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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

Courage Profiles: We Went to Therapy

(Courageous like a Lion! I am meeting many who have courageously gone to therapy and are now sharing their stories to help others. I will occasionally be highlighting their stories and resources in blogs.)

A week or so ago, as a result of my connection with The Attachment and Trauma Network, I came across a video interview of Carrie O’Toole. The video led me from one thing to another and I realized we lived very close to each other. I communicated with her and we decided to meet for coffee.

I had several takeaways from our coffee chat. Our stories were different but equally painful and therapy (as she says in the video I discuss below) probably saved her life. It also probably saved mine. We are now both on a mission to help others. My awareness of how many others are also on missions to promote mental health is growing and it is sometimes a bit overwhelming to realize how many resources are available.

Carrie’s story and the book she has written involve an international adoption that went very wrong and following years of trying to make it work resulted in the relinquishment of her son. The issues were the result of insecure attachment—which is our connection point. You can find more about her various ministries, book (Relinquished: When Love Means Letting Go), and movie (Forfeiting Sanity) at Carrie O’Toole Ministries website or on her channel on YouTube.

In the video, Mary Ellen Mann--The Honor Of Counseling (which I highly suggest watching), Carrie interviews the therapist who helped her through her deepest, darkest days. If you had seen Carrie and I chat and laugh over coffee, there would be no evidence of the truly dark days we lived through.That is what true healing looks like, but it goes much deeper than a surface façade.

The interview brought out several aspects of therapy that I feel are important to address. First, it is those who are strong and courageous who choose to go to therapy. The perception of going to therapy because we are weak needs to change. Therapy was the bravest and hardest thing I have ever done. We shouldn’t look the other way when someone says he or she is in therapy, we should celebrate the willingness to do the hard work of healing.

Second, the therapist, Mary Ellen Mann, MS., LCSW, talks about the importance of health. Fortunately, I was in the absolute best health of my life the day I walked into therapy. That is a good thing, because it took a toll on me and now I have to get back to where I was—but when I walked in, we could rule out health issues as a contributing cause. The brain is dependent on a healthy body, but sometimes you need help before you can get healthy. The two are connected and she is absolutely right to make this point.

Third, there is a great discussion about medications. I was on antidepressants for a good portion of my adult life and am thankful they provided a way to live above the pain until my children were raised and my career completed. It would have been better if I had received help much earlier in life and not needed medications, but I am not sure I could have ever processed what I did without the advantage of maturity. My therapist and I agreed to not go the route of medication because it would have numbed the feeling which took us to the places which needed healing. If I had still been raising my family, it would have probably been necessary because of the severity of the trauma. There were times . . . So, while I did not choose the medication route, I would never discourage anyone from doing so if necessary. (I would question it if you choose to go to therapy on your own volition and medications were offered as the solution in the first session.)

One of my favorite parts of the video, was a discussion of how those who come to therapy “have a key hole size awareness of who they are meant to be.” I laughed aloud as the conversation continued and described how people actually come to know whom they are and are able to say, “I really like myself!” (Granted some say this to convince themselves; but when it comes from a place of healing it is the absolutely best experience and feeling.) I truly did not understand who I was created to be. I did a very good job of making my own version of what I thought, but who I am is so much more.

I am still on the journey, but I know who I was always meant to be. If I had understood this, I would have made very different choices during my life. Yet, I am not at all disappointed by what I accomplished and the many I taught, mentored, and loved. I lived my life caring about others, but never understood or cared about myself. I was driven to succeed, but allowed myself to accept the diminishment of my truest gifts. No longer. I am on a mission to help others set themselves free from the painful experiences of their past and to help children who have experienced trauma that should never have been part of their lives. I am not at all who I was; I am so much better—all because I courageously listened to the prompting of God and went to therapy.

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