Pushing Through Therapy

A few months ago, I started with a new local therapist. There’s a large mental health facility in town and during the spring, when I was really struggling with depression, I bit the bullet and underwent two hour-long intake appointments to set me up with a therapist. I got matched with an EMDR-trained practitioner, since we initially decided that treatment modality might be a potent antidote to my PTSD. The first appointment went so horribly that it set me back several huge strides in my trauma healing. Once again, I became plagued with constant flashbacks, unnecessary anxiety in situations that had no longer triggered me (like the doorbell ringing or crowds), and my nightmares became more vivid and realistic. After doing more research about EMDR and autism spectrum disorder, I found that there were several researchers who found that it appears to be a contraindicated modality for neurodiverse individuals. I decided I definitely did not want to do it again. It took me a couple months to call back and set up a new appointment because I was too shy to say I didn’t want to do EMDR again and worried that I wouldn’t advocate for my needs and stay firm in my decision, caving in to a repeat bad session.

One day when I did muster up the gumption, I capitalized on my confidence to communicate my needs and set up another appointment stating that I did not want to do EMDR treatment but rather trauma-based talk therapy. The second appointment was no better. Although the therapist did not make me do EMDR, I found the session pointless, aimless, and rather aggravating. It was the type of therapy where the therapist just sits and stares at you nodding and saying “yeah” occasionally without asking any probing questions, taking any notes, or helping you uncover layers of emotions and thoughts. I don’t have the time, money, or patience to make that type of approach valuable. I decided to give up on the center and forgo therapy since it has already been awkward enough and socially challenging for me to call and express my dissatisfaction with the EMDR and concern for continuing attempting it. I did not want to call back and complain that this practitioner’s approach was not a good match for me. There are few things that make me more nervous and self-conscious than complaining or expressing I need to change something, even if it’s totally reasonable. For example, I hate having to return things to a store and explain why the product did not measure up or assert any sort of dissatisfaction. I don’t like requesting a fan for instance when I’m staying in a hotel or getting reassigned to a non-smoking room after mistakenly being booked in a smoking room even though that went against explicit request. I shy far away from being the squeaky wheel.

Despite this, about two weeks ago, after researching the availability of alternative therapists in my area seemed fruitless, I decided to swallow my fears and call the center back. I’m invested in beating this trauma and putting the PTSD to rest, so I really need to do the work. My heart was racing while I dialed the center and waited to be transferred to my initial intake counselor. I explained my situation and tried to couch my complaints about the therapist I was matched with in compliments and assertions that I’m sure she’s great for some people, but the style just really isn’t compatible with the way I think and operate. Saying it was awkward was an understatement, but thankfully, I could blush and sweat as much as I needed to in the privacy of my own home while on the phone. The intake counselor seemed disappointed and was quick to assert multiple times that this type of request (to switch practitioners) was uncustomary and contrary to the typical protocols. However, she said, given my circumstances (which went unspecified but I assume referred to being autistic), she would grant my request and try to match me with a different therapist. We discussed what didn’t work for me with the initial one and what qualities or approach I sought in new one. She cautioned me that it might take a few weeks, but that she’d work on it.

I received a call last week from the new match and we set up an appointment for yesterday afternoon. Although she sounded friendly on the phone, I found myself dreading the appointment so strongly yesterday that I was crabby and stressed all morning. At first, I was unable to identify the cause for these undesirable feelings, and certainly was blind to the fact the upcoming therapy appointment was at the root. However, as the hour of departure drew nearer, it became crystal clear. I was so unhappy about having to go to the appointment that I scheduled by my own free will that I nearly canceled it. Had it not cost me ten more dollars than my copay to cancel so last-minute, which is such a deterrent to my frugally-minded self, I would have. I tried to adjust my attitude to be more positive and redirect my anxiety and commit to going, keeping an open mind, and giving it my best shot. I bargained with myself that if I went, I could enjoy extra chick lit reading time afterward and reassured myself that it would be one hour and I would not have to go back if it was that bad, I could even leave early if necessary. I reminded myself of my goals to feel better and the potential long-term improvements to be reaped should I put in consistent hard work in psychotherapy.

With these concessions in mind, I drove to the appointment somewhat less begrudgingly. I realized another thing I hate about this place is the check-in process. The ladies who work the front desk sit behind a plexiglass wall with windows for patient communication. They must have fans back there or other background noise that make it impossible for them to hear you, even as you stand directly in front of the window and project your voice perfectly loud. Perhaps it’s a false assumption and gross generalization that patients needing psychological services want privacy, but speaking for myself, it’s mortifying when the lady asks you to repeat your name louder and louder until you’re yelling your full name. It’s a large waiting room and it feels like all eyes get pulled directly toward you with such strong magnetism like some sort of force field. It’s not just a HIPAA violation to need to shout your full name so audibly, but it is uncomfortable and draws so much unwanted attention. That’s not the best way to start an appointment you’re already nervous about.

As I nervously sat waiting to be called in, I watched each therapist come out to greet his or her respective patient wondering which one would be my match. My phone died during the wait, so I had little to distract me, but soon a nice woman came out searching for “Amber,” and we introduced ourselves then went back behind the doors, down the hallway to her office.

All things considered, the session was great. I thought the therapist was bright, engaged, warm, and asked questions that made me think and discuss challenging things. Granted, we were mostly establishing rapport and discussing my history, but I liked her demeanor and she seemed really goal-oriented, which jives well with my competitive athlete mentality. While I adequately asserted in my mind that I would not be scheduling a follow-up since I dreaded this appointment to the extent that it polluted my whole day with misery, I found myself scheduling one, not just to be agreeable (as per usual), but because it felt like a good fit and a productive route toward healing. We will see how next week goes, but I’m invested in this process and going to try my best to stay positive.

1 Comment

  1. Perhaps next time you can hand your ID to the receptionist instead of saying (or shouting) your name. You could also write your name (and/or other sensitive information) on a note to hand to the receptionist.

    Congratulations on honoring yourself, following through, and taking care of your needs.

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