The evolution of my soul can be measured by two metrics. How I feel about high waisted denim, and how I’ve come to feel about therapy. I admit it. I used to think therapy was for the weak and self-absorbent. After all, Jesus is the healer and sustainer of our souls, and my all friends are good listeners.
Fast forward 15 years of noticing my own heartily unpleasant behavior patterns, surviving a divorce and other painful delights like raising teenagers, and I’ve found myself eating one gigantic piece of humble pie, while scrolling through Psychology Today’s “find a local therapist” tab. Welp. Maybe Jesus made therapists for a reason.
I wish I could say my search and consequent engagement with a wonderful trauma-informed therapist specializing in attachment theory and EMDR led to a ride off into the cerebral sunset, with healed emotions and renewed thought patterns. However. What has transpired for the past year now, has been nothing short of a disappointing, sometimes shocking circus, that I was not expecting.
Where to begin. Firstly, let’s talk about the ridiculous struggle associated with finding an accredited, quasi-acceptable Christian counselor when residing in a severely blue state. No intentional disrespect to my brothers and sisters counseling for Christ, but it’s very much like searching for that one non-dented pumpkin in the Costco pit. I can assure, this quest becomes nearly impossible, when adding filters like insurance acceptance and schedule availability.
With a pool this limited, one can easily find themselves at a frightening crossroad, choosing between a retired pastor who could easily double as a Duck Dynasty extra and lists “Jesus” as an actual method of therapy, and a 25-year-old single whose professional profile pic is an actual car selfie, while holding a Bible. Sweet. Mother.
It’s at this dark junction we start entertaining the dubious but slightly more feasible option of pursuing secular counseling. I mean, we already know Jesus, right? We just need to learn some anger management tools and figure out why we keep dating the same toxic man, reincarnate. I’m not against it entirely, but the last (and only) secular counseling experience I’ve had involved a “marriage therapist” suggesting my then-husband and I perhaps consider divorce. This came on the heels of another friend’s secular therapist suggesting she wrack up a few one-night stands with men to “get her power back.” Ummmmm…
Still, with all hesitation put aside, I decided to really give personal therapy a try. I committed to finding that perfect therapist-Christian or secular- wherever God leads…and I was pumped.
What has transpired over the past year, pursuing therapy with not one, but three different counselors for many consecutive sessions each has felt nothing short of a bad Match.com experience. Divorced/single friends…ya’ll know the horror I speak of.
Scrolling through profiles, reading all the great reviews searching for just the perfect aged counselor (can’t be too young…they’ll be clueless…can’t be too old, they’ll think I’m crazy) felt so much like that like wide-eyed single, full of fresh delusion, giddy about the possibility of a perfect match.
Then. The bliss fades. I guess should’ve expected it. Everything looks good on paper, right? Their smile seems genuine and their eyes show no glimmer of mild insanity or narcissism. No selfies in the bathroom mirror. Just a nice, professional headshot accompanied by a respectable profile with zero grammatical errors or misplaced apostrophes.
So, you decide to go for it, and book the initial consult. Please Lord, let this be the one. You get all dressed up for the first appointment, trying to appear classy and respectable, knowing full well you’re about to reveal every inch of fresh Hell churning within your soul. And then the disappointment begins. Huh. He called me Jennifer. Um, why is he talking like a robot, and avoiding eye contact? Why is he asking these questions, did he not read my intake forms? Is he wearing Crocs!?
However. Just like the single years, ya shake it off and remind yourself most don’t strike gold the first time. And everyone knows finding a therapist is a highly intimate process … might take a few tries before “clicking.”
I’m on therapist number four right now and feeling less and less encouraged. Where to begin?
The problem is less about how exhausting and time-consuming this process is. It’s the sheer and utter…well lack of…how to say this…quality. I hate to sound critical about an industry I’m still fairly ignorant about, but good Lord almighty, where are the trained professionals out there? I don’t know about you, but when I go to therapy, I’m desperate. I don’t need a hobby, or a new bestie to chat about my work week and I’m certainly not looking for a reason to trade my couch for some stoic office with three noisemakers on perpetual full blast to drown out the “tense” couples therapy ‘round the corner.
What do you mean, “what is the source of my angst?” Isn’t there a formula or strategical approach to this kind of thing? What do you mean, “tell me about my week?” Do you really want to hear about my peri-menopausal night sweats, or do ya maybe want to ask about my childhood trauma?
After enough of this befuddlement, you start asking yourself the same tireless questions we did after enough bad dates. Are my expectations too high? Am I being too critical, or impatient? Should I give it one more dat-I mean, session?
Sigh. I’ve been tempted to quit, or take breaks in between new therapist-seeking, similar to how I used to feel after 3-4 bad dates, because frankly this is exhausting. Going over your story, your past, your potential sources of trauma with a total stranger (whereeeeeee to begin, Susan?) hoping they care and/or are equipped enough to work with you towards self-understanding is frankly a bit defeating after enough times around.
But I’ve decided I’ll never stop searching, and here’s why: We. Are. Worth it. We (as in women and mothers-sorry fellas) are natural caretakers and nurturers. I know I always joke about being as domestic as a garden snake, but really, we do and give so much of ourselves to our family and other-most of the time subconsciously. We’re the ones losing sleep worried about our teen’s increasing isolation. Or breastfeeding with one arm while editing a work proposal. The thought of taking time for us, outside of all the other endless essentials and obligations we have going on feels like an utter pipe dream.
When each new therapist has asked, so why are you seeking help now, at this point in your life? My answer has solidly been, “well, my kids are a bit older now, so I can finally catch a breath.” But I wish someone had encouraged me to at least start the therapy process so much earlier in life-you know, like before army-crawling into my fourth decade with unresolved daddy issues and rejection fears. Friends are great, but they’re not always equipped to help. Our souls are deeply complex and highly fragile. We carry so much weight, shame and self-sabotage without even knowing it. We. Need. Help.
Life is hard. Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Being a woman is hella hard. And to be clear, God is enough. He’s our lover, protector, provider, healer, father, etc. But sometimes we need others to help us see and deal with things holding us back. That’s why He essentially commands us to pursue fellowship. Proverbs 15:22 says “without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established.” God gave us friends, siblings, spouses and yes, counselors, even if it’s just for certain seasons so we don’t have to go it alone.
Doing soul work is not sexy, and it’s easy to procrastinate. But for how long, and at what price? Think of how much money, time, effort we attribute toward our external selves (no judgment, there’s a line item in my family budget for my hair/skin!) But don’t the hurt, broken, under-developed parts of ourselves deserve even more? The ones that keep wreaking havoc on our family, our peace and the abundant life God wants for us?
It’s scary being vulnerable and exploring the gunk that hold us back. But it’s worth it. Don’t give up on yourself. And to my future therapist- I cannot even wait to meet you…someday. Buckle up.