Shrink Cocktail: My starter experience of counseling

My first blog! AHH!

Deep breaths. Right.

What I want to give is a quick individual early view of therapy and talk about my visit to the counseling service at my University; my first ever experience with therapy. The hope is that hearing what it was like for me would be a help to you if you are considering counseling and want to actually go for it.

In life, generally, we can get ourselves in a pickle and need someone to talk to. Our friends and families love us, they can have great advice, but sometimes it doesn't match up with what we need or want and we don't want to offload on them or ask them for some new advice and tell them some of their well-meaning words didn't work and "so... can we try something else?". Which is how I have felt a lot of the time.

There has been a long time where counseling has been available and would have been a good idea to try... yet I didn't go. Now that I've gone, it hasn't been because things have escalated in any way or because I've reached some sort of breaking point. It's more just incidental luck that my brain has clicked in such a way that it just felt easier to go.

I know for many people therapy is scary because they say it indicates that their problems are extreme and therefore intimidating... but therapy isn't a symptom of how bad problems may be, it's just a helpful neutral tool. Plenty of people see a therapist just for a check up, talk through on-going issues and they continue to be just as happy or as sane as (if not happier/saner) their friends or colleagues.

I get that this is easier to understand than to believe. I understood it for quite a while but still I didn't feel ok going.

I was also skeptical that I knew therapists didn't always have ideas that I agreed with... though when I experienced the first session, I realised that just like with everyone else, I can reject this person's ideas... these people are trained specifically to meet problems like mine, I didn't know them, they were sworn to confidentiality, so I could just experiment, slowly see how much of my thoughts I could share, and see if this could be something that helped me.

I had been up very late the night before feeling terrible and had overslept vastly, I had felt very depressed, but in the morning was feeling better. My university has free drop-in sessions at 1pm ever day, so even though I knew I was already feeling better, I thought to myself that I must do something because of long term difficulties, and resolved to simply walk in there.

When I feel really down, I can barely drag myself off a chair I'm sat on, let alone out the door to seek help. I seemed to be waiting to be uncontrollable and for my emotions to just explode so visibly that I'd be forced by someone to get help, that never happened, thankfully. OR I'd be feeling better in which case I'd just not view my down time as important or would be too distracted to view it as a priority.

At this point however I was sort of between the two feelings, I was on the way up from a bad feeling but wanting therapy can happen whenever. I walked up a hill, walked into campus, buzzed the front door of the counseling building and went in.

I stuttered a question of whether I'd got the time right, and was told "yes" and was pointed to a waiting room, and was desperately taking mental note of everything in the room, feeling entirely out of place. I felt like I'd sneaked in somewhere undercover. I wasn't, as I've said, I don't need a big tragedy for counseling, I don't need to have got myself into a crisis, to legitimise it. I can walk in there just because I want to talk. Though the actual truth may still be that there ARE bigger underlying problems.

A smiling middle aged woman poked her head round the door and said my name I smiled and fumbled nervously over my coat and bag. For some reason I couldn't seem to pick them both up at the same time. This is ok, it's ok to be nervous. I walked up stairs with her, and because of confidentiality she didn't say much on the journey. I realised this and followed quietly behind her. When we went into the room there was a sigh of relief for finally being able to break the constraint.

We sat opposite each other and I realised that when a therapist is a real person, and not just an idea, they can't be as intimidating. We chatted about who I was, where I'd come from, how I was finding bits of my life, how different family and non-family relationships had affected who I was and discussed problems I may currently be having. It was just a conversation. She explained her role and reassured me about how safe it was to talk to her.

Most of initial topics were things I'd tell most people if they asked. As I started to feel a lot more comfortable and had realised that, “yeah I do get on with this person”, I realised it'd be ok to open up a bit more. There was a moment where I phrased something wrongly and it sounded like I didn't want to discuss the subject and my therapist instantly smiled and said that was absolutely fine and moved onto something else. It was a misunderstanding but I really appreciated that there was no negotiation required or prodding happening, there was just respect instead.

We set a date for my first 50 minute appointment and I left feeling as though I'd started something which could be a great help to me. It wasn't an instant cure, it was just a beginning.

I've had a few sessions now and it does feel very experimental, at times challenging, at times even fun, most of all it was a part of my day just like everything else. As routine and as recognisable as brushing my teeth or talking to people during the day... even if very emotionally gripping.

I tried never to knock myself for neglecting to go before... sometimes it is just difficult to make it happen. But my ideas of what it'd be remained very hypothetical, associated with negative thoughts it's unsurprising that I became scared of counseling. But as soon as my session began I knew it wasn't something to fear but could be a positive part of my life.