The problem when therapists bring their emotions into therapy: Firing #28

I wrote in my last post about my plan for therapist #28. That I planed to ask her to do med management and that I would see someone else for therapy. Although this was my plan I went into my session with the willingness to be open to making therapy with her work if at all possible. So I didn’t mention this plan right away in my session this week.

I’ve been so desperate to avoid restarting the therapist firing cycle I went through as an undergraduate where I went through 16 therapists in 4 years. I moved here and started seeing #28. I was incredibly determined to make this work. If anyone had asked me what my main goal in therapy was I would have said that my goal was to not fire my therapist. Unfortunately I think this determination allowed me to stick around in therapy that was detrimental to my well being and stability.

My therapist firing cycle was part of a reaction to bad therapy. Bad therapy scares me so much that I have been inclined to leave at early signs of problems. With #28 I was so focused on avoiding the awful cycle of firing therapists (fire therapist -> relief -> panic -> new therapist) that I partially lost sight of the adaptive parts of this process. I didn’t see the red flags for what they were.

With #28 the problem was in 2 phases. The first phase was before school started. I wasn’t feeling any desire to talk to her about things. I didn’t feel any attachment. I was feeling like we had no therapeutic alliance. It wasn’t bad other than that it was not good. Then with school starting my stress increased and I brought more emotionally charged issues into therapy. The problem of a lack of a therapeutic relationship became dramatically highlighted. #28 made interpretation comments, but outside the context of a safe supportive relationship these comments just felt critical and unempathetic which furthered the problem of lack of alliance.

But I was determined to make this work. I tried to explain what I explained above. I tried to point out examples of these problems as they happened. The problem is that #28 ended up taking my comments personally. It wasn’t obvious right away that this was what was happening.

I was making comments about behaviors that were making me perceive her actions as unempathetic and she interpreted that as a judgement against her. Read that sentence again. Doesn’t that feel backwards?

The problem is when a therapist brings their emotions into therapy it fall outside of the pattern therapy is expected to follow. She was trying to interpret my comments about her as part of my pathology. I know myself well enough to know that it didn’t fully ring true. But at the same time I could see that she was activating things I am touchy about and see some truth in it.

A big source of my conflict with my mom is that she takes my problems and makes them into her own problem to the point where I have to put my emotions aside and deal with hers. So when #28 was telling me that ‘most of her other patients think she is very empathetic’ and I tried to explain (without success) that a comment like that is exactly what I am upset about, it makes things very messy. It plants this doubt that maybe I am blowing things out of proportion. Maybe I am imagining slights that are not there. Especially when #28 is trying to make interpretations about my interpretations about her.

I have been in enough therapy to know it’s okay to sometime leave feeling a little more upset. But that also that should not be the norm and therapy should not be making me feel worse about myself as a person. At the same time I was feeling desperate to work things out. I was feeling worse because I desperately wanted to find a way to explain what was wrong and therefore fix the problem to avoid my therapist firing cycle. The problem is that the more I desperately tried to explain, the more #28 took things I said personally.

I went into my last session with her open to trying to resolve it (but with an alternative plan in mind). #28 gave me the push I needed to be clear that the problem was not all in my head. Before telling her about any plans to leave, she in a very angry tone and raise voice started scolding me for being too negative and telling me how she felt like I was never going to forgive her for one mistake. I responded that it wasn’t about one mistake it was about how she kept responding to my attempts to discuss the mistake. I’ve never had a therapist be so openly hostile towards me before. It was scary. But it  made me realize that I wasn’t wrong for seeing hostility in the sarcastic comments she had been making in other sessions. #28 even admitted that she was experiencing countertransference. I had been seeing anger leaking out in little ways and when I tried to talk about those angry responses as being unempathetic she had been trying to place the problem onto me.

What makes a therapist bringing their emotions into therapy so damaging is that there are no witnesses. There’s no one I can ask to say, am I overreacting? That should be the therapist’s role, but when the therapist steps far enough out of the role of neutrality I can’t get a fair judgment on my emotional state. I spent the past month on edge, feeling crazier than normal. I’ve been feeling like I went back to emotionally being age 18, like years of progress were erased. And then her reaction became obvious enough that there was no way I could doubt it was happening. Before that though I had to wonder if it was me. Am I too critical? Am I not giving her a chance? Am I overreacting?

#28 refused to meet with me only for medication. She said she does not see people for med management only and that if I even just needed a stop-gap until I find someone else it would need to be on a different day of the week (A day which I spend in class and can not go to therapy). I realize now that this is for the best. But right after the session I spent an hour sobbing in a parking lot down the street from her office as I panicked about the possibility of running out of my ADHD medication.

I had to pull myself together enough for a class at school. I hid myself in a corner before hand and booked an appointment online with the therapist who was the top of my list I selected last weekend. I was able to get an appointment for the following morning.

This post is too long so I won’t go into detail about that but I will say that meeting with this new therapist (#29) made it clear to me how bad things had been with #28.

#29 did all the things he’s supposed to with forming a therapeutic alliance. Even though I know the basic strategies he was using to convey warmth, understanding and empathy they still work and they work really well.

I’m upset with myself that I left myself stay with someone like #28 when it was having such a negative impact on my well being. After all the therapy I’ve been through, it is terrifying to realize I can still miss warning signs like I did. When I talked with #29 I got to talk about some major stressors I have been experiencing in the past month. None of these things had been things I had been able to talk to #28 about because all of our sessions were spent with me trying to explain why I didn’t feel safe talking to her and her doing more things to make me feel less safe talking. With #29 I was alternating between sobbing about things I am upset about and gleeful relief over finally being able to talk about them.

I still need to solve my issue of getting a prescriber because #29 is a PsyD and therefore can not give me medications, but at least I have someone on my side now to help me navigate the situation. I’m very glad I was able to get that appointment with #29 for the day after firing #28 because the anxiety of not knowing if the situation will work out well is unbearable. I’m already feeling myself coming out of the emotional hole I’d been falling into because now I have a little bit of hope.

Fear of cycle

I don’t think I can come up with words to describe how terrifying it is to me to not feel like I have a stable therapist situation. I don’t want to go back to my cycle of firing a therapist every few months but I also don’t want to be hospitalized. When therapy is unstable, the risk of me doing something impulsive that gets me hospitalized becomes much higher.

I wrote in my last post about #28 https://psychologytales.com/2013/09/16/lay-off-with-the-psychoeducation-28/

I feel like I’m taking a million emotional steps backwards.

I did about the best job imaginable explaining to #28 where the problems are in therapy with her. But still nothing has happened to give me even a tiny glimmer of hope that it could work out. To make matters worse we have to skip a week. So I have another week of being a mess and terrified about my complete lack of any support. I can’t stand the uncertainty about if this will work out.

I am too busy to have time to be this much of an emotional mess.

I think I would feel better if I had a referral I could hand on to to know it’s a option if nothing works. I literally can not find a single psychiatrist on google in my area who is not affiliated with my training program. I don’t know if I even have any other options at all, let alone one who will be a good match.

How fear of being un-masked dominates my thoughts: Hiding mental illness

I talked in the last post about impostor syndrome. I wanted to elaborate upon this a bit by showing how my thought process goes about participating in class discussions and how my fear of having my health health status discovered dominates my decision processes. This isn’t any one class but more an example of what my experiences in classes tend to be like.

Thought: I have to participate at least once each class. Ideally more, because participation is a large part of the grade.

[Professor asks question]

Thought: I have thought I would like to contribute to this, but the knowledge I have is based on readings I have investigated in depth in attempts to understand myself. Although I can respond to this question and keep the content intellectual and not personal, I worry that someone might wonder why I know so much about a niche area like this. I have to make sure the knowledge I convey all can plausibly be expected of me given my current training level. I know that for one question response it might not mean a lot but if they put together other pieces of information with my response they might start to suspect something. I’ll skip this one.

[Other student makes a comment]

Thought: I wish I could talk about the thing I am thinking of and add to the conversation, but it is not worth the risk.

[Professor discusses a diagnosis in the class which is one I have]

Though: Keep your face neutral, keep your face neutral. If a student says something stigmatizing and offensive keep your face neutral. If someone comments about frustrations relating to difficulty treating this population, keep your face neutral. Crap. I think I may have made a slight disgust face. Did anyone see? Does the professor suspect I have a personal relation with this subject matter?

[Professor asks a question related to a definition from the reading]

Thought: Good I can answer this! It falls into knowledge I am expected to know.

[I provide answer]

[I am asked to discuss my current research interests and directions]

Thought: I am doing me-search. I am very proud of the direction I am investigating, but is it too novel? Novel is good, but what if they wonder where did I get the inspiration for these novel ideas? I don’t have patients yet so I can’t claim it was inspired from working with them. What if people realize that the reason I am able to piece this research together in a unique way it is because I am using some of my experience (combined with extensive literature reviews) as a source of inspiration. I can down play the novel parts and make it look more iterative than it is but that hurts me by hiding something I can being successful at. But I need to blend in to avoid arousing suspicions.

[I discuss research]

Thought: Did I say too much? Are they getting suspicious? I should make sure I stop talking to avoid further damage.

[Class continues]

Thought: I need to watch my body language. Stop fidgeting. They’ll realize you’re anxious.

—-

Logically I know that these worried fall under the Spotlight effect, but I consider being found out to be such a horrifically terrible event that even if it is low probability I need to do all I can to protect myself.

Growing, Imposter Syndrome, and Starting Grad school

Long time without an update. I have been feeling like it’s worth making a post about where I am at now. I don’t think I’ll resume regular posting, but I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how glad I am that I wrote a lot of this stuff out here. I’ve looked back on old posts and can see that my feelings have evolved, but I like that I can access information about where I was at that point in my life. Since in the not far off future I will begin seeing patients of my own, I want to be sure that in my integration into the field as a professional that I don’t forget the vulnerability that comes with being a patient in therapy.

This isn’t to say I am recovered from my mental health difficulties. But I can see now that there are places where I have shifted to slightly more moderate perspectives. For example I now feel the need to ad more qualifiers to my feeling that in moderation, “There is nothing wrong with self injury”. More, now I feel that for me personally the risk benefit/ratio makes it such that it is not an area I feel is worth prioritizing for my treatment. That said, I have considerably decreased the frequency I do it at. But this has been more of an incidental benefit from improvement in other emotional issues. Also, I got a cat. Getting a cat has probably done more to decrease my self-harm than any therapy. For example today on my way home I was visualizing how I would cut as soon as I got in the door. But I walked in and my cat demanded my attention. So I hugged him and now I’m writing this blog post. Maybe I’ll cut later or maybe I won’t. It is hard to say.

I also am trying to be more open to DBT as a treatment. Not for me. But I need to recognize that it does help some people. I am going to make a specific effort to receive training in administering DBT. It’s not easy. Looking at the Marsha Linehan book on my desk makes my heart race. But if I can separate the emotions I feel about being bullied by DBT therapists and pull out the useful bits from that by identifying areas to be more sensitive about, maybe the negative experiences with DBT could make me more effective at administering DBT. That said, I don’t think DBT will ever be my favorite treatment modality, but I can recognize that some people find it helpful.

I’m also making as specific effort to not avoid things due to worries that they may increase the chances of my running into the therapist who kicked me out of my undergrad school. I’m not specifically trying to find events where I might run into him (that would be stalking), but if I am invited to attend an event and am debating whether I should attend, I am making an effort to not factor running into him into my decision. For example I was invited to a wonderful talk by my advisor that was put on my a small organization the therapist-who-kicked me-out-of-school helped to found. I was terrified he would be there, but also knew that the event could be beneficial professionally so I went. He wasn’t there. I’ve no gone to quite a few events where I was terrified of running into him and attended without problem. I’ve really enjoyed going to these events and am glad that I didn’t let the worry hold me back.

Even though a lot of time has passed the fear of being somehow unmasked and losing things I have worked for is still very strong. In my research assistant job I took prior to coming to grad school, those fears started to lessen over time. I reached a point where I felt I was contributing valuable enough efforts to the team that the discovery would not dimmish my hard work. But the fear never fully went away. It’s hard when the fear is partially grounded in reality. There is a risk that if my mental health history were known it would impact me professionally. The problem for me is that my fears are out of proportion and I end up hiding even more than is needed at the expense of forming close relationships. Part of what terrified me about dating is that during a breakup the ex could use information they have learned about me to sabotage my career. It has been  roughly 6 years now where I have been unable to form new close friendships. I rely only on the superficial friendships and the people I knew from before it happened.

Some of this maps onto Imposter Syndrome which is very common in graduate students but I feel that my experience is a step beyond what is typical. For the most part in the past with work and undergrad this feeling was limited to hiding my mental health history, but since starting grad school (I’m not even a month in) I feel like it has slammed me in the face. I’m surrounded by so many smart hard working people in my classes. Everyone has such great ideas and asks such clever questions. I am feeling very intimidated. I always tend to beat myself up mentally a bit about things I say, but the current intensity in highly elevated. I worry about not talking enough but then worry about talking too much and if I said stupid things. My anxiety is not usually as social evaluation focused, but this too is unusually increased. I feel like the most awkward one there. I normally don’t care much about the risk of being socially left out but now I’m terrified that I will somehow be ostracized from my cohort if I do something stupid. And then my general distrust comes in because I can’t tell if I am being invited to things because it would be odd to leave out an invite to one member of the cohort or if I am really wanted. Even caring about if I am wanted is a bit unusual for me. I am usually so independent. Things have just started so I imagine that the intensity I am experiencing these things at won’t be sustained, but I am worried that the intense emotions I am feeling will isolate me from my classmates in a way that can’t be repaired over time.

I had to move to go to grad school. I had to leave meeting with SM (the one therapist I made a good connection with). When I resumed meeting with him 2 years ago I tried to tell myself that it might be possible for me to not need therapy after the 2 years. That was not a realistic goal. So I am now meeting with therapist #28. The area I have moved to has a lower therapist per square mile density than I have had in the past. When I also factor in how many of the therapists in the area might be people I will encounter in my academic training I simply can not afford to go back into my cycle of firing a therapist every couple of months. There are just not enough therapists around form me to do that. So I am trying very hard to stick with #28. If I leave, I need to have a very good reason and need to try to not do it impulsively. This is tough because I feel that every therapist I have left I have had a good reason to leave and that it was well thought out. I know there’s no way for me to go through 28 therapists without me contributing something to the problem, but on an individual therapist level it is very hard to see it as anything other than a problem with one particular therapist.

I have only had a couple of appointments with #28 so far. It’s so frustrating to start over and so hard to gauge if things will work. Having a therapist like SM who saw me over a period of 6 years (although with large gaps of seeing other therapists during that time when I was living too far away from him) and knows the history and associations I have with different things and how some of my views have shifted is so valuable. In talking with #28 about some of the social anxiety I am experiencing I get so frustrated needing to interrupt my flow to throw in background information. I am trying with 28, but I don’t feel connected to her. Everything feels forced and unnatural.

She made a comment that freaked me out a lot. If she knew more about me she’d have realized not to say it. Going to avoid the specifics here to avoid identifying myself too much. But the simple issue is that she made an “if ___  then ____” relating to an action she might take if a certain thing turned out to be true. This is an action which would be undesirable to me. She told me this in response to my worrying about whether this thing might be true. It has turned out that the thing I was worried about is not true, but while I was still worried about that I had a new added worry about whether I needed to lie to 28 if it did turn out to be true to avoid her doing the undesirable thing. Sorry that is so convoluted. The simple issue here though is that she created a situation in which my providing her information might hurt me and made me need to consider lying in therapy. I hate lying in therapy. This is one of the things about no-harm contacts and such that infuriate me (that’s not what this was). Rather than help me deal with the situation they create an environment where I feel I can’t be honest which defeats the point of therapy. It’s tough to have an issue like this come up so early. I feel like if I am honest and say that it upset me and stressed me out because I felt like I might need to lie to hide it that she might think I am actually lying about the thing we had talked about before. But if I don’t mention it I get to stew over it and feel like I can’t have open communication. It’s so hard to get things to where I was with SM. If SM had somehow done the same thing I’d feel comfortable telling him and not worry about repercussions of my words. But in this new environment I am worrying that my words will be used against me. This type of problem is the kind of thing that I know is capable of building up into something that causes me to leave therapy.

SM and I are doing brief monthly check in phone calls to ease the transition. I get to talk with him Monday, right before my appointment with 28 so maybe he can help me figure out how to deal with it. The therapy transition is tough. I’ve been having so many new experiences and challenges that I want to be able to talk through with someone. I try to picture in my head talking to #28 about these things and the image and interest in talking fizzles away. But if I think about talking to SM it feels comfortable. Even in my imaginary visualizations of therapy he is better.

I do want to avoid having this end on a negative note. I am incredibly happy with the program I am in. Everything so far has been confirming that I made the right choice with this school. I just need to handle the anxiety enough to get the most out of it.

Worry that is not psychosis

I have a bit of a paranoid streak to my personality. Not something that in itself can be diagnosed, but it impacts how some of my anxiety comes out.

Today I was walking home and a young man asked if I knew the area well. In a city a stranger initiating any contact can be a sign of a scam or other nefarious activity. But many a time I’ve rudely brushed off a lost tourist in error. He stood a little closer to me than was comfortable. We never broke walking pace. I didn’t stop and neither did he. I think he may have brushed briefly against my coat. I gave him directions. I slowed my pace to lose him via slow-walking.

Walking past the police station, should I go in to hide?

He went the wrong way based on my directions. Did he misunderstand or did he never really want directions? If he didn’t want directions what was his motive for talking to me? Is he looping around to follow-me?

I wasn’t pick pocketed. He didn’t rob me. I’ve long lost site of him, but keep looking back to make sure I’m not being followed. 2 blocks away from my home I step into the entryway of a building and look back and forth. There are people, it’s dark but I think none are him. Did he plant a tracking device on me? Should I not go straight home? I get home and search everything. My bag has many pockets. No tracking device. I have some coins in the pocket on the side of my coat he’d been near. What if a tracking device looks like a coin? What if it is microscopic? What if he followed me and I didn’t see? I toy with the idea of throwing out the bag, just to be safe. What if he was trying some kind of RFID theft? I don’t have anything which could be stolen with RFID readers.

——-

Another incident from over a year ago:

I was late for my bus. I ran towards it, only to realize I had run towards the wrong one and past my own bus. There are two that look similar. Embarrassed, I turned around and walked back towards the people I had just run past, the people who were boarding my actual correct bus.

This isn’t a public transportation bus. It’s a shuttle bus, because my work has multiple locations and buses people between them. The buses are primarily used by employees.  It’s a large organization so I don’t know everyone, but it’s not as anonymous as public transportation.

My heart was pounding. I had to take a seat in the very front, because I was the last on before the bus left. I usually sit more towards the back.

I put on my headphones to listen to my ipod so I could calm myself down. It’s a half hour to one hour bus ride depending upon traffic.

These buses are always eerily quiet. They don’t play music, no one talks. There’s not much engine noise.

My earbud headphones were loud, but not so loud that people could hear them. I had a gap between songs. Everything felt very quiet.

The contrast freaked me out. I wondered, “What if I was thinking too loudly? Could they hear me thinking?”

There are some reasons why this isn’t such an absurd thought. I have a tic-like problem with talking to myself (I have a post in more detail about this) The line between my brain and my mouth gets blurry and I don’t have 100% control. So the idea that my thoughts could come out in a way isn’t that strange. But usually I realize what’s up with the fist syllable out and can take some control. I don’t think it happened without my awareness that it happens at all.

But obviously no one is able to really hear my thoughts.

It started evolving.

No. No one is listening.

But what if?

Maybe it’s not the whole bus, maybe it’s just one person

No no no, no one is listening to your thoughts

I thought really hard to myself Hey you listening! Stop it!

Just in case.

There was a postsecret about this. I was glad to see someone else could identify with this.

The thoughts got more detailed

Yes the whole bus wasn’t listening. It was just this one person, a guy. He was sitting behind me. I couldn’t look back. But he was there listening. I didn’t even know if a guy was back there at all.

Well maybe. Probably not. But I persisted in my demands that he leave my brain. Just in case.

And then I got off the bus and continued my day like nothing had happened. No more thought listening fears.

But now whenever I get on that bus. I have to sit in the back, because sitting in the front freaks me out.

There’s a nagging worry that people might maybe be able to hear my thoughts. But only on this bus and only if they sit behind me. And I’m not sure, it’s just a precaution I’m taking. Just in case.

I felt like I was finally losing it. Going up to the next level of crazy. But no it didn’t count, right? Because I knew it wasn’t real. I was just worrying. Just in case.

—-

I think now that this is less of a psychotic symptom and more a sign of extreme anxiety.

I know my brain is out of control, I struggle to turn it off. But I know it is not real. There is no tracking device and no one is reading my thoughts. The ‘What if’ possibility taunts me. My worry gives too much weight to improbable situations.

An adventure to Second-Closest-City and Therapist #26

Last week S.M. contacted me with a name of a potential therapist. The one we’d spoken about before for the consultation wasn’t available. I googled this person and was very uncomfortable about meeting with her because she’s a member of a small organization that a large number of people I work with are also part of. The connection to my work was way too close.
I articulated this to S.M. and he was insistent that I needed compromise somewhere with my confidentiality concerns. He wants me to meet with someone even if I am worried about their association with my work and then work through those concerns in the therapy. There’s just no way I could feel comfortable enough to even begin therapy with someone so closely associated.

I believe I made the right decision here and feel further reinforced with this by the fact that at my work this week, the organization that that therapist is a part of came up in a meeting. We are inviting this group to an event in the near future. The organization already contains 1 past therapist from several years ago before I began this job. Had I agreed to meet with this new therapist I might have been dodging 2 past therapists at the same event. Hopefully that one therapist won’t attend this event.

S.M. told me that he’d run out of resources and that he would call this therapist if I wanted to meet with her, but otherwise I needed to find a therapist on my own.
I feel horrible. I feel guilty for bothering him so many times about referrals. He’s really gone above and beyond with finding me therapists in the past so it’s not fair to feel angry at him. But I am a bit angry. I was holding myself together with the hope that he’d find me a therapist and it fell apart.
Part of me wanted to call him apologizing for bothering him so much, but I didn’t because I realized the apology would be a little passive aggressive.

I found one last local place to try to call. They didn’t have availability until January. I can’t wait that long. I had a panic attack while on the phone. I was such a mess, that the secretary put me on hold, saying that she’d try to find someone I could talk to right then on the phone. At some point the call was dropped. I tried calling back, but they had closed for the day.

Per the suggestion of some folks here, I decided to expand my search radius. I discovered that Second-Closest-City is easier to get to than I’d realized. It’s actually easier and faster to get to this further away city than to a lot of the suburbs surrounding my city. This city is far enough away that people are not all affiliated with where I work.

I made a lot of phone calls. Nothing was working. I can’t count how many panic attacks I had. I skipped out on a lot of obligations, because I was too upset to leave my apartment.

I was working on my next suicide method and kept calling my Dad crying. He took over the search for me. I hate having my Dad do these things for me. He’s very busy and I am really trying to pretend to be an adult. But I was falling apart trying to manage it myself.

My Dad found someone for me to meet with who was able to see me a few days from then.

On the day of the appointment I traveled to Second-Closest-City. I’ve traveled through Second-Closest-City many times, but I can only think of one time when I was maybe 12 that I actually visited it.
I was very prepared for my trip. I put together a whole packet of maps and train schedules. I decided I would walk, but spent 20 minutes getting lost and progressively more anxious. It’s scary coming to a new City and not even knowing where the main streets are. I asked a stranger if she knew where I could get a cab and she gave me the number of a cab company.
I waited for 10 minutes, no cab arrived. The time of my appointment was rapidly approaching, and I was worried about waiting for a cab that might not ever show up. I backtracked to a more populated part I’d walked through earlier and found a cab.

I really don’t like taking cabs. It goes against the whole don’t get in a car with strangers idea. I know a number of people who’ve been held up by cab drivers and some who cab drivers attempted to rape. I’m a very tiny person, I wouldn’t be able to do much to protect myself.
Also in a strange city sometimes it can be hard to distinguish legitimate cabs from illegitimate ones. This one was particularly shady, but I was desperate. It had a meter which added some legitimacy to it, but it was very run down and the driver gave me the creeps.
I safely made it to the building where the therapist is located. I had traveled 2 hours from the door of my apartment to the door of his office to discover that he has a buzzer at his door.

He directed me to a waiting room, which wasn’t really a waiting room. It’s clearly a room he usually uses for group therapy sessions. The chairs were all arranged in a circle. At first I thought he was going to conduct the individual session in there! There would have been a lot of empty chairs available for the empty chair technique.
The actual office was more typical, although it was meticulously organized. My first impression of him is that he dresses more like a lawyer than a therapist.

He commented on my outfit and asked if I was still dressed for Halloween. I let him know I dress like this year round. A tactless early comment, but I let it slide.

The first session went well enough that I returned again for a second appointment.

The second appointment went less well. My trip to Second-Closest-City was nice. I conveniently was able to take the same train as a friend who commutes daily to Second-Closest-City. This friend is someone who doesn’t know any specifics about my crazy, but I am comfortable enough with that I shared my reason for going to Second-Closest-City with him. I have a lot of trouble justifying social interaction in my schedule. If nothing else this trip can force me to communicate with another human for a bit.
My friend and I shared a cab, because the weather was bad and he was traveling in the same direction.

I arrived at the office with 3 minutes to spare. A big change from my usual 20 minutes early, where I avoid going into the office until at least 10 minutes of.

He was dressed less like a lawyer this time, but I have a serious comment for you folks: Do not wear brown shoes with a black suit. Fashion disasters make me sad.

I brought my collection of neuropsychological testing to the appointment. The therapist had seemed a little uncomfortable about writing my Ritalin prescription and asked if it could wait until this 2nd session. I figured I should bring the testing so he’d know I wasn’t inventing the ADHD diagnosis myself. I’m really worried that my decision to go so far away might be misinterpreted as something drug seeking.
I’ve given many of my therapists copies of my testing. Some are more interested in others. Based on his questioning from the first appointment, (He asked a lot of neurological and general medical history type questions) I thought he’d want to see them.
I don’t have a good way to make copies. I could theoretically do it at school or work, but I don’t feel comfortable copying my personal private information there. So I brought the originals and asked if he was able to make copies.

He said he could make copies there and proceeded to do so. For the next 15 minutes. The copier was misbehaving. He unstapled and restapled all my reports. Papers were put everywhere. I have to check through all my reports now to make sure no pages or entire reports are missing.

It felt very disrespectful of my time. Yes the therapy session is only scheduled for 50 minutes, but I have to carve out 5 hours in my day when including travel time. If I’m waking up at 5:30 in the morning to begin my day so I can fit this in, then I’d like to get the full 50 minutes.

I get that he might want to avoid having tasks for patients outside of the billable hour, but despite his similarities in fashion choices to a lawyer, therapists billable hours don’t usually work the same way. Their fee should partially factor in doing some tasks outside of the session. This is why the hours are 50 minutes rather than 60. Every other therapist who I’ve given reports to has made copies and given the originals back to me the next session, rather that using session time.
It’s possible that he just didn’t realize how much trouble he’d have with the printer, so it took longer than expected. But I found a similar trend in the 5+ minutes spent discussing billing. He mentioned that I’d not brought a check the first session. I hadn’t realized he wanted me to. I thought he was going to bill my Dad. I asked if he could just send my Dad the bill. He wasn’t very into this idea. he really wanted to sort it out right there.
It turns out he takes credit card. I paid with my American express card. American express has a reputation for charging a lot in fees to vendors. I hope he got charged a lot in fees for being too lazy to send my Dad a bill. I get that maybe a lot of patients don’t pay bills promptly, but my Dad is very reliable about these things. I’m not sure if my credit limit can handle getting too many of these charges. I usually just use it to buy food.

It makes me really anxious to see the sticker price of sessions. When I submit it to my insurance company for reimbursement the cost will go down to 15-20 dollars per session, but to see $500 for the two sessions on my receipt makes my heart rate speed up.

This left less than 30 minutes of therapy time.
We had a very uncomfortable interaction where he asked me if I wanted him to help me. He wanted me to say “I want you to help me” rather than me just answering his question with a “Yes”. I didn’t cooperate.
This and a couple of things made him feel more like a bad “self help guru” than a psychiatrist. He listed the 5 things he felt were important in a psychotherapy session and the 3 types of communication he believes exist. It felt trite and cheap and tacky.

The session was very directed towards talking about my childhood. I certainly do believe that my childhood had a role in the types of problems I have today, but he doesn’t even know yet what most of my problems today are. It’s too easy for this type of therapy to turn into time where I just say horrible things about my parents. And my parents (especially my Mom) definitely messed up in some places, but they were well intentioned. I did not appreciate his efforts to make me express anger about my Dad for a situation where my Dad really had no good options. He’s paying the bill! and basically is a good guy aside from his inability to be emotionally supportive.
I mentioned that I am not going home on Thanksgiving and the therapist reacted much too enthusiastically about this. He hardly knows my situation and reacted as if I was cutting ties from an abusive family situation. My family is dysfunctional in many ways, but not abusive. My reasons for staying here are more academic than emotional.

I much prefer information about growing up to come out organically in relation to information I share about the present. I am suffering here in the present. Yes the past influences that, but the present matters too. Dwelling on every detail of my childhood is not conducive to changing how to feel today. Really, it just makes me more miserable.
Is it unfair for me to seek out a psychodynamic therapist and criticize him for wanting to talk about my childhood too much? I don’t think so. I think a therapy can be dynamically informed while having a present focus.

I mentioned how I’m not fond of the pure free association type of therapy and I prefer when it’s more interactive. He said that he agreed and said that he’d once been in therapy with a classical Freudian-type and had hated that style. I am kind of uncomfortable with that self-disclosure, even though I realize it’s very typical for analytically oriented therapists to have had their own therapy at some point. It felt like over sharing.

When working on the billing, he asked what ICD code I wanted. I’ve been asked in the past what diagnosis others have used for the bill, because they want to be sure I get reimbursed, but never flat out asked which code I wanted. I opted for Major depression, recurrent, moderate, because I’ve had that used a lot in the past.

I’ve been trying to do work on the train, so I don’t feel the time is wasted, but unfortunately I’ve been so tired, that I’ve not been very productive. Maybe as it becomes more routine it will be easier.

I’ve been having a lot of reactions to the idea of going to Second-Closest-City for therapy. When I was calling places looking for a therapist, they’d ask where I coming from and I’d tell them and as soon as they wondered why I’d come so far, I’d start crying. I’d hardly be able to speak.
I feels like it’s some kind of punishment for being so crazy. I’m so messed up I can’t even find a therapist in a city filled with therapists. 3 of my former therapists are within a 5 block radius of my home.
I’m mostly keeping these trips private, people would think it’d strange for me to go to this Second-Closest-City for a couple of hours only. I feel like I’m going on these secret adventures that I can’t tell anyone about.

Some of my professors commute from Second-Closest-City to my city. I have a slight fear that because I am taking such an early train that I might run into them at the train station in Second-Closest-City. I’m not sure how I would explain seeing them there, then seeing them in class later that day. It’s close enough for a commute, but far enough that people don’t usually just stop in for the morning.

There are some upsides though. If I were to be hospitalized, I’d be hospitalized there and my confidentiality would be safer than it could be in any hospitals around here.
I also feel like in this other city, I am suddenly free from a lot of my worries about privacy. I’m in this city where hardly anyone knows me. It’s liberating.

I have some serious doubts that #26 is going to work out. I’ll give it one more appointment to see if things improve, but otherwise I’ll move on. If nothing else I’ve learned that Second-Closest-City is a viable option for finding therapy.

Imagining Self-Injury and Therapy

I think about self-injury a lot. Most days I don’t self-injure, but most days I think about self-injuring.

In the earlier days of my self-injury the thought would pop into my head and in most cases I would do it as soon as I could following the idea.

I didn’t care about getting blood on my clothes and often wore dark pants that would hide the blood stains.

I wanted to self-injure and then it was off to the nearest bathroom. That’s an exaggeration. I still thought of self-injury more than I acted on it, but I acted on it much more quickly when I did. Certainly external events would sometimes prevent me from doing it, but I’d often find ways, even if it meant secretly scratching myself with a safety-pin under my clothing.

That was high school. Things shifted in college.

It’s obviously more comfortable to self-injure in my bathroom than in a public one. In high school waiting until I got home meant waiting until the end of the day. In college, waiting until I got home often meant waiting however long it would take me travel there. Sometimes that means waiting until a class is over, but rarely the long waits I would have in high school.

I began opting to wait a bit to have the better self-injury experience at home rather than the scared “I hope I don’t get caught” one in a public bathroom. I don’t always do this. I still punch trees, sign posts and walls while walking places, but those days are more extreme than most.

This waiting has stretched out more and more. When before it was waiting 3 hours for a class to end, now I’ll wait the whole work day. Almost all of my self-injury now occurs at night. Self-injury at night is routine, but in the day time is a sign of trouble.

The freedom is crucial. It’s not that anyone is telling me I can’t self-injure then. I can do it if I want to, but often opt to instead wait for the preferred environment.

I picture the self-injury in my head. Imagining the cuts on my body. Sometimes I move a finger briskly across the location I will cut. I think of watching the blood drip down my leg.

And these images in my head are soothing. I plan, “I’ll self-injure when I get home”. Knowing that option and plan is there helps.

I fully intend in the moment to self-injure when I arrive home. But often by the time I arrive at home, my mind is on to other things. Sometimes I self-injure and others I don’t. The intention is the same when the initial thought arrives, but the intervening experiences vary, leading to different outcomes.

I want to be sure to differentiate what I am talking about from therapy techniques where a therapist authoritatively tells a client that they should stop self injuring by trying to wait X amount of time and then revisit the idea.
This is a process that has evolved on its own rather than being artificially forced upon me.

I am not waiting as a means of ultimately avoiding self-injury. As I have said, I don’t think self-injury in moderation is objectionable.
But do I prefer to bleed through a pair of pajama bottoms rather than a nice pair of pants? Yes.
Do I like looking down at my leg throughout the day to be sure blood isn’t visible to people? Not really.

In the moment, I believe with a high degree of certainty that I will self-injure when I arrive at home.
It just turns out that I am not very good at predicting this.

I recently had an occasion where I was concerned I might need to change clothing in front of another person. I wasn’t sure and it turned out not to be the case, but I was very worried about it at the time.
If no fresh cuts are visible I can angle my body so that scars might not be seen.
I had to avoid self-injuring for a few days after I learned of this event. I go weeks without self-injuring fairly regularly. I thought a few days would be nothing.

Once I told myself I couldn’t self-injure my stress skyrocketed. I couldn’t visualize the self-injury. It only worked when I believed in the moment that I would do it for real when I was home. The images were nothing without the hope of reality.

I’d not been fully aware how often the thoughts were in my head. As soon as you try not to do something it becomes so much worse.

The thoughts themselves are soothing. I need the possibility to be open.
I can’t force any of this. It only works if the thoughts are spontaneous.

I was able to avoid self-injuring, but it was not an enjoyable few days.

I’ve found a similar phenomenon occurs with my therapy.
When I am in therapy I have frequent conversations in my head with my therapist. All the conversations are ones I imagine I could have with the therapist. Often they are difficult topics I’m struggling to bring up and I replay the scene over and over looking for the right way to present information.
My actual therapy sessions only vaguely resemble their imagined versions. Some topics from my visualizations do get brought up in my real therapy, but most do not.
The pretend therapy in my head is a useful tool for sorting out thoughts and often by the time I get to therapy I don’t need to talk about that issue any longer.

When I am not in therapy this process doesn’t work. I have to be able to think the conversation could take place. Without it my brain becomes a cluttered mess.

When in therapy that doesn’t seem to help much in session, the pretend therapist in my head that I gain access to can be more valuable than the session itself.

Without therapy I sometimes shift to imagined blogging, which is not as good as imagined therapy, but serves a similar function.