Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Confessions of a Therapy Slut

Hi, my name is Claire and I have a therapy habit. At a particularly low point in my life, my Ex sent me a link to a web page on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. If you do not know what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is, I don’t really either. However, from what I can tell, it is based on patterns of Distorted Thinking, and strategies for overcoming them.

His claimed intent: “Hi Claire, this is really cool, you might want to have a look.”
My interpretation: “Hi Claire, you suck. Here are 15 personality flaws. Recognize anything there?”

The irony of my hostile reaction was that, upon perusing the 15 Habits of Distorted Thinking, I could only find one habit that I wasn’t certain didn’t apply to me. Rather than give the reader a course on this branch of psychology, a few of the Distorted Thinking Patterns listed below will suffice to give you a picture of my thought process:

1. Filtering -- magnifying the negative details, while filtering out the positive.
2. Polarized or “black and white” thinking -- we have to be perfect or we are a failure, there is no middle ground.
3. Overgeneralization
4. Jumping to Conclusions
5. Personalization

Clearly I was a Distorted Thinker. What to do about this? I was ten years into my therapy relationship with my psychiatrist. I wondered if I had gotten so comfy with her and vice versa, that we might have gotten into a rut. I am a very hyper-verbal person, so the sessions mostly consisted of me talking. This had the side effect of reinforcing my own conclusions, while failing to challenge my underlying behavior. Maybe I needed to expand my therapeutic horizons. Wary that I might fall into my old habits with a new therapist, I decided to “speed date” the three new therapists, while continuing to see my psychiatrist.



***Please note: by “speed dating,” I mean see them for three sessions and make a decision about whether or not their therapy style was a good match for my personality and needs. I am a swinger who goes to therapy, not a swinger who dates her therapists. These are very ethical and professional people, and I wouldn’t have anything to do with them if they weren’t.

After asking friends and family members for their recommendations, I picked three therapists to simultaneously try out, while continuing to see my psychiatrist, whom I will call the MD. It was not as easy to make a decision as I had anticipated. I liked them all. The best way to differentiate them is by background or specialization. Respectively, I will call them the Jungian, the Master’s in Counseling, and the Doctor of Psychology. Each one brought a different approach. For the Jungian and people with her training, other people and our issues with them are simply projections of our Shadow, which comprises unresolved issues from our past and unreconciled aspects of our personality. Jungians are interested in our dreams because they supposedly tell us what the subconscious is trying to tell us, as opposed to our conscious mind.

The Master’s in Counseling emphasized Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which, in my case, was mostly a mindfulness exercise based on getting off the hamster wheel of analyzing things that were upsetting me and focusing on feeling the the feelings. My understanding is that this therapy is based on the premise that our conscious thoughts often have the effect of isolating us from feelings, and that it is only when we allow ourselves to feel the actual physical sensations connected with certain troubling issues, that we will be able to move beyond them or let them go.

The Psychologist’s approach was the most like my MD, but with a more informal communication style. When I first met her and discussed my Lifestyle “habit,” I was concerned that she might be judgmental. She reassured me that in her line of work, she couldn’t afford to be. She told me that she had a client who her told her in the first meeting “I’m in a polyamory relationship,” is that a problem for you?,” to which she responded: “No, is it a problem for you?” I liked her approach.

Nevertheless, after three sessions, I had not achieved the breakthrough I was looking for and I could sense that she was getting frustrated too. In the meantime, she had gotten the release waiver from me and talked to my psychiatrist.. She told me that the two of them had determined they had very similar therapy styles and backgrounds and wondered if me seeing both of them might be redundant. I was intrigued and somewhat confused. Were my psychologist and my psychiatrist trying to tell me I needed to “break up” with one of them?

She told me she and the MD had both noticed that I seemed to have a strong need for outside validation. They wondered if my seeing another therapist might be similar to my polyamory adventure of looking beyond my marriage for romantic, sexual, and emotional connection. At first, I was confused and defensive. I told her that I didn’t think any relationship, whether romantic, friend, or therapy was going to provide me with one-stop shopping for meeting my emotional needs. It felt normal to me to look for fresh insights and experiences with different therapists. Then I started to laugh, maybe they were right and this was a pattern for me, and my psychiatrist and my psychologist were suggesting that I was a therapy slut.

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