In my experience, people in psychotherapy tell other people to go to psychotherapy. This is no doubt good news for those who make their living through psychotherapy, i.e. psychotherapists. When I was in psychotherapy I told whomever I was dating about how fabulous my psychotherapist was, and when they admitted to various long-standing hurts, suggested that they see her. Let's call her Lucy.
I was working in an office at the time, which is a good thing because, poppets, psychotherapy can cost a fair chunk of change. Lucy was a not just a psychotherapist, though, but a Catholic with a diploma in pastoral counselling, and she charged on a sliding scale. This was very handy for little me during a bout of unemployment.
Nothing in my background, incidentally, was pro-therapy. Psychotherapy was seen as something narcissist and foreign: the province of cranks and New Yorkers like Woody Allen, and Woody Allen was not exactly a role model. Mental illness itself was something alarming and almost unmentionable, despite or because one of my great-aunts was certified. When I am old, I shall wear purple and be terrifically eccentric and B.A. will apologize to the neighbours and mention this great-aunt.
Anyway, I rather took a shine to the idea of therapy as one of those 20th century things my neo-Edwardian parents didn't like, and after a series of really awful nightmares following my flight from my first marriage, I called up Lucy. Lucy advertised in the back of my church, which is why I called her up. I knew, from reading Freud and Freudians, that a lot of psychotherapists hate Catholicism and blame it for Catholics' problems. And thus a Catholic or Catholic-positive shrink was my first priority.
Yes, the money thing bothered the heck out of me. However, my first stop had been to group therapy at Catholic Family Services and, poppets, I got what I paid for. I had carefully examined their schedule, and thought I was going to a meeting on Verbal Abuse. However, when I showed up, I found a roomful of chipper elderly ladies, a tear-stained, shell-shocked woman about my own age (27) and two commanding, mannish women who proceeded to lecture us on Lesbians Who Batter.
Lesbians are under a lot of pressure because of the censure of society, which is why they batter, we were told, and all of us were cajoled into volunteering hateful epithets that Lesbians suffered. This was a bit of a poser for the elderly Catholic soi-disant survivors of domestic abuse around the table as they were nice Catholic ladies who didn't know any.
The meeting was simply ridiculous, almost a battle between the leaders who wanted to talk about the sufferings of Lesbians Who Batter and the elderly ladies who wanted to complain about their husbands past and present. The shell-shocked girl my age looked utterly stunned, and I felt utterly mad.
So that was my last group therapy session, and when my nightmares got too much for me, I called up Lucy. And so began almost five years of weekly visits to a battered sitting-room in an old house on a tree-lined street in the rundown city in which I lived.
Not to put a fine point on it, Lucy was a lefty, super-liberal Catholic, and although she kept that firmly in the background, it influenced the therapy all the same. However, going to Lucy was one of the wisest thing I did in that period, and one of the things I learned was that one of the kindest things you can do for yourself and your loved ones is to pay someone to listen to you gripe and cry instead of griping and crying at them. Or seething with homicidal rage.
Lucy said a lot of very helpful things that became a soundtrack in my brain, replacing the former, very unhelpful soundtrack in my brain. Out of her sitting-room, I could almost hear her speaking in my head and although this has faded over the years, I still write out the best, most helpful of her aphorisms, like "Feelings are not facts."
If you are as easily influenced as I am--yet another reason why I am grateful that B.A. is such a cheerful, laid-back man--you have to be very careful about your mentors. For that reason, I wish Lucy had been a better, more orthodox and orthoprax Catholic. However, I am very grateful for those four years of weeping, shouting, complaining and absorbing aphorisms because they purged the anger eating my soul. I had to give up boxing because anger, more than calories, which at the time I rather underconsumed, was what fed my love for boxing. (I suspect I quite literally could have killed somebody when first I went to see Lucy.)*
I mention all this stuff, so supremely about me, because of comments in the combox against therapy and how impractical it is to suggest single people go to therapy when it is so expensive. I think an American made that comment, which surprises me because there are few cultures like the American one so keen on pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and shouting "Get a job."
I had a job and I made therapy an economic priory, just after rent and right before food. I thought it absolutely necessary to my mental health, and I think I was right. I don't remember those days as deprived although my job was certainly boring and, pension be damned, I felt sorry for those whose mortgages trapped them in it forever.
Yes, there were dribs and drabs of free therapy floating around--and every university has a counselling department--but in Ontario, I found, you got what you paid for. Free therapy meant not being able to choose your counsellor, and to me that is anaethema. To me the biggest bar to getting professional psychiatric help is not money but the attitude that it is shameful to get professional psychiatric help.
I do not think it is shameful to get professional psychiatric help. And I do not think it is shameful to take medication, if one's mental health has deteriorated to that degree. I do not think it is shameful to be mentally ill. I think it is shameful to tell people that it is.
To me it makes as much sense to go to a psychotherapist after a rocky marriage as it does to go to a physical therapist after a painful car accident. And swallowing a mood stabilizer is just as moral, and sometimes as necessary, as a shot of insulin. A depressive has to be just as responsible for her mental health as a diabetic has to be for her physical health, and the two are linked, really. We are ensouled bodies, after all, and the marriage between flesh and spirit is nowhere more obvious than in the human mind.
*I should mention, too, a very good priest, also a lefty, super-liberal, to whom I marched on the one occasion I left the house to beat someone up. I walked half a block one way and then St. Michael or some other angel stood invisibly in my path, turned me around, and marched me in the opposite direction to the rectory.
"I'll bake you a cake with a file in it," shouted the priest when I told him this story. And given how madly traditional I am, lace mantilla on head, missal in hand, it is hilarious to think how much I owe to certain concrete lefty super-liberal Canadian Catholics.