As some of you know, I recently moved my practice from Seattle, WA to Austin, TX which means that just a few short months ago I had my last session with the psychotherapist I had been seeing multiple times a week for the duration of my time as a Seattle resident. Now, I hope you’ll understand that I had been in therapy multiple times before and my first experience in therapy was actually one of the reasons why I pursued counseling as a career in the first place. In a nutshell, my first therapy experience was horrific–but that’s another story for another day.
I’ve had a handful of therapists and counselors in my life, so beginning and ending my work with them has been a process each time. Each one has taught me something that I have carried with me. However, there hasn’t been a single period of therapy that has been as transformative as this five year stretch with M. My relationship with her –that is what therapy is after all–has been the single most healing and important relationship of my entire life. So when my husband and I decided that it was time to leave Seattle and head back to Texas, my heart ached and broke just thinking about the day that I would say goodbye to her and she would no longer be my therapist.
When I walked into M’s office over five years ago, I was a young anxious woman beginning graduate school. I thought I knew a lot, and I certainly knew I had a lot more to learn about my own trauma history and how it was impacting my life. I was running away from my fear and pain and she was there to run next to me. I remember that first session pretty well. I rambled on and on and on and I don’t think I hardly let her talk, but I knew that I liked her and I knew that she was gentle, yet fiery. I knew that she was passionate, but I didn’t quite know how maternal she would be and how vital that would be for me. I came back the following week. And the next.
After about a year of getting to know each other and me processing the basics of my story and talking about my transition to this new city, my first year of graduate school, my marriage, etc., I got scared and I abruptly stopped coming. We had gotten too close to the real me, my real fears, my real insecurities, that I ran away. After a month of absence, I realized that I really needed her, and I emailed her in the middle of a class on trauma and abuse asking if she could take me back. Could she forgive me for disappearing? Did she have any openings? She politely emailed me some appointment times and I came back. Of course, we discussed what had happened. I confessed my fears and how afraid I was that she would see me and be so disgusted that she wouldn’t like me anymore. She wouldn’t want to see me anymore or that my fears would be proven true: that I am, in fact, unlovable.
Of course, she saw a lot of my ugliness, my humanness throughout our time working together. And she always stayed. She always loved me. She loved me when I faked sick because I was too depressed to come in for our appointment, when I told her about my awful thoughts that I have sometimes about myself. She loved me when I got angry or when I needed her outside our normal appointment times. She saw the worst parts of me and no matter what, she stayed with me.
She taught me that I am beautifully broken, utterly human, and absolutely worthy of love.
The woman that walked into that office for that first appointment was scared, lonely, and ridden with anxiety and depression. She didn’t know how to use her voice, what she wanted, or what empowerment even meant. The woman that walked out of that office five years later was bold, passionately empowered, and ready to talk to anybody about what she believed and what she thought. A woman walked out of that office without crippling PTSD, depression, and anxiety. She walked out instead with a full heart, gratitude, and so much love. She stood proudly as she walked out of that office, confident and happy with the work she accomplished there, with tears streaming down her face as she said farewell to a dear friend and loved one.
The transformation that took place in M’s office over the course of those five years was not just me or just M. Rather, a collaboration between the both of us. I am extremely grateful for her and the presence she brought and the space she created for the healing work to occur. I think it also took a lot for me to let go of my fears and insecurities to open up and be ready to do the work for the huge transformation and healing to take place. I found freedom in my life, in my soul, and in my body, but that comes at a cost. It cost me to change a lot of things and I had to let go a lot of things in my life–namely, how I see and think about things. I had to risk being proven wrong or being proven right. For a lot of people, this is the biggest risk of therapy. It is vulnerable work, opening up to a person we don’t really know, but if it is the right person, it is the most beautiful work and it is the right work.
You can find the freedom to live the life you want, rather than a life ruled by shame and fear and doubt. Because, you know what? M was right. I am worthy of love and belonging. And not just me. You are, too.
Sometimes it takes some time to find the right therapist for you. Finding someone you like, you feel like you can trust. It is also important to remember that therapy is a relationship and like every relationship, it is two sided, you have work to do as well. Your therapist cannot do the work for you. It is important for you to be honest with your therapist about you’re struggling with, what scares you, and really any relational or emotional concerns you have–whether between the two of you or between you and others in your life. Those are all relevant information for your work together. Come prepared to your appointments. What do you want to talk about? Do you have questions? Every therapist works differently, so don’t be afraid to ask your therapist questions about how they work. Ask for what you need.
Over the course of five years of working with M as a client, I learned so much about myself and I became a person that I really do love and I am really happy with. Of course, my process of growing isn’t over. There is always work to do, but I am living a life free of shame and guilt. I have agency and am empowered to do the things I want. It has enabled me to be a great therapist and to really understand and empower the people I work with, because I’ve done my own work. My therapist taught me to love myself and she taught me that I am worthy of love.
Are you ready to learn how to step into a life of freedom? I still have spots available for video counseling for WA State residents.