Therapy for My Therapy?

Last updated: November 2013

I recently had an appointment with the psychologist I’ve been seeing for two years and let’s just say it didn’t go very well. Arriving there in a good mood, I left in tears, feeling sad and stupid and angry and misunderstood. I’m not sure, but I don’t think you’re supposed to leave your therapy appointment feeling worse off and more dejected than when you went in at the beginning of the appointment? I don’t want this post to be a therapist-bashing post by any means, but my latest experience with this doctor left me feeling frustrated and pretty unhappy. How did things go so downhill in the matter of an hour?

Backing up, I started seeing this doctor about 2.5 years ago after having a very strange, sudden bout of intense anxiety for an extended period of time (which I think was due to being over-medicated with thyroid medication by a former internist). This psychologist was referred to me by my endocrinologist and assured me that the doctor was familiar working with patients who have chronic illnesses. Okay, sure, I’ll try it out. Living with a painful chronic illness like RA certainly affects my emotional and mental state and I agreed that it would probably be good to have someone to talk to about stuff I was dealing with in life—RA and non-RA issues.

My therapist did help me regarding the weird anxiety I started seeing him for, but I feel he's been a bit hit-or-miss about other things. Most of the time I really enjoy talking to him and look forward to my appointments. But other times I end up feeling pissed-off and frustrated because I feel like he's being judgmental and just not very understanding. My last appointment was one of those pissed-off and frustrated times, that escalated into me having a sobbing breakdown and then feeling like a huge idiot when I left the office with my red, tearful face.

The appointment started out fine and normal and we talked about the same stuff we always talk about: jobs, health insurance, weight loss, work and family stress. Those are important topics but they're not the only things I want to talk about. Or, I tried to explain to him, that maybe I don't want to always talk about my "life issues" in such a practical, pragmatic way. I told him that I can get a job or jobs and I can always find a way to make money. It's the bigger, more important things in life that matter to me, that I feel like I have little or no control over: relationships; living with this scary disease; regrets; loss and grief; hopes and dreams; my fears and worries about the past, present and future; real feelings.

I tried to explain how overwhelmed I often feel and that I need to have someone to talk to about my emotional issues, and not just how to apply for jobs or lose two pounds in a week. He kind of stared at me weirdly (in confusion, in contempt?) like I wasn't making any sense or that I was being too dramatic. I asked him, "Why don't we ever talk about this stuff?" I think that's a valid question, isn't it? I didn't ask it in an aggressive or snotty manner. I just asked and wanted a genuine answer. Or to start a real conversation about it. He immediately got defensive, which I sensed by the change in his tone of voice and his body language. At one point he also got started on this mini-tangent about how when he first started practicing he was judgmental towards his patients but now he isn't anymore. What? Um, okay. So I clearly pissed him off, which just added to my feelings of frustration, rejection, and embarrassed awkwardness. I've only tried to bring up this sort of thing maybe once or twice before with him in the past and each time I've been met with a similar response.

I don't want to criticize and I don't want to fight with my therapist. I just want to be heard. Truly heard and understood. I usually like our sarcastic banter and his down-to-earth, no-nonsense approach. But being treated with a little gentleness and kindness wouldn't hurt either sometimes. So what should I do? Find a new doctor? Or am I being dramatic and oversensitive? Maybe we just have a personality clash sometimes, I don't know. But I do know that it's hard to switch doctors. And finding a therapist that you feel comfortable with is especially hard and takes a lot of work and perseverance.

So yeah, I don't know what to do. I really like my doctor but sometimes I really don't like him. I like it when our personalities get on well together and I feel like I'm chatting with a friend. But I don't like it when I feel like I'm being judged or that I'm not being taken seriously, and that my problems and disease are trivial or less important in comparison to other people's. I have experienced this more than once and I don't think I should be made to feel that way by someone who is supposed to be supportive and help me feel better.

I'm curious to hear about others' experiences with their therapists. Do you see a therapist to help you deal with your RA? Does it help? I do think that a person who has a painful chronic illness like RA can greatly benefit from counseling and therapy. RA is not a trivial matter or disease, of course, and it can affect your life in deep, long-lasting ways, and sometimes you need help dealing with that. As a patient, it's crucial to feel understood and respected by your medical caregivers, whether from your rheumatologist, therapist, physical therapist, primary care physician, or whomever else you see to help you live a healthier, happier life. Hopefully at my next appointment we can discuss some of these things without him getting defensive and without me getting angry and crying like a baby. If not, it's probably time to move on.

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