No, not shopping for therapy. I mean, shopping for the right therapy!
The last time I saw a therapist was when I was at my 1st year of university in 2012 mourning the death of my high-school relationship (it was my first, emotionally and sexually invested relationship, guys!).
The therapist was a rather young, white woman who was in her late 20s with aesthetic palette of sloppy boho-chic and Ugg-boots finishing her Master’s in Psychology. I remember her distinctly because she would sit with her knees up to her chin with her notepad on the designated therapist armchair.
This bothered me because it gave me an impression she was too overly relaxed and ‘chilled out’ while I was an emotional wreck. Her demeanor was too overly positive that it made me feel skeptical towards her ability to empathise with me. It felt awkward as though I was a blubbering mess at casual, friendly hangout (this has happened to me, except I was drunk and sick, freezing my ass off in the middle of winter in a broken outhouse!).
And then in 2013, I saw another middle-aged woman named Kylie. I remember her name because, in my mind at the time, her name didn’t match her age (thanks to Australian pop stars).
Her approach towards me was to be a typical, armchair psychologist who scribbled notes silently and asked questions when relevant when I was feeling incredibly lonely at university (the course I studied was likely a contributing factor). It felt almost clinical and cold, too structured. I knew she was doing her job, but at the same time something inside my heart was telling me, this isn’t going to work.
This brings me to write about how important it is to find the right therapist for you.
The service was offered at my university campus was highly encouraged as it was to assist any university student who might be struggling in their personal lives during studies. Because, after all, universities would be potentially hemorrhaging loose change to pay for basic student services and amenities if they didn’t offer basic, duty of care for their students’ well-being.
Once I tried these services once or twice, I quickly abandoned them. Why?
Because, upon reflecting my own experience, I couldn’t relate to the therapists prescribed by the campus. The therapists I’ve had in the past when I was a teenager were mostly older, white males who were placed in community healthcare services (except for the two I visited on campus).
How could I comfortably communicate the cultural differences between myself and my family with a white therapist who has no clue on cultural sensitivity? And what about the language barriers I faced when I wasn’t able to communicate to my parents about horrible things that happened to me when I was a child? No way was I ever going to feel ‘at ease’ in discussing these highly, traumatic memories with someone I didn’t feel confident with.
It’s great that the government was funding outer city suburbs experiencing funding drought, but I am disappointed that there was little to no care to consider what was generally best for the area.
However, I feel that maybe have better youth programs that can be more inclusive towards teenagers like myself, or maybe encourage better, culturally-enriched professionals who can intervene and assist parents in understanding their own children. Or teach students in school that they have options if they don’t feel comfortable speaking to someone about their issues! Man, I remember my dad yelling at me for inconveniencing him for taking me to the community clinic just because I didn’t want to speak to him about my issues. It sucked and still sucks thinking about it.
If you’ve made it this far, internet stranger, please keep reading. It’s almost over!
I spent a lot of the end of last year and this year so far writing, drawing and lost in mindless thought, reflecting on my life, from when I was child, teenager and early 20s in order to try and understand my own identity beyond my life of dating, university, and work.
Up until this new therapist, I was becoming more isolated; I didn’t talk to my boyfriend (who was up to here in dealing with my depressive episodes), didn’t want to see family or friends because I was feeling generally pretty useless with myself.
I was starting to recall all the shitty, traumatic, inexcusably shameful things that happened to me throughout my younger life. And I was losing perspective on what my life currently is as I was noticeably becoming obsessive about the past. Fortunately, to save my boyfriend from committing murder, I looked for my therapist. I sat down, wrote what I needed help with, I emailed around, debated whether gender or ethnicity was important of my therapist. I chose mine based on what I felt most at ease with; his age, his ethnicity and his experience in working with women of my age, my ethnicity, cultural upbringing and life experience. He’s also very welcome towards my boyfriend coming into my sessions to learn what tools he could use to help me when I can’t help myself. This was discussed between my boyfriend and I, and I am lucky he is willing to see this through with me.
And so far, it’s been really good. My therapist is sensitive, open-minded, acknowledges how I feel when I revisit painful memories during our sessions, attempts to teach me concepts about myself and exchange feedback towards the end of each session.
For me, having this approach for me will eventually lead me towards exploring alternatives for myself to ‘feel better’. I wish someone had told me how important it was to feel comfortable when seeking help to suit my needs and preference when I was younger.
You definitely feel less alone towards the path of recovery.