Let’s face it, if I had taken headshots of all my past sponsors, I would probably have more photos in my collection than an old-school Italian restaurant in New York with the autographed pictures hanging off the walls.
With that in mind, I recently tried to give a new therapist (a man) a shot. Like many others in recovery, I have co-occurring disorders. Sometimes my issues appear to diminish for a period of time, only to resurface tenfold like a termite invasion. I’ve tried finding the right therapist for several years, but this is proving difficult. This new therapist met with me in his office. I sat in a comfortable chair, across from his desk, which was littered with empty coffee cups and a stack of papers. He peered at my file on his computer monitor. There were shelves full of books and a white board on his wall. Those things always make me feel old, because I grew up with blackboards for God’s sake. What ever happened to good old-fashioned chalk?
During the first session, he asked me a little bit about myself, and I told him that I suffered from depression, anxiety and perhaps, trauma. When I told him I lived alone with six dogs, his mouth dropped open. It was as if I had told him that I was an alien from a planet 570 light years away from Earth.
“How do you take care of all those dogs?” he asked.
“I don’t know, I just do. They are my family.” I said.
“But they are not people,” he said.
“Yes, I know,” I replied. “They are canines, not humans. They don’t speak. They bark.”
I had the urge to bark and roll over on the ground to illustrate my point, but decided not to. This guy did not appear to have a sense of humor. Instead, he began to delve into the essential questions that every therapist asks a new client. This came with the disclaimer that if I answered “yes” to any of those questions, he had to report me to the appropriate officials including the local funny farm and the police. He asked if I ever got so depressed that I wanted to commit suicide, and if so, did I have a plan. He also asked if I had any homicidal thoughts and if so, who were my potential victims?
“First of all, if I was going to kill myself, I wouldn’t tell you,” I said.
A worried look flashed across his face, until I reassured him that I had no plan, no intention of killing myself. I went on to explain that when it came to the termination of other people, I was a pacifist who believed in reincarnation and I could not even kill a cockroach because what if the damn roach was the re-embodiment of my great aunt Angelika?
He switched gears. “What do you want out of therapy?” he asked.
“Inner peace,” I said, sounding like freaking Gandhi.
“How do you hope to find that in therapy?”
“Gaining some tools, so that I can learn to love myself more. I think if I love myself, that will help me connect with others. I live by myself, so I am not around a lot of people,” I said.
“Do you feel lonely?” he probed.
“I am used to being alone,” I said. “I don’t really think about it that much.”
Then he asked me what I did for fun, and honestly, I didn’t know what to say. Why did he change the subject? Or maybe he was going to give me some tips that would help me in my quest for inner peace?
He got up, looked for a dry erase marker, found one, and started writing on the white board. I felt like I was back in high school, in physics class. I almost expected him to hand me an exam full of multiple-choice questions and ask me to analyze Einstein’s theory of relativity and have me write down the equation for Snell’s Law. Instead of n1 sin θ1 = n2 sin θ2, I saw this written in red on the white board.
- Adventure trips
He pointed to the board. “These are a few examples of what some people do for fun, because it releases adrenaline in their brains,” he said. I told him number two was out because I had been clean and sober for more than four years. Turns out he knew nothing about AA—had never been to a 12-step meeting or looked at the Big Book. Not a good sign.
So now that the therapist knew I did not drink, we were left with three other options. I told him that I ran with my dogs, so that solved the exercise issue. That left us with gossip and dating and/or sex. I said that I hate gossip, because I believe in karma, plus my sobriety has made me an extremely close-mouthed person, he shrugged.
He asked me if I dated. I started to wonder what this had to do with anything. Like maybe he was suggesting the key to all my problems was to find a nice guy, go on dates, have wild sex and maybe get married again. Or perhaps he thought by snagging some rich dude, I would suddenly become secure. Hell, maybe he could walk the dogs while I drive around in a fancy Jaguar and get French manicures and Botox injections. I would have preferred if the therapist had just suggested that I join a bird-watching club so that I could tell the difference between an oriole and a warbler. And, I would have been thrilled if he had used some DBT or CBT terms, just to make me feel like I was in good hands.
I felt very overwhelmed. I told him that I was not interested in pursuing a rich man—or any man. I just wanted to work on some coping and life skills, and see if I needed another medication besides Celexa, (just in case I happen to be bipolar, a diagnosis that has yet to be determined). Didn’t we have more serious issues to discuss here, like my freaking depression? Who was he to suggest that I should join an online dating site, meet some guy, get married and go volcano bungee jumping with my new (preferably wealthy) hubby in Chile on our honeymoon?
After I left his office, I had a thought. Is it possible to end up with a therapist who makes you nuts? Or is he sane, and I am nuts, because I am a weirdo who lives alone in the Mojave with six dogs?
According to this helpful article on MindBodyGreen, when it comes to finding a new therapist, it’s important to “trust your gut.” So, I took a step back. I tried viewing my appointments from an AA perspective, telling myself that I was scared and that my judgment was probably being clouded by anxiety. I entertained the idea that this therapist was really good for me, I just didn’t know it. Maybe I should just “suit up and show up” and overcome my FEAR to “face everything and recover.”
Then I realized that this was therapy, not an AA meeting. I thought, how would I feel if a close friend told me her new therapist made these sorts of suggestions? I would tell her to run out of his office and not look back. Then I would advise her to do some research. Just like finding the right medication, finding the proper therapist might take a little work. And perhaps a female therapist might be a better choice.
So while I continue the search for the right therapist, maybe I really should join the West Mojave Bird Club. It might be fun to spot an American coot. I have heard that they love hanging out in the Mojave this time of year.
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