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I’m a Mental Health Therapist. And Now I'm Also a Patient.

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I’m a mental health therapist.

I work with children who have behavior and mental health concerns. I’ve completed grad school and have been working in this field for four years. I’ve been trained in different evidence-based therapies. I’m an outpatient therapist, mobile therapist, behavior specialist consultant and meetings facilitator.

I’m also a patient.

I struggle with anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and in the past had an eating disorder. It’s funny how I can deal with other people’s mental health issues all day, but when it comes to my own it’s so hard. After hitting a particularly rough patch, it took me many months to seek therapy for myself. Months more to go to my primary doctor to see about changing some of my medication. A year more to make an appointment to see a psychiatrist. This appointment was the hardest. You see, I’m the one who does the assessing. I’m the one who hears the stories and offers support and counsel. I recommend for a child be evaluated by our psychiatrist for medication.

I’m not the one who gets evaluated. Being the patient was an eye-opening experience. 

I finally called the psychiatrist to make the appointment and left a message. Days went by. Anxiety increased. Finally I got a call from the doctor to schedule. It was a bit of an awkward conversation. I answered my phone using my nickname, which threw the doctor off. I then thought he asked me if I knew my address, which I thought was odd, but I started to give it to him. He’d actually asked if I knew the address of his office. “Um no, that would be helpful.” He asked, “Any questions?” to which I wanted to respond, “Do I really have to do this?!” but asked instead how long he thought it would take. I needed to prepare myself for how long this “torture” would last. We said our goodbyes, and the dread of the appointment started in earnest. My desperate desire to feel better was the only thing that kept me from canceling.

I hear other people’s stories all day, but it’s not nearly as scary as having to share my own — to be open and vulnerable with a virtual stranger. The more my clients tell me, the better I can help them so I knew the more I told him, the better he would be able to help me, but all my defense mechanisms were screaming to minimize everything, to shrug it off, to only give the basics. The day of the appointment arrived, and I felt surprisingly calm. I wasn’t feeling well physically so maybe that took my mind off things. Well, that and the Ativan…

Once I got to the waiting room, a man came out and said, “The doctor will be with you shortly.” Before I was ready, another gentleman came out and called me back. I sat on the proverbial couch and immediately wished for some of the Silly Putty I give clients to use when they’re feeling anxious or distracted. I needed something to do with my hands. I crossed my legs, and my foot would not stop shaking. I realized what I was doing. I realized the doctor would note this, as it was something I would note if I were with a client. But I was powerless to stop it. So there I sat, fidgeting with my hands, legs shaking, trying to keep my breathing even and calm. Then the dreaded, “What brings you here today?” I resisted the urge to sarcastically reply, “Look at me! What do think brought me here today?! I’m a basket case.” I answered honestly though. I often will use humor when I’m uncomfortable and nervous. This doctor was kind and compassionate but did not laugh at my attempts at humor. He just waited until I gave a serious answer. Insert awkward silence.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised. It was refreshing to be able to talk and not be the one who was supposed to have the answers. To not have to reciprocate with, “and how are you?” like I would with friends. He asked questions, and I talked. He demonstrated he was listening by following up with relevant comments or questions. I felt heard for the first time in a long time. He understood that my job is not high paying and further reduced the sliding fee scale for me. He ended the evaluation by asking if he could pray with me. And he did while I fought back tears because I was determined not to be the stereotypical patient who cries in the psychiatrist’s office.

I know everyone has a different experience, but mine ended up being a positive one. I not only took steps forward to improve my own mental health but also got a glimpse into what my clients and their families must often feel and experience. I still would rather be the one giving the counsel, but being on the other side of the desk provided me with invaluable insight and understanding.

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Originally published: August 14, 2015
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