- Janyne McConnaughey, PhD
Therapy Tape: Get Sticky
“There is a friend who sticks . . . “ Proverbs 18:24
While my journey through therapy was undoubtedly one of the loneliest times of my life, I am grateful for my husband who became my ‘Therapy Tape’ and held me together. We had always been more like best friends than mushy lovers and the bond of friendship between us proved to be exactly what I needed. It is what everyone going through therapy needs—healing requires more than a therapist.
As I think about those who I am encouraging on their journeys, I realized that the idea of being sticky Therapy Tape is actually a fitting description for what I do. I am not a therapist—but I will help you find one, and when you do, I will support you in every way I possibly can—with boundaries.
Sometimes I think I probably need to clone myself. What a great idea! I am not the only one who can be Therapy Tape for someone on his or her journey of healing. In fact, being Therapy Tape works best when it is someone with whom a relationship has already been established. I am not the best Therapy Tape for everyone. I also think it is probably those who have been willing to walk the therapy path, who can be the best Therapy Tape--but everyone could learn.
What do I mean by Therapy Tape?
Well, tape is sticky. I immediately think of the verse about a friend who sticks closer than a brother (or sister in my case). Someone who is Therapy Tape needs to be in the game for the long haul—even if it gets messy. Most who go to therapy have experienced some type of abandonment issues and the last thing he or she needs is for you to walk away when it gets messy. You need to get your friend the necessary help, but then you need to stick closer than a brother/sister. Walking away should not be an option—it is like tearing tape off an open wound.
The ‘un-stickiness’ of tape is also important. Nothing is worse than tape that never comes lose. Therapy Tape needs to have the ability to stick when needed, but to also release when needed—as the friend gains healing, strength, and independence.
You must be sure that your friend needing you isn’t fulfilling your needs—this can’t be about you. Maybe that is why I would suggest you not try to be Therapy Tape unless you have been willing to deal with your own personal issues. Have you ever tried to use two-sided tape thinking it was one sided? That is what happens when both individuals need help. They are stuck together, but one is not necessarily helping the other in the best ways possible.
Along this line, one of the uses for tape is to hold things tightly, but not too tight. Having my husband be my Therapy Tape held me together, but sometimes his overly protective side surfaced and I felt like I was being strangled. Just like when that amazing tape is wrapped around a sprained ankle—it feels so comforting, but if it is too tight, your toes will soon turn blue.
God is trying to do what is talked about in the Psalms, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3) but it requires the cooperation of other humans. A therapist can provide the skilled care, but it is only a friend who can walk beside the client as he or she tries to live life and heal at the same time. As I have been this friend to several and as I experienced the journey myself, I have gained insight as to those things that truly seemed to help.
Here is my Top Ten Therapy Tape List.
Listen to the story. Your friend doesn’t need you to solve the problem, he or she needs to know you care and will hold the story in a safe, non-judgmental space. I often feel like the space between the one telling and the one listening is sacred. I sense this even when it is virtual. Before healing, the amount of trust it takes to share our stories with another human being is really beyond comprehension.
If you are sitting across from someone you know is trying to live a Godly life, the last thing he or she wants to hear is a scripture verse. I sometimes slept hugging my Bible and drowning in anxiety. I knew all the verses. I taught in a Bible colleges for thirty-three years! I had been beating myself up with these verses my entire life. To tell me a verse only would have added to my spiritual guilt.
When someone tells you about trauma—especially sexual abuse, it causes a lot of anxiety and what I call ‘shame attacks.’ He or she needs to know it is still OK between you. It is as simple as sending a text and saying “Thank you for trusting me. You were very brave.”
Never be afraid to ask if he or she has contemplated suicide or self-harm. It is the responsible thing to do to ask this question. If the answer is yes, your non-judgmental, calm response is essential. It is also important to stay connected, get help, and make sure a support structure is in place.
Don’t overestimate your own ability to help. Especially in the case of trauma and specifically in the case of sexual abuse, and particularly that which occurred as a child, understand the value and necessity of quality psychiatric care. In these situations, you are definitely in over your head. Your choice should always be to suggest therapy.
Go beyond, “Have you considered therapy?” Help your friend find a therapist. (I give suggestions at Janyne.org) Offer to drive them to the first appointment or tell them to text you while they sit in agony in the waiting room. It is a very overwhelming decision and that first step needs your support.
Once your friend is in therapy, you need to listen, but not question the therapy. You are hearing the interpretation of therapy. Often clients do not like what the therapist has to say or interprets it through the lens of past history. Tread cautiously. Having said this, I understand not all therapists are created equal and not every therapist is a good fit for every client. Honestly, I don’t always agree with everything that I am told happens in therapy, but I try to step back and listen for signs of healing.
What does healing look like? There will be anger. There will be tears. It will look like “was this a good idea?” There will be a desire to walk away from the therapy process. (See my blog about this!) There may even be a desire to walk away from you. Remain sticky. This is when Therapy Tape is most essential. Everything inside of us wants to avoid pain at this stage. The body AND mind are in a panic and you need to be ‘sticky.’ This is truly where sticking is most important.
Encourage. Encourage. Encourage. This is probably one reason I believe it is important to have been through this process your self. It is hard to watch your friend or loved one suffer in order to heal. Empathy is much better than sympathy in this situation. Mostly listen and hug (if accepted) but also tell about your own journey and how you came out on the other side.
Notice progress—even if it is small! “I can tell how much better you are getting at . . . “ or “Wow, I can see how much more you are understanding what happened.” It is difficult for the client to notice these changes in the midst of the reeling.
Every therapist will say that it takes more than his or her skill, and more than the client’s efforts. It also takes a support system. I would have drowned if Scott had not been the Therapy Tape that held me together in the very darkest times. He listened to every word I wrote. He remained calm in the midst of my storms. Sometimes he had to call my therapist for me because I was in no condition to help myself. He was the best sticky Therapy Tape ever! (There are many tragic stories of marriages that end when someone goes to therapy. We know we weathered this storm because we were both willing to work and heal. It is possible to come out stronger but it takes two people working toward that goal.)
Not everyone is going to need the intensive therapy I needed. My story was complicated, there was extensive trauma, and I waited far too long to seek help. I was way too strong for my own good. I also thought I needed to do ‘speed therapy’ because I wasn’t exactly young and once healed, I knew I would have a purpose and mission to fulfill. I would never suggest doing what I did. I am thankful I had Therapy Tape (Scott) and a therapist who simply decided I was worth investing inordinate amounts of time before she retired. She always says I worked harder than she did, but I am well aware of how much she invested.
If you have healed through therapy (or truly understand the process), it is time to be sticky and pass on the support you received. Or maybe your journey was way too lonely—you need to make sure someone else doesn’t have to go on the journey alone. It is an investment, but we can change the world by being Therapy Tape for others. Set your boundaries, take care of yourself, but get sticky. Someone needs you.