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I wish I could say that my therapy has been the most uplifting and enjoyable thing I have ever done. It hasn't. It has at times been more frustrating than not doing it, has made me angry at things I didn't even know I cared about, has embarrassed me about other things and some of the same things, and caused me to look at things that were unpleasant and at times very disturbing. I was overwhelmed virtually every minute of it.
Why in the hell did I ever start into a process that frustrates me to the extent that therapy does? There is a very simple answer. Because nothing else worked. I've got to say that again. I tried every way I could think of, and nothing else worked. I tried self-help classes-both the rah-rah type and the thought-provoking type-and neither effected any change. I tried the large group sessions on self-improvement, conducted by those who were more like religious preachers than counselors-they didn't work. I was looking for the quick fix and I couldn't find it. Then I looked for the slower fix-you know, the one that didn't take a lot of effort-couldn't find that one either. Finally, I realized (admitted, really) that this recovery business was going to take some work. Damn!
I had tried therapy earlier, when a marriage was breaking up, but I didn't know what I wanted from the process. Several unsuccessful relationships later, another partner suggested therapy. I was about to say "been there, done that" when a voice deep inside suggested that maybe this avenue was worth revisiting. Not being one to necessarily listen to voices, I decided that I would try it, but on MY terms.
My terms consisted of setting goals, so I could have a beginning and end-after all, I wasn't looking for a new lifestyle, just some fixing, or adjustments to the one I already had. Secondly, I wanted a therapist that I liked, someone who might even have been a friend under other circumstances. And finally, I wanted some way to practice all this new stuff I was going to learn.
I'm not so sure my terms were so clearly defined in the beginning as the above paragraph would seem to indicate. However, what was clear was that I would be in charge. I would not turn my life over to someone to dictate what I was to do and how. Let's look at each of my terms as I have defined them, recognizing that they were the result of constant revisions as I got deeper into the recovery process.
I set an overall goal, and then several goals for myself in therapy. I did this because I wanted to have a way to measure my progress along the way. I felt that without a destination, I wouldn't know whether or not I had attained it.
I didn't know that I wanted a therapist to identify with at first. I accepted the choice of my partner of the time. A nice person, but not my champion, and not someone who had all the same beliefs that I did. So I changed therapists. I got a bit lucky, but I think that my approach of looking for a therapist, and interviewing as you would any other service professional, worked.
As for the practicum-again, I got lucky. Actually, I put myself in a position to be lucky. I searched and asked questions about therapy and, in turn, about groups. I entered a men's group and discovered that I wasn't the only male with these problems. On the one hand, I wasn't as unique as I may have thought; but on the other, I now had several guys to commiserate with. What a deal. We talk about stuff, and practice the new skills in a safe environment-a microcosm of the real world.
I have reached my current goals in individual therapy, so I have discontinued that. I am still in the men's group-it gives me a weekly reality check on how I'm doing. But I don't expect to be there forever either.
Was therapy a pleasant experience? Emphatically, no! As I said at the beginning, it was frustrating and embarrassing and everything I had tried to avoid all my life. Did it help me get in touch with my emotional side? Yes!
I wish that I could have avoided the therapy experience. But I didn't have any choice in parents, and had about the same choice in formative years' experiences. Couple that with being born male and into this society, and I don't see how I could have avoided the therapy experience. I am glad I'm on the other side of the resistance inertia, rather than the beginning side. But if you don't start, you won't ever finish. I'm glad I took the risk.
Lee Woods, a writer from Bellevue, WA, is currently working on a novel.