Hello Dr. Irene!!
Thank you for your wonderful site. It has been incredibly helpful to
me. I've been eagerly reading everything, checking the boards, and
went to the bookstore and bought a bunch of new
sensitivity and awareness and your very practical down-to-earth remarks
are eye-opening. I feel like I 'see' something new about myself
every time I read another board. Great!
Because no matter how much help and support you get, in the end, you are
the only one who can know what is best for you and you are the only one
who has the ability to make your changes! Thank
you so much for your time and energy on these very difficult but very
important issues. Thank you for using the
Phew! I did want to get that out, this site feels like such a
lifesaver to me. So, on to my question:
My question is about finding therapists and support groups and trying to
understand the role they play in my healing.
I am 39, female, and have been verbally/ emotionally/ sexually/
physically abused from childhood on. Ouchhh...
I've been married twice, and have a current boyfriend. All my
relationships have been abusive in one way or another. Not
surprising. Abuse is all you "know;" all that is familiar to
you, like it or not. Fortunately I have no children, haven’t
screwed any kids up yet! I am finally becoming much more aware of my
part in the abuse – my feelings of inadequacy, fear, etc. Excellent!
Self awareness is KEY. Without non-judgmental (i.e., non-guilting,
non-self bashing, etc.) self awareness, you are not in a position to
intelligently assess what stuff you may need to change in order for your life to
It is time for me to get off this roller coaster and I'm looking for a
therapist. What is the role of the therapist vs. the support group
vs. family, friends, vs. my own personal support for me? Should the
therapist be the one I use to just 'get to work', that is, keep the
emotional expressions to a minimum and just work on the structure of my
beliefs and thoughts and then use the support group for SOME of these
raging emotions (I've been in group therapy and al-anon in the past and
there is only so much time and space for everyone - and I appreciate that)
and family and friends, and my own alone time for the rest?
Your questions are multiple and none are cut and dry.
Different therapists have different ways of handling the same problem. I
am a cognitive therapist and I am clearly biased in that direction.
I would encourage you to look at your thinking and would encourage you to learn
impose impulse control over the raging emotions. I would certainly
encourage validation and your attendance at support groups, though your
goal would not be to vent your rage. This would
not be helpful to you though it may feel good momentarily. If you are in the destructive habit of
expressing runaway emotion, you need to learn emotional modulation.
A therapist from a different orientation
may or may not agree. Many clinicians believe it is healthy for you to
"let out" your emotions or to "ventilate." This
position is some variation of Freud's basic hydraulic model whereby
emotions are "stored up" until they find an escape outlet. There
is absolutely no support for this position in any of the social learning
research that I am familiar with. Personally, I find this approach
Nevertheless, many therapists practice a
"ventilation" model and their clients seem to
benefit. I think you begin to get the idea why choosing your
therapist is probably the first step you will want to take. Let your
therapist be your guide and help you allocate your time.
Right now the feelings are starting to really come up very strong - rage,
fear, and incredible pain. I've been in a major depression and
unable to work full time for several months. I need to get back on
my feet and work again - but I dread it. Of
course you do. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other. I feel like these repressed
emotions that are starting to come up are the immediate problem, and I
want to be able to spend more time on them with a therapist - for now -
but the therapists seem to just want to concentrate on my thoughts and
beliefs. They concentrate on your thoughts and
beliefs because your thoughts and beliefs create your
emotions! So I end up feeling more depressed and ignored. Ouchhh!
In other words, I feel like I want to be HEARD and VALIDATED and I want
more of that from the therapists. Then tell them
just that! (Hey, I've heard it from my clients - and listened!) I
know I need to change my thoughts and beliefs, I need help with that, too,
but the validation feels much more important right now. Then
certainly get some validation! Please never forget validation is a
necessary step rather than an end point. Don't
get stuck lamenting your woes or venting your anger endlessly.
Am I asking too much of them? No. You are the
cunsumer. You choose the consultant you hire. Perhaps you simply haven't met
a therapist you really connected with yet. Maybe you haven't clearly
communicated your concern to your therapist(s). Were you working with
beginning therapists? Newbies tend to get stuck in theory rather than use
themselves as an instrument to help you. Maybe you would respond
better to a psychodynamically oriented therapist who practices more of a hydrolic
model. Or, a client-centered therapist who makes it their primary
business to meet you exactly where you are now. Different strokes for different folks, you know. You
are dealing with at least two distinct variables: therapist personality
and therapist orientation. I think "clicking" with the provider
is probably most important for you right now. That
is probably not a good question to ask, since I'm trying to keep this
email very short, you may not have enough info about me to answer that.
I guess it was a good question.
A better question just might be more like, what is the healthy balance
between dealing with the thoughts and beliefs vs. dealing with the
emotions themselves within the support structure of therapist, support
group, friends, family and self? Or is there no single answer and it
really is an individual thing? All
of the above.
First of all, whatever you do has to
feel OK to you. Otherwise you won't do it. So, start by finding a
therapist who is willing to meet you where you want to begin. A sensitive, experienced
clinician, cognitive or otherwise,
will. Cognitive therapy can be very emotional! If your therapist continues to push thoughts and
beliefs when you are someplace else, go someplace else.
Therapy is more art than science.
When you have been with numerous
therapists and none meet you emotionally, ask what they think the
problem is. As an abuse victim, you may be afraid to trust anybody!
Or, perhaps your expectations of others are unrealistic. Ask, listen
carefully and take it from there. For many reasons some people won't feel
OK with any therapist - unless they stick with this person
long enough to get through their trepidation.
On dealing with emotions: There are
wonderful support groups like ALANON,
which you're already attended, and Emotions
Anonymous, both 12-Step sister groups
to AA. The role of the support group is to show you that you are not
alone and to help de-shame your experience. You learn coping strategies, share war stories and
validate and support each other. A support group whether live,
email, or otherwise is a valuable recovery resource.
The role of friends and family is to love you.
Often they do more than that either because they can't help but try to help you
or because you push them to help you. The problem with family is that
they're human and can only take so much, do so much. They care too
much and their feelings of love, guilt, obligation, frustration, anger, etc. can get in the
way. Same thing with friends. In your case, recovery from prolonged
depression, people who care about you are likely to feel frustrated and
powerless in their inability to help you feel better.
A trained professional is in the best
position to guide you through recovery, and support groups are there for
you when your therapist or loved ones are not available.
Thank you so very much for your time and concern.
Thank you Char. Good luck to you. Dr. Irene