind and body for a lifetime. I have no shame for what others did to me. God looks down with delight at my willingness to do the hard work of healing. This degree of freedom gives me a passion to bring hope to others. I am listening to the messages being sent to me privately. They all say, in one way or another, “Thank you for giving me hope.”
I never want anyone to experience the level of fear I had while sitting outside my therapist’s office. Dealing with the fear of my own pain was enough. Dealing with the fear of judgment by those who could have encouraged me was an unnecessary burden. We need to break the stigma surrounding accessing qualified psychological care. If any of us have benefitted from therapy, we need to give others hope!
“I went to therapy!” Oh my! Did I really say this on the Internet??? Yes, I did.