Welcome back to G4RL’s collaborative posts and ‘A Tale of Two Talkers’.
Allow me to introduce my true pal, Kate. She’s an operations consultant by day and a YouTube personality by night. You can find her over on Instagram, where she serves raw emotional honesty and elevates the colour yellow to gorgeous new heights.
We’re two strong women with therapists. We both have experience of mental illness. We choose to attend open-ended, talking therapy to maintain our mental wellbeing.
Therapy isn’t the only option when treating mental illness. If you’re struggling with your mental health, it’s vital to talk to a medical professional. Trying to find an effective treatment can be an excruciating process of trial and error. Depending on any diagnosis made, treatment options will vary from individual to individual. Any treatment offered should be considered alongside your preferences, your background and your physical health.
Sadly, we’re both in positions of enormous privilege to be able to attend therapy in the UK. With waiting lists growing ever longer, it can take over twelve months to receive therapy via the NHS. We are extraordinarily fortunate to be able to set aside some of our salary each month for therapy. It pains me that talking therapy is not widely accessible in this country. It has been a source of personal anguish for both of us over many years. It’s been a battle to receive regular therapy with a qualified professional. We recognise our privilege in speaking about our current experiences of therapy.
Here we are in conversation about meeting our therapists, the hardest moments in therapy and our advice to anyone starting therapy.
What did you hope for when starting therapy?
Kate: Therapy was something that other people did. It was something that other people could afford. I had been doing nothing to address the downward spiral of my mental illness. I recognised that any solution was better than nothing. I was put on medication and my GP suggested therapy too. My hope in starting therapy was to find solutions. I needed an outlet that I didn’t already have elsewhere. I have so many loyal, fierce friends and family who always support me. I hoped for a different type of support, where I could speak freely to someone who didn’t know anything. I wanted to find some solace in my restless mind and understand myself better.
Nikki: I’ve been in and out of therapy for seven years. In the last year, I actively chose to engage in therapy by myself. I wasn’t told to try therapy by my GP, or as a result of a mental health crisis. I’d gone round this frustrating loop with my mental health. I’d tried different medications and various types of therapy, but hadn’t seen any enduring, positive impact. I feared my own negative patterns of behaviour would become entrenched unless I did things totally differently. I was keen to get a fresh perspective to help me break that cycle permanently. My goals were focused on regulating my emotions. I wanted to reach a place of inner calmness, rather than experiencing unpredictable highs and lows. It was important for me to then translate that stillness into romantic relationships. In the past, I found romantic relationships really difficult. I wanted to take accountability for myself and the way I communicate. I was determined to not be a victim anymore.
How would you describe your relationship with your therapist?
K: I really like her. I know almost nothing about her: I know her first name, her surname and she’s wearing a scarf in the picture on her counselling profile. I trust her with all of my thoughts. I trust her to not judge me and to not think I’m ugly when I cry. She sees every side of me. Through my relationship with her, I’ve allowed myself to be more vulnerable. She’s not just a sounding board, she truly cares about what I say. I can crack a joke and she’ll actually laugh. I can be the full spectrum of myself with her, not just Sad Kate or Manic Kate. I have to remind myself that I’m not her friend. I’m paying for her time and even though I’ve developed a really close bond with her, I have to keep that boundary in my mind.
What’s been the hardest moment in therapy?
K: Just getting to the first appointment. It took me the best part of four months, from realising I needed a therapist, to attending the first session. I was deep in a chasm of depression. Coming to terms with my depression and anxiety was hard. I was predisposed to having a mental illness. There wasn’t anything traumatic which forced me down that path. It’s the way I was born. At first, that was hard to comprehend. Part of the reason I go to therapy is because of my relationship with my dad. For many years, I barely talked about that. I didn’t want to burden people with my feelings. In therapy, one of my tasks was to write a letter to my dad. It turned into me writing to numerous people in my life. I read it all out loud to Lily* in therapy. At first, telling someone the whole story and admitting to the way I had been feeling was really embarrassing. It ended up being a colossal moment for me in really understanding and accepting myself.
N: At the end of last year, I had a minor relapse of depression. Until then, I had been making really consistent progress. We’d been having these illuminating, hour-long sessions. I could feel myself getting stronger and developing a warm relationship with myself. Then, I had some personal set-backs. There were a lot of difficult things going on around me. At first, I was worried she’d judge me for feeling low again. I dreaded having to skate into her office and say “Hey, so I know I was all smiles and self-love last week, but here I am, back on my bullshit!” Of course she didn’t judge me. At that time, I didn’t feel able to carry on with our hour-long sessions. We spoke on the phone for ten minutes, a couple of times a week. Her determination to carry on with those brief telephone sessions re-engaged me. We built up to having longer sessions. I could then resume the journey that I’d started, which helped mould me into the calm, healthy person I am today.
What’s been the best moment in therapy?
K: I was talking to her about the impact of my mental illness on other people. I told her I didn’t want to burden people with the way I felt. She just stopped me mid-sentence: “Kate, your behaviour affects people, both good and bad. What about when you’re happy, or when you’re angry? Those feelings, which are nothing to do with mental illness, also affect people and you don’t worry about those. So get with the programme”. From that point onwards, I’ve not worried about moderating my behaviour around other people. I know that the people who care about me don’t care about that.
What’s happened outside of therapy has been incredible. I have a greater capacity for emotion. I’ve allowed myself to talk about my feelings. It’s been an outpouring stemming from years of being closed off and not admitting to my internal sadness. I don’t have to be “I’m Fine” Kate anymore. That’s the greatest gift, both for me and the people around me.
N: A few weeks ago, I shared a really lovely moment with my therapist. I was talking about my new job, my new house, my studies and reflecting cheerily on how far I’d come. I interrupted myself and said, “I’m just thinking about my past self. I’m imaging this young, frightened teenage girl. She’s trapped in a horrible, traumatic relationship and I feel so sad for her. I just want to go back in time, hold her and tell her that she will figure it all out. I want her to know that everything really does work out and it does get better. I want her to know that, so she feels safer and doesn’t have to direct all that pain at herself.” I started crying. Hannah* paused and said, “That is the most precious thing you’ve ever said to me. You’ve got a relationship with yourself, which you didn’t have when I first met you. You now see yourself as a person worthy of loving and protecting. You are connected with your past and future self. You are here in this present moment and are able to see yourself becoming whoever you want to be”.
The benefits of therapy appear outside of that room. Like everybody, I experience emotional pain, whether it’s with romantic partners, or with friends, or at work. In the past, I’d have fallen into a spiral of despair when dealing with difficult feelings. I’m now able to look at things more objectively. I don’t see a bad mood or a negative event as a permanent representation of who I am. I’ve learned the techniques to avoid self-loathing. I’m incredibly grateful for that. It’s made me a kinder person to myself and to everyone around me.
What advice would you give someone starting therapy?
K: My advice to someone starting therapy would be to be open-minded. Therapy comes in so many different shapes and forms. You don’t have to be tied down to one therapist. You’re not committed to one person if you’ve seen them once or ten times. Most importantly, be really honest with yourself. It’s important not to be judgemental with your own mind and to allow yourself to speak freely. Enjoy the therapy! Enjoy having the space to talk about yourself in a deep, entirely confidential way. Be patient and just remember that you are brilliant. Therapy will remind you of what a great person you are, if you give yourself a chance.
N: Make sure you’re ready. You need to be in a safe environment and your mental health needs to be in a place where you’re reaching a basic level of day-to-day functioning before you can start therapy. You’re not going to fix everything in eight sessions either. Therapy is hard work. If you want to see real change in your life, you will have to keep working on your habits and behaviours for a long time. Therapy brings up difficult feelings and sometimes you might leave a session feeling more upset than when you went in. That’s part of the healing process. It’s not scary and it can be life-affirming and transformative, if you’re willing and able to let it be.
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*names changed to preserve anonymity.
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