Finding the right therapist is no easy task. When you are not feeling your best, this can often feel insurmountable. You are not alone. This new series from the Young Adult Council will share the experiences of other DBSA community members who have been there, too.
I have worked for years meeting therapists, experimenting with their approach and working styles to find one that fit what I needed for my treatment. There are so many factors at play here: are they direct or passive in their communication, does the physical space make me feel safe to share, will my therapist be able to empathize with what I’m expressing? I’m a cisgender, white, queer woman: Do they have any lived or professional experience with the LGBTQ+ community or femme identities?
I started going to therapy when I was 6 and my father was diagnosed with late stage Leukemia. The therapist put me in an enormous and very squishy chair, leaned in, and said in a soft voice, “So I hear your dad is dying of cancer. How do you feel about that?” I didn’t even know he had cancer yet, I just knew he was sick. Needless to say, she was not a good fit. My dad ended up healing and is still alive today, but that first experience with therapy left me shaken and the idea of therapists soured for most of my childhood.
Years later, we moved from Iowa to Seattle. After a traumatic experience when I was 14, I started seeing another therapist, who I believe was the best match I’ve had to date. She met me where I was in the healing process, validated and helped me work through my emotions and reactions, and then helped me develop healthy coping mechanisms and relationship skills. She was there was I started to explore my queer sexuality and gender performance, first romantic relationships, mental health conditions, and she supported me every step of the way. She’d had years of experience working with queer youth as well as youth with PTSD and other mental health conditions, and I felt like I was both safe and free to learn and grow with her.
When I was 18, I moved to the LA area for college, and parted ways with my therapist. I tried something new for the sake of killing two birds with one stone, and met with a psychiatrist in the area who would also serve as my therapist. He was not a good fit, mostly because it was very clear he did not understand where I was coming from, so he was unable to meet me where my needs were. He often belittled the anxiety and stress I expressed to him, and on our fifth session when I was talking about a fight I’d had with my girlfriend of two months, he interrupted me to say “Wait, you’re gay?” He then looked disapprovingly over his clipboard for a moment before shrugging and saying “Well you don’t look gay.” I immediately shut down both because this man was homophobic and also he clearly wasn’t listening to me; I knew he was doing more damage than good.
Still in college, I shifted gears. I started seeing one of the on-campus counselors, who became increasingly necessary as my relationship turned toxic. She was fairly fresh and didn’t have a lot of experience, and while she helped me vent my emotions for several months, she was extremely passive. She mostly listened, and I knew I wasn’t really building healthy coping mechanisms or relationship skills. My relationship worsened, and friends started to notice my behaviors and habits change; I stopped showing up to meals. They sat me down and told me they noticed that I was exhibiting anorexic behaviors. I was shocked and reacted somewhat in disbelief. The next appointment I mentioned this to my counselor and she said “Oh, yeah, that’s totally what’s been going on… I see it now! You’re so stressed! You’re so thin!” I was so frustrated that my friends had recognized before my therapist, when I had been speaking to her every week for months about everything from my toxic romantic relationship to my increasingly unhealthy relationship with food, control, and my body. I was close to graduation and had had terrible luck with counselors in the area, so I took a break from therapy in general. With their blessings, I leaned on my friends for support, and fully broke off contact from my toxic ex.
I didn’t see a therapist for two years after college. I moved to New York City and worked freelance and in bars and restaurants as needed, and felt pretty great about managing my mental health with just my support network of friends and family. However, after two years, toxic habits and unhealthy ways of coping with stress started to creep up on me. In my experience, it’s incredibly difficult to find and start a new relationship with a therapist in New York City, and the stress of dealing with it built up until I worked myself up into one of my most extreme hypomanic episodes. When my new girlfriend was out of town, I impulsively bought a flight and left immediately for Montreal for a few days. My sudden actions confused most of my friends, and concerned my girlfriend who knew to look out for potentially manic symptoms.
Luckily, I was able to return safely and without incident, and I found a therapist who had an opening for a new client shortly after. She was an older white woman, and could empathize with the stress and internalization I experienced walking to work every morning with people catcalling me or screaming “BITCH” as I passed by unengaged. She was brutally direct with her constructive criticism, but I liked being pushed. The issue was that she was a heterosexual person who didn’t understand my queerness. Whenever I’d describe part of my relationship she would flat-out encourage me to break up with my girlfriend, for no reason other than she didn’t think I was in love with her (to be clear, I very much was and still very much am). Yet, my therapist would insist that she believed I loved her, but that it was probably more like a “friend love.” I cannot name the number of times she would explain, “I have women friends that I love, but I’m not in love with them.” Each time I would say “But you’re not GAY! I am GAY.” And she’d shrug. But she was still great at helping me break down self-destructive habits, so I kept seeing her for a few months before we finally hit a wall, and I transferred to someone new on the other side of town.
The next therapist I found – my current therapist – is amazing, and she’s a great fit that is helping me grow and develop more healthy behaviors, relationship skills, and coping mechanisms. She understands and engages with LGBTQ+ communities with both individual and couples counseling, she empathizes with my experiences as a woman, and she gently but firmly interrupts toxic patterns while pushing me to become better and better versions of myself.
I have found therapy to be an integral part of my treatment, along with medication and my support network, With that said, I think it’s necessary to find a therapist who can understand where you’re coming from and someone who is able to meet you where you are. Every treatment process is a journey, and finding the right therapist is no exception. However, finding the right therapist and having that excellent match who can work with you to improve your quality of life makes the journey much more worthwhile.