Wednesday, 24 February 2021

My Therapy Experience



Therapy has been, without doubt, one of the best things I've ever made the decision to do in my life.

It hasn't been a quick-fix solution by any means, in fact its been a long and winding path...uncomfortable to walk at times, but each step has taken me closer toward the feeling of freedom from self-doubt and self-loathing that I'm now beginning to step into.

When I recently asked for some feedback from my Instagram followers on what they'd like me to write about, therapy came up as the top response.

It's something a lot of people are interested in trying, but - as with anything in life - it can feel quite unnatural at first to discuss your innermost fears and darkest moments with a total stranger.
 It can also be an expensive undertaking, so of course people want to be sure that its worth the investment.

I first started getting curious about therapy around 12 years ago, when I was 27 years old. I was living on my own for the first time and struggling with anxiety as well as the extreme phobia of death that has followed me since childhood. I had tried numerous ways of living with my anxiety - from breathing techniques to using CBD oil to relieve anxiety and regulate mood, all with varying degrees of success but I wanted to go deeper.

I wanted answers as to where this fear had come from, and I also wanted to learn how to control it. 

Hypnotherapy


I heard about a local hypnotherapist through a friend and I was intrigued enough to book an initial session.

The therapist operated from her home, which was just around the corner from where I lived. I went along for my session on a weekday afternoon. She put me at ease immediately with her friendly disposition, chatting to me as if she'd known me for years.

Her living room decor was all white and extremely calming, and after a few moments of chit chat she talked me through the process of hypnotherapy and asked what I wanted to get out of the session.

I had no idea what to expect from going under hypnosis - I think I expected it to feel a bit like being asleep, and I remember being worried that I might end up completely out of control of my own body - like the audience members you see doing the funky chicken on stage at Derren Brown shows!

But of course, hypnotherapy is nothing at all like stage hypnotism. Infact when you're under hypnosis you're not asleep at all - you're fully aware of your surroundings, you're not in a trance or "another place"... It feels just like being deeply relaxed. I remember thinking "But I'm not hypnotised - I'm awake, it hasn't worked".

It was only she started to talk me back through the years of my life that I realised I was suddenly able to access memories that I hadn't been able to when fully conscious. 

I found the session really insightful and I would have loved to continue with her, but at £50 per hour it was out of my price range for long-term therapy.

CBT & My OCD and PTSD Diagnoses


Several years passed, during which time I had a couple of experiences with counsellors who I found online and saw regularly for a few months but for various reasons I never stuck with it - affordability was an issue but I also didn't ever feel like I was making any progress with my anxiety issues, so I stopped.

After the birth of my third child, my health visitor spoke with me about my low mood and decided to refer me to the local NHS Talkworks mental health service for support.

I went along for an assessment, expecting to be placed in a New Mums group, but instead the therapist I saw there diagnosed me with anxiety disorder and OCD - she recommended a course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).

I saw her every week for around 6 months to work through my issues. This involved talking therapy, as well as working through various challenges she would set me - to expose me to some of the things I feared.  But although she was making some progress - she didn't feel it was enough. Then during one session, I started to open up more about my past experiences with domestic abuse and bullying in my childhood days - after further assessments I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Unbeknown to me, people with PTSD are not usually the best fit for CBT as the trauma needs to be resolved before any further work can be done. So I was referred for EMDR therapy to help process the my underlying trauma issues.

EMDR Therapy


My EMDR therapist was also through Talkworks, which meant that it was funded by the NHS - my sessions were weekly and lasted for an hour.

EMDR stands for Eye Movement And Desensitisation & Reprocessing - it's a psychotherapy technique used to help process and move on from the long term effects of trauma. 

What was unusual about this sort of therapy is that it didn't involve much talking - I didn't need to speak much to my therapist about my experiences, instead she helped me to rank my traumatic memories in order of severity and each week she would help me to work through them by way of visualisation, self-led thoughts and memories and body sensations.

Its usually done using eye movement, but my therapist used electrical pulses emitted by rods that I held in each hand as I worked through these memories in my mind- the rods would pulse in a certain pattern, and this helps the brain to re-process and store the memories in a way that reduces the psychological impact of them.

I was incredibly skeptical about EMDR at first, convinced that it wouldn't work for me but I ended up being pretty amazed by the results.

After beginning the therapy feeling too emotional about my traumatic experiences to even speak about them without breaking down in tears, I ended up feeling as though all of the emotional charge and power had been simply lifted out of my memories - I can now talk about my experiences freely and with very little emotion involved which has helped to significantly reduce some of my PTSD symptoms.

After my EMDR therapy I was supposed to be referred back to my original TalkWorks therapist to continue CBT with her but unfortunately I became lost in the system, and this didn't happen.

Private Psychotherapy For Trauma & Inner Child Healing


Last year, after a 2 year break from therapy, I decided to try again - but this time with a private therapist, to avoid the same issues cropping up again.

After talking to a friend, I came to realise that I've previously only ever used private counsellors and that if I wanted to do deeper work, I really needed to find a psychotherapist who was qualified and trained in dealing specifically with trauma.

I searched on google for trauma specialists in my area and found a lady in the next town who's online resume seemed a good fit for what I wanted. I emailed her a brief history of my past experiences with therapy, and explained that I was looking to find someone who could help me to do some deep inner child healing work as well as helping me through PTSD and anxiety issues.

I've now been seeing that therapist for 4 months, and she is by far the best fit I have had. Every week I leave her office feeling as though I've slotted another piece of the puzzle into place - I feel that I understand myself and my reactions more, I've started to feel as though I'm able to step aside and observe my behaviours more in my day-to-day life and I've also found myself able to recognise and understand behaviour patterns in other people too.

We currently use a mix of talking therapy, inner child healing, age regression and somatic (body oriented) therapy. 

What I find most helpful is that my therapist explains each process and behaviour to me as we work through them, she gently guides me in becoming more assertive and less apologetic as well as taking more ownership of my experiences rather than allowing myself to be avoidant, and she's also very good with validation and empathy which I find helpful.

Although I usually end up crying in every session I have with her, it's not actually a negative thing at all - infact I really look forward to my sessions. 

I don't believe I will ever be entirely free from anxiety or mental health issues, but I do think that i'm a far less anxious and happier person than I was a few years ago which I fully credit to my experiences with therapy.

To the point that I've decided to work toward becoming a therapist myself in the hopes of being able to help people find the same freedom that I have found.

If you've been considering therapy, then consider this your sign to go for it - it can be truly life changing and you are worth the investment of time and money.

If you're able to afford private therapy, start by googling therapists in your area - email them a brief history and explain exactly what you're looking for, then set up a zoom call or meeting to see if they're the right fit for you and if they're able to offer the kind of support you need. I can't express enough how important it is that your therapist is the right fit for you - someone you feel comfortable with, who is on the same page as you with the goals you're working toward, and who's technique you are happy with.

If you're not in a position to afford private therapy, then speak to your GP and ask to be referred to your local NHS mental health support team or alternatively speak to MIND charity for advice on where to source free or reduced cost therapy in your area. There should always be options available.

Good Luck.

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