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To the Therapists Who Help Save Our Lives

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It is so common to have bad experiences with therapists, and I’ve had my fair share.

But we hardly ever hear about the therapists and mental health professionals who do a good job, who make a difference.

So this post is dedicated to those of you who have made my life, and the lives of countless others, better.

When I was in high school I was severely mentally ill and eventually ended up in specialized outpatient care. I was scared and confused and felt intimidated by all the people asking me questions. I had a mental health nurse who was overseeing my care, and that first day when I was signing paperwork she looked at me and said:

“We will hold your hope until you can hold it yourself.”

She also told me I had an illness, that what I was experiencing was valid, and I deserved help. She truly taught me that mental illness is just as important to treat as physical illness and gave me validation of my struggles in a way nobody had ever done before.

This same mental health nurse arranged for me to work with a psychologist she had specifically chosen for me – they weren’t on the same team in the department so shouldn’t have shared clients, but she thought she would be perfect for my particular needs. She was right. This psychologist was supportive, kind, open and professional and worked with me to learn appropriate techniques to deal with my illness. She also incorporated my mother into my therapy in ways that supported my family without breaking confidentiality and trust. When I turned 18 and was due to leave the service, she fought for me to stay longer as I had built up trust with my care providers, and I was able to stay a few more months thanks to her having my back. When I left, I felt a renewed sense of trust in mental health professionals and felt more confident I could ask for help again if I needed it.

In reality it is never that simple – when I slipped back into my mental illness it took me a while to reach out for support again, but it was far sooner than the years and years it had taken me before. I went into therapy feeling like it could help me and having a more positive attitude towards treatment because of my previous good experience.

After being referred by a short-term counsellor, I began to see my current therapist – a clinical psychologist.  She is willing to work on my illness in ways I am comfortable with, and she never pushes for me to follow avenues of treatment I have used in the past that have not worked or I dislike. I have been in and out of therapy for years – and often the same coping strategies and ideas come up, and my therapist is willing to look outside the box so I can learn new skills that are beneficial to me. She has even started giving me academic journals to read about my illness, as she knows I am able to understand more advanced texts than self-help websites due to my experience of reading academic material at university. She is compassionate and welcoming, while still maintaining her professional boundaries and attitude. I feel like I am working with her to get better, rather than being told what to do.

Even my general doctor is supportive and doesn’t treat my illness as insignificant or act like I am dramatic or exaggerating. She even helped me switch to a different medication when I suggested I try something new and was pleased I wanted to find medication that better suited my needs.

I have just turned 20 now, and I know my illness has been a long and difficult struggle for me, but I wouldn’t have come as far as I have today without the support of the good mental health workers I have had. I am starting my final year at university, volunteer often, and for the first time in my life have been working during the summer break – it’s only a paper-round but this is significant for me as I have never been able to work before.

I still have a long way to go and am not planning on stopping treatment or medication any time in the foreseeable future, but the professionals who have helped me along this journey have been invaluable to my successes and development.

So to anyone considering therapy or getting some help I would 100% recommend it. It can make such a difference. Maybe you’ll come across some bad therapists, but keep trying to find one that you like because one day you may find a good fit and your life may never be the same.

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Thinkstock photo by agcuesta

Originally published: March 10, 2017
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