In an unthinkable world where I’m made to choose between therapy and medication I’d choose therapy every time (but, my God, please never make me choose – I’m greedy and want both!). Medication has limitations and can only do so much in my opinion. It’s vital at the beginning of recovery, I admit, but therapy can offer you a better chance at long term recovery.
That’s the important point I suppose. You are the key. When you feel as dreadful as PND and anxiety can make you feel you are desperate for someone to offer you the answer, for something or someone to “fix” you. I’ve felt this way, I still feel this way fairly often.
But the truth is, there are so many treatments out there, so much support, but what they all have in common is that they are tools to aid your recovery, they are a way for you to help yourself. Therapy is the best example of this. The therapist can’t cure you but they can give you the tools to help you to help yourself to recover. This is a truth I’m slowly coming to terms with.
I’ve been incredibly lucky with therapy. I was initially offered help from an Occupational Therapist through the PEWS team I have mentioned before. Then I was given eight NHS CBT sessions within a couple of months. To get this I had to really persevere with my local services which was extremely tough when I felt so unwell but absolutely worth it.
I’m also very fortunate that now, when NHS therapy isn’t currently available to me, I can afford a private therapist who is helping me with my anxiety recurrence. I understand access to therapy on the NHS is incredibly difficult and changes are desperately needed but that’s a rant for another post.
Visiting a therapist or counsellor for the first time is incredibly daunting and, today, I just wanted to share some of the things that I’ve learnt that can help you get the most out of the opportunity.
Be open minded
It’s very easy to go into therapy with unhelpful preconceptions and expectations, I really did. I was incredibly sceptical. In the end I resigned myself to the fact that I was ill and this woman was trained, so I would put myself into her hands. Sometimes a therapist might make suggestions that seem silly or wrong but it’s best to keep an open mind and be willing to try new approaches.
Admitting to the horrifying intrusive thoughts I experienced when my son was very young was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I felt like a monster. But my therapist wasn’t shocked and, in fact, she helped me to understand and manage those terrible thoughts with no judgement and lots of understanding. Your therapist can only work with what you tell them so try to tell them everything.
Try to accept that your therapist isn’t a magician, he/she can’t magic you well. You will be required to do a lot of hard work yourself, and this was (is?) really hard for me to accept (I’m kinda lazy). But it’s an unfortunate truth. A good therapist will be able to give you a great starting point for that work, and support you as you go along.
This is my biggest challenge. She never shows it but I’m fairly certain my current therapist wants to shake me every time I whinge “But I want to be better now!.” Although the first couple of sessions can go a long way to increasing hope and making you feel a little better it’s important to remember you’re probably going to need several sessions and plenty of time and patience before you see real benefits.
Write everything down
I think I’ve gone through at least three A4 notebooks since I first became unwell. CBT requires quite a lot of writing anyway but I also use my notebooks to keep track of what I want to discuss with my therapist at the next session, weird thoughts that I’ve had, revelations that I’ve experienced and lots of positive statements, affirmations and recording of hopeful moments. The nature of anxiety means that you can feel completely different from one hour to the next so it’s important to capture the good times to look back on and the bad points to discuss at therapy.
Therapy is hard. I think mine has to replenish her tissues every time I leave the room. It can be very exhausting and frustrating, too. But with a good attitude and an experienced and supportive professional, it can be fantastic.