I’ve heard this idea that therapy is for everyone. That no matter how neurotypical (NT) you think you are, no matter how well things seem to be going in your life, that everyone can benefit from therapy.
(I know that this isn’t true – absolutes are for chumps.)
I’ve often wondered what therapy would be like. I didn’t have any “goals” for therapy, so would it do anything for me? Everyone has some background level of stress, but I seemed to have things mostly under control. I’ve never really wanted to set up appointments, travel, sit down in front of a therapist, try to discover if I’ll like them (and if I don’t, to have to start over again), and I didn’t want to pay big bucks to try out what seemed to be unessential extravagance. After all, a solid community of family and friends who are good listeners, therapy happy hour and therapy pedicures had gotten me this far in life.
But not too long ago I sought out therapy. I had come to realize that my neurotypical, mostly optimistic self had been dealing with a huge, specific stressor, and therapy started to feel less like an extravagance and more of a potential tool for dealing with it. I felt a little sheepish because the stressor was that I had started to deeply dislike my job. It seemed silly to me – lots of people don’t like their jobs. Surely I could find a way to cope? But it was really affecting me. I’ve always needed to enjoy my work. If I have to survive by spending the best hours of my life each week working, I need that work to be something that engages me. And it wasn’t.
Without going into specifics for why I had fallen out of love with my job, I’ll say what it was that caused me to reach out for therapy: I was coming home feeling desolate more nights than not. I lost track of how many times I cried in work bathroom stalls. It became difficult to fall asleep. I started stress cooking – not eating, just cooking. I would come home late on a work night and prepare highly complicated meals that took 1-2 hours to prepare. I find comfort in cooking, so I guess my stressed out self found refuge there.
I loved my employer but had lost my joy and confidence in my ability to perform well in my role. I didn’t want to quit, but I was making myself ill because I couldn’t seem to influence any lasting change in my situation. I spoke openly with HR and my director about my disengagement (I truly love my employer for being able to feel safe to do that) and we planned and brainstormed ideas for how to go forward. But things move slowly in large corporations and I was still dealing with anxiety, sleeplessness, and vacillating between numbness and Very Big Emotions.
I decided to try a therapy app to hash out some of the brain jerkiness. It seemed like an easy, less expensive, low commitment way to dip my toe into talk therapy. The idea of not having to travel to a brick and mortar location was very attractive. As was the idea of being able to type out my thoughts. It probably doesn’t come as a shock that a personal blogger like myself processes through writing. I also liked the idea that when I had Very Big Emotions while doing some of this processing, I wouldn’t have an audience. I wouldn’t have to be anxious that I was being performative, or that my nonverbal body language or facial expressions were being analyzed. To an extent, I could choose what I wanted to reveal. That made me feel safer than the intimacy of in-person therapy sessions.
I chose a therapist based on her write up – she appeared to value patience, self-kindness, resilience, and not having to carry our burdens alone. These seemed like very attractive things in the state of mind that I was in. She didn’t have any woo dog whistles or anything that might indicate that she was going to tie physical health to mental health (I rejected a few candidates who focused heavily of the body-mind connections. I’m fat and I don’t think yoga is going to solve all of my problems, so maybe let’s start somewhere else). Oh, and most importantly, she has experience dealing with workplace stress and has spent time in the corporate world. Ya know…the little things.
I got super lucky and like her fairly well. I started writing to her once every day or two, and she has always responded within 12-24 hours. I dumped a bolus of information about my situation on her, and one-by-one we started picking through the individual stressors. As we began to resolve those we found some patterns of behaviors and reactions that have popped up in other places in my life, and sometimes we spend some time examining those. I’m into my second month of chatting with her and it’s overall been a very helpful experience.
One immediate benefit of this therapy was that I was able to stop vomiting my emotions all over my close friends and family. That took a lot of guilt off my shoulders and now I can hang out and talk about things other than me and my troubles. My husband doesn’t have to shoulder the weight of a despondent, self-absorbed partner five days a week. He’s also not eating quite as well, but he thinks that’s a fair trade-off.
Having a therapist who I feel hears me and recognizes and validates my stress and emotions has been profoundly healing. It’s probably an appeal to authority, but when my friends say “you’re being very hard on yourself” it doesn’t have quite the same as effect on me as an unbiased professional saying “you’re being very hard on yourself.”
I’m also more focused on recognizing and sorting through my emotions in the moment. One of the benefits of the therapy app is that I can sit down in the moment and let all of the Very Big Emotions out in writing. I don’t have to save all of my thoughts up between physical sessions. Even if it’s mid-work day, I have a job where I can take a few minutes to write, feel better and then get back to work. I know that what I’ve written will be heard and responded to. I don’t feel alone with the stress.
On the whole, talk therapy via a therapy app has been really good for me – a fairly neurotypical person who decided to stop taking her mental health for granted and dedicate some time to examining and improving it.
I’d be interested to hear from people who have tried both remote therapy and face-to-face therapy. What were the pros and cons for you? Do you prefer one over the other?