Finding Peace — Manuscript Post #18
–Sessions in general
I had been taking notes of my condition since the onset of symptoms. It made sense to me to keep taking notes as I entered therapy. The therapist didn’t tell me to take notes, and I’m not saying you should unless you want to. I like to make notes to plan what I’m doing and see what I got done. I took notes of what I was experiencing between sessions, what my symptoms were and anything I wanted to discuss with the therapist next time. My therapist didn’t take notes during our sessions. I’m sure she did after each session and I’m sure she referred to her notes before our next session. I only made notes during our sessions if I had a very specific thing I wanted to remember. In general, I wanted to be fully focused on what happened during each session. I don’t know if other therapists work this way or not.
I saw the therapist for 53 sessions. Each session was 50 minutes. My formal treatment started Thursday, December 4, 2008 and ended Monday, August 9, 2010. I was in therapy for twenty-one months, not quite two years. I saw the therapist between two and three times a month. I discuss each session in order to show how the process progressed. I also include the session number as well as the total number of sessions so you can see where I was in the process as I describe each session. Keep in mind that while I was going through this, I had no idea how many sessions there would be. As you read about session 27 of 53, you will know that I had crossed the half-way point. When I was taking notes about session 27 I didn’t know if that was half-way or not.
I discuss my therapy sessions in the chronological order they happened, but I also discuss other events that happened in between sessions. For example, my mother’s death and my visits to Dr. Sue. Since these events occurred during therapy I think it is important to include them in the flow of the sessions. These events often steered the discussions that went on in subsequent sessions.
During some sessions not much happened because there wasn’t much to discuss. I want you to see what happened in all my sessions to understand how the process works. Most of what I write about is from my notes for each session as well as my observations having completed the whole course of treatment. I am very clear when I am quoting the therapist. I want you to know when I was told something versus when I am observing or commenting on what went on in each session.
–Sessions: 1 of 53
Thursday, December 4, 2008 2:00pm
It was time to see the therapist for the first time. I went early to make sure I could find the office building. Whatever this process was going to be like, I wasn’t going to start out being late. I knew that getting lost on the way was only going to make me more nervous than I already was.
The therapist’s office was on the second floor of a typical office building. A long hallway to a stairway, up the stairs to another long hallway. Down the hallway to the office on the right. The sign on the door had the right name. It said she was a LCSW, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. I didn’t know what that meant. I looked it up online. It means someone that practices clinical social work, which means, among other things, using psychotherapy without drugs. A LCSW can’t prescribed medications.
I also looked up the definition of psychotherapy. The treatment of mental or emotional illness by talking about problems rather than by using medicine or drugs. Yes, psychotherapy can be used to treat mental illness, but it is also used to treat emotional illness. You don’t have to be mentally ill to benefit from psychotherapy.
I opened the door to enter a very small waiting room with two chairs and a folding room screen. There was a noise like rainfall. There was a closed door in front of me and to my left. I sat in one of the chairs and studied the poster on the wall in front of me. I wondered if I was in the right place. I listened to the sound and realized it was a white noise generator. I couldn’t figure what it was for. Why would this tiny room have this?
After several visits I figured it out. It was making enough noise that no one could hear what was going on in the therapist’s office. It reminded me of another life when I worked in a secure environment and they had the same setup, to prevent anyone outside the office overhearing the classified discussions happening inside.
At the scheduled time, one of the doors opened and there she was. The therapist. I will refer to her as Elsie Swan.
She asked me into her office. There was a matching leather couch and chair, a desk and a file cabinet. Sunlight filtered through blinds on the windows along the far wall. Two torchiere lights illuminated the ceiling. Overall the effect was very soothing. She sat in the chair across from the couch. The couch was big enough for three people. I sat in the middle. I still remember the subtle smell of the leather. The couch was very comfortable.
She had some paperwork for me to fill out and she asked me “What brought you here?” Such a simple question. I told her what had been happening over the last several months. She said we would talk about my symptoms to see if we were a good fit. This means she needed to determine if she felt she could help me. As I described my symptoms and began to tell her about my background she interrupted me. “It is possible you are the Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACA).” I was stunned. I had never heard of this term. What ACA means was not discussed further during this first session.
Her interruption was significant. Whenever you first work with someone new you are looking to see any signs that the new person is going to help you. This could be a coworker, a first date, a new dentist, or in this case a new therapist. You may not be conscious of it, but you are looking to see if this person can and will help you in whatever you are trying to do. In my case, I was looking for help with the causes and the treatment of my symptoms which were worrying me. I wanted to see anything that would tell me that this therapist, and therapy in general, was going to help me.
Within the first twenty minutes of our first meeting each other, she had something relevant to offer. She had information about things I had not heard of before. I was relieved that ‘therapy’ wasn’t going to take hours and hours or weeks and months before I would be given any useful information. She was providing useful information that was new to me right out of the gate. This removed a significant concern of mine. Namely that therapy might be a waste of time. How could ‘just talking’ help me? Clearly, ‘just talking’ was already proving to be useful.
In response to her interruption, I made a comment that was honest and unrehearsed. “But no one ever told me that my mother was an alcoholic.” My comment was, unintentionally, insightful. I had not considered my mother to be an alcoholic even though her drinking affected me. No one with a lot of letters after their name had ever told me that my mother suffered from alcoholism. While I had never thought of it this way, the things I was describing about my mother did line up with someone that has a drinking problem. Given my training in engineering school, the scientific method, problem solving based on observation, if I could have missed this fact, that means I may well have missed many other facts. Elsie obviously had many of these facts and I wanted them. The dynamic changed quickly from me wondering when I would see progress to me wanting to know what else Elsie could tell me.
I then started to worry, that this therapist, who clearly knew things I wanted to learn, might not say we were a good fit and I would have to move on. After some further questions she looked at me and smiled, “this will be great!” I was surprised. I had entered her office wondering how serious my condition was, worried that I didn’t know where all this was going. Now, after a single fifty minutes with someone I had never met before, I was told that ‘this will be great’. To me, this meant that she believed she could work with me, and, more importantly, she wanted to.
I will say it many times, because it is so important and so powerful: just asking for help, just taking the first step in seeking help, will make you feel a lot better. However long this process is going to take, no matter how scary it may be, you have started. Actually addressing the issue, whatever it turns out to be, will reduce the fear and the stress. In my case, I now had someone working with me, someone who had seen situations like mine before, someone who met me and heard my story and wanted to work with me. The therapist wasn’t scared. That meant I could relax a little.
Elsie gave me her business card with the date and time of our next appointment. She would do this for each of our sessions. On the business card was a phone number I could call in an emergency. I never used this number, but I was glad I had it, if I ever needed it.
This was my first therapy session, my first time meeting the therapist. I left her office less worried than when I arrived. I was curious what would happen next. I was still concerned about my symptoms, but those concerns were now mixed with some curiosity as well. What did ACA mean?