Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Auntie Seraphic & Psychotherapy

Recently a friend and I were falling about hooting with laughter because we had been showing each other the martial arts moves we had learned a zillion years ago and were still solidly tucked away in our respective muscle memories. We were wearing dresses and girly shoes, so it was all very incongruous.

The one thing about my super-sporty days that I always keep in mind when I sigh over the loss of my athletic frame is that I was furious quite a lot of the time. I thought I had got a raw deal from life, having been a good Catholic girl and yet punished with a terrible marriage that didn't seem all that sacramental and, the Church eventually ruled, was not.

I got out, but I was still steaming mad and had terrible nightmares to boot and was generally a mess. What I had going for me was a good job with a very decent salary and so I could afford to hire a therapist.

Now I know what you're thinking, and so did I, for first I tried the cheapo option by going to a group therapy session held by the local Catholic Family Services. Unfortunately, although the topic advertised for that week was "Verbal Abuse", the topic actually presented was "Lesbians Who Batter". A group of bright-eyed Catholic ladies obediently tried to think up hateful epithets they had heard for Lesbians for the sake of the (I suspect) Lesbian group leaders while I watched a fellow young woman, her eyes ringed with sleeplessness and despair, fall even farther into her secret mental hell. So I gave up on group therapy and called the Catholic psychotherapist advertising at the back of my parish church.

The first thing I have to say is that I am very grateful to that psychotherapist because she helped me really a lot. But the second thing I have to say is that her personal life was such a shambles that she had no right to advertise for Catholic clients at the back of a church. To her credit she soon took the sign down, but had I known what was going on, I would have changed therapists at once. And when I did find out--quite a nasty moment for the future Auntie S--I did.

Therefore, when the other day a reader wrote in asking for advice about seeing a Christian therapist, I had this to say:

Dear [Reader],

Thank you for your email! Choosing the right therapist is very important because a therapist can have an enormous influence over your day-to-day thought processes. My therapist and I went separate ways 10 years ago, and yet I can still feel her influence on my life and how I think.

There are a few things I would recommend.

First of all, ask your therapist how many clients she has. You do not want to get into a position where your therapist is financially dependent on you because you are one of her only three clients.

Second, ask your therapist if she is married, and if she has good relationships with family and friends. You also do not want to get into a position where your therapist becomes emotionally dependent on you in any way.

Third, tell your therapist that you are a Roman Catholic and that you take your beliefs as a Roman Catholic very seriously, and ask her if she feels comfortable working with a Roman Catholic client, especially as your views on sexuality may not match. You do not want to get into a situation where a therapist tells you that your problem is "a bunch of old men in the Vatican" or "man-made laws." Freud was virulently anti-Catholic, and so are many therapists. So are many American Protestants, so it is best to be careful.

If you ever are in a situation where your therapist begins to tell you inappropriate information about herself, this may be a red flag that the therapeutic relationship is no longer healthy. This is, in fact, why I ended my almost five years of therapy with my own Christian* therapist. She helped me a lot, but if I were ever to go into therapy again, I would certainly follow my own recommendations.

Therapy is a business, one in which you make yourself very vulnerable (as you do when you visit a doctor or stay in a hospital surrounded by strangers), and therefore you are perfectly within your rights to ask a therapist this information. And of course you might want to ask where she was trained and to what philosophy of therapy she subscribes. And then there is the touchy subject of price. One-on-one therapy, unless it is provided by your university or workplace is often expensive. However, my own experience was that it was worth it, and far superior to group therapy.

I hope this is helpful!

Grace and peace,

*P.S. My therapist was a liberal Catholic with axes to grind. It may be better to have a mainline Protestant therapist than a Catholic with axes to grind, be they liberal axes or ultra-conservative.


What I have to add today is that a therapist absolutely has to keep good boundaries. They may say this when you ask your initial questions about their practice, their personal life and their attitude towards Catholics. However, a financially secure person with a good emotional support network is much better able to maintain boundaries than a therapist with serious problems/drama. And the last thing you need is transference on a person with poor boundaries.

This is your psyche you are talking about, so don't put it in the hands of just anyone.

Update: I have very limited internet access this week. You can leave comments, but they will not appear until about 10:30 GMT the following day. Personal friends who normally call our house phone or send email should either text or call us on our mobiles. I will answer emails the following day; BA still has access to his email at the office.


Lena said...

As I am reeling from yesterday's elections (I'm American), I thought I read something about Catholic group therapy about battering lesbians in your post. Were you ready to fall out of your chair? Anyway, I think you have good therapist advice. Yes, boundaries and professional ethics protect both parties.

Clare said...

Seraphic, would you strongly suggest going to a female therapist over a male therapist?

On the one hand, possibly a male therapist might be able to help one work through issues related to relationships with the other sex, but on the other hand... i don't know. Your thoughts?