To the Therapist Who Told Me to 'Just Stop It'

Dear old therapist,

It’s me — the one who has struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) for her entire life and desperately wants help.

You were never very good at listening to me, but I hope you will listen now. I often felt like you treated me like a child. I left every session feeling out of control and so, so alone — because how could a professional like you not understand? The last time I saw you, I was too upset to say what I wanted to. Now I can say it, and I hope you will listen, just for a moment.

The last time I saw you, we were discussing the obsessions behind my compulsions. One of my compulsions is to tap something four times whenever I touch it — or, if anyone is around, to count to four inside my head so they don’t notice my behavior. I don’t know why I do this. I don’t think it will stop my parents from dying or me from getting sick or anything like that. It simply doesn’t feel right if I don’t do it — which, by the way, is just as valid a symptom of OCD as fearing any of those things I just mentioned.

When I told you about this compulsion and said I wasn’t sure what obsession caused it, I wish you had let me go on to tell you that it didn’t feel right if I didn’t carry it out. However, you did not ask me to elaborate. You did not pause and let me continue. You did not try to figure out what might be causing it when I told you I didn’t know. You simply looked straight at me and bluntly said, “Then just stop it.”

Now, old therapist, I’m not sure you understand what that means to someone with OCD. OCD, as you should know, is characterized by uncontrollable obsessions and compulsions. I’m unable to control them, and I am shocked that a professional such as yourself did not realize this. I am shocked that you, someone who has seen a number of others with this disorder, would think it was OK to tell me to “just stop it.” Because I can’t.

If I could control my OCD, I wouldn’t be taking an anxiety medication that clouds my mind in sleepiness and confusion. I wouldn’t be in the middle of the long, frustrating process of trying to find an SSRI medication to treat my disorder.

If I could control my OCD, I would be at home writing, drawing, or reading — things I am unable to do now because of my OCD — rather than sitting here in your office.

If I could control my OCD, I wouldn’t need your help.

The problem is, without proper treatment, I can’t control it. It has controlled me for as much of my life as I can remember. I have worried about millions of incredibly distressing things, including going to hell, my sexuality, my faith, whether or not my intrusive thoughts somehow caused a family member to get sick, getting sick myself, throwing up, friendships, social situations, the safety of my dog, the safety of people I don’t even know, whether or not anyone loves me, whether or not I’m a good enough daughter and sister, whether or not I am safe. I have had to constantly pray, to constantly check my body for signs of sickness, to ask my parents dozens of times a day if they’re angry at me, to apologize, to experience panic attacks, to wash my hands until they’re cracked and bleeding, to make sure everyone is safe, and yes, to tap or count every time I touch anything. I have listened to a youth pastor tell my class that using the label of mental illness was just a way to avoid taking responsibility for a spiritual problem. I have listened to another counselor tell me I look fine. I have listened to my own brain berate me for these uncontrollable symptoms I desperately want to go away.

I want help. I need help.

Dear therapist, I don’t know why you couldn’t understand. I don’t know why you told me to “just stop it.” I don’t know why you thought that was in any way appropriate. I am thankful for my family and their support, as your words were damaging and might have had terrible consequences if I hadn’t had anyone to turn to for the support I wanted from you.

While I am angry you said those words to me, I am also thankful, because now I know with utmost certainty that leaving you was the right decision. However, I am fearful you will say those words to someone else who may not have support within their family. I am fearful you will say those words, and that they will cause someone to feel even more alone. Because if you can’t understand, dear therapist, who will?

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