I finally started seeing a new psychologist after years of feeling conflicted about “firing” my old one. I’ve technically seen him three times now, but the first appointment was many months ago, so I feel like these two recent appointments are basically like starting over with him. Things are going well so far, and I think I like him. No, I do like him. But will he be an effective therapist and able to meet my mental, emotional, intellectual, practical and not-so-practical needs? I really hope so. I feel like my life is an out-of-control mess right now and I need someone I can talk to who actually “gets it.” All of it.
I’ve written before about my growing frustration with my first therapist, whom I’ve gone to for the last seven years here: “Therapy for My Therapy?“. While I’ve been continually growing more and more dissatisfied in this relationship and feeling like I’m not completely getting my needs met, it’s still quite difficult to snip the “apron strings” that I’ve become tightly tied to over the years. The situation isn’t cut and dry or black and white; it’s a complex relationship that’s planted roots seven years deep, full of good/bad/happy/sad/comfort/discomfort/frustration/relief–and the list could go on. Normal relationships are often complicated and full of contradictions, and I would argue that a relationship a patient develops with his or her therapist can be just as emotional and involved, if not more so. So, probably needless to say, it’s difficult to let go, even when I know that I should.
In 2011 I began seeing this therapist for an isolated anxiety situation that I believe was brought on by an adverse reaction to thyroid medication. My endocrinologist at the time recommended that I see one of the psychologists who practices in the same health care system and who sees patients who are struggling with chronic illnesses. At the time, my anxiety was debilitating and I really needed help and support and someone to talk me through it. I also agreed with the endocrinologist that it would probably be a good idea to start seeing a therapist anyway, to help deal with the daily pain of living with RA–and everything that goes along with it. RA alone is hard enough, never mind piling on additional health and life problems.
Looking back, my old therapist did help me quite a bit to get through the thyroid-induced period of intense anxiety, and he has helped me with other things in my life, such as losing weight, job and career challenges, and more bouts of medication-induced anxiety and side effects. I’ve also become comfortable just sitting opposite him in his office, with my feet propped up in the recliner, sipping a styrofoam cup of lukewarm waiting room coffee. I usually looked forward to these meetings and a chance to talk to someone who wasn’t entwined too closely in my life, such as family members or particular friends.
Some of my favorite experiences and memories of my meetings with him are the times we just mainly joked around and chit-chatted. These chat sessions often felt like I was hanging out with a good friend, which is a great feeling, and especially when I find it difficult to really know and let myself be known by other people. However, jokes are not going to help me much when I don’t feel like laughing, but want to delve into something deeper and more serious. Fear, trauma, grief, loss, anger, hopelessness, love, relationships, dreams, hope….You know, EMOTIONS. Isn’t that what therapy is supposed to be about? I need to be able to talk about more than how to fix up my resume.
While I felt comfortable and happy exchanging witty banter back and forth with my therapist, the times that I would try to steer the conversation into heavier, less practical topics left me frustrated and sometimes even hurt and angry. The first time this happened, which I don’t remember exactly when it was, a giant red flag flapped in my face. I pushed it away, though, and continued to ignore those warnings for years. Going through the emotional (and even physical) labor of finding someone new and starting all over again was such a daunting and depressing thought. I didn’t have the energy for it. Plus, I liked my therapist, even though I also despised him sometimes.
Long story short(ened), the last few years I have been hemming and hawing and dragging my feet about cutting those comfortable apron strings and finding a new therapist. Well, until now. My integrative doctor (at my primary care clinic) is actually the person who recommended that I try seeing this new person several months ago, which I did once. At one of my recent appointments with her I complained to her again about how I feel like I can’t totally open up to my therapist and talk about the things I want to talk about.
“I know, I know. I need to find someone new,” I told her.
She kindly and wisely agreed (I have grown to trust and respect her 100%, by the way) and suggested I see the “new guy” in the clinic again. Knowing him herself, she felt that he would probably be a better fit for me. This time I decided to really give him a chance and see how it goes. So far, I’m feeling pretty good and positive and hopeful about it, which is a relief. But I’m also still feeling a bit guilty or maybe a sense of loss about kicking my old therapist to the curb.
Despite my conflicted feelings about letting go of the old therapist and getting to know someone new, I do realize that following my instincts is what’s important. My health and my life do not have time to wait or waste. Hopefully, my old therapist-friend will be understanding of this and my need to move on right now. I still like him and care about him and appreciate the patient-doctor relationship we’ve had these seven years, of course. We’ve just maybe outgrown each other, and that’s perfectly OK.