My experience of Talking Therapies

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n April 2012, I had what might be called a breakdown. I didn’t just give up, my mind refused to do anything. I couldn’t handle relationships or work, I didn’t want to speak or eat; I just wanted to sleep my life away, and at my darkest moments, end it utterly and completely. It was like nothing I had experienced before; it was this inexhaustible emptiness that wrapped tight around me. It’s hard to explain how different this low was compared to other bouts of depression I had suffered from before. My mind felt as if it was tearing apart at the seams, it was far too intense to deal with and I needed urgent help. As had happened before, I was prescribed antidepressants, but this time I was also put on the waiting list for talking therapies.

During my early twenties, I had sessions of CBT (Cognitive behaviour therapy) for panic attacks.  It helped me immensely, as I was suffering from an environmental mental health problem that I could try and control – or at least ease through calming and self care techniques. I can’t say the same for the the counsellor I saw this time around. He seemed nice enough, but I could never really connect with him. I found him patronising, using the same old worn out cliches

‘How did that make you feel?’ or ‘I see that this upsets/angers you’

I abhor both of these phrases. If I haven’t told you how something felt already, I’m not going to tell you, or you’re getting a one word answer. And as for the other phrase, of course I know I’m fucking upset/angry, how is telling me that helping me in any possible way, other than me wanting to hit you! I’m not an easy patient, as I’m trained in counselling techniques and I knew exactly what he was trying to tease out of me.

We talked about my past multiple times. The therapist seemed so desperate to explain away my depressive states as environmental. I was honest that it wasn’t always easy growing up, but it was rewarding and I gained many positive attributes because of it. I felt life experiences in my childhood were being thrust upon me, to upset me and to be the explanation as to my depression. It would have been wrapped up like a nice little package for the therapist, an easy fix. I was however resolute. My childhood was unique, interesting and full of adventure, it wasn’t a cause for anything but my desire to help others and to treat others how I would wish to be treated.

I remember discussing my fluctuating moods, and how I often felt that they were out of control. We talked about how quick to anger I could be and how I rarely felt just ‘happy’ or ‘a bit sad.’ The therapist discussed with me that I may have Bipolar disorder and that he was going to refer me to a psychiatrist. I returned for my appointment the following week to find he had changed his mind. He wasn’t sure I had Bipolar and wanted to explore other avenues. He believed that using CBT techniques would help me control my depression and that I was exaggerating my tendencies towards anger and ‘hyperactivity’ as he called it, because he had never seen these behaviours. So we discussed my ‘all or nothing thinking’ how ‘my world was either black or white’ and ‘my high expectations of myself.’ He believed if I acknowledged all of these and tried to change the way I thought, my depression would lift. What he didn’t realise was I had heard all of this before, and it hadn’t changed a thing. It also wasn’t noted that antidepressants were lifting my mood far too high, and throwing them away within the first couple of weeks of being prescribed the medication.

This session upset me the most of all. I had to stop at my parents house because I was crying so uncontrollably I couldn’t drive. I went to two more sessions before I decided to stop going. I felt the counsellor was asking me questions with the expectations of a particular answer; and when I didn’t give it I was made to feel my explanation wasn’t satisfactory. I was continually being asked questions I didn’t have an answer for such as ‘What do you think is making you behave this way?’ was the one that finally made me to decide to not go back. I thought, if I knew the answer to that, I wouldn’t be here talking to you! I was finally referred for a psychiatric assessment at the end of 2012 by my new GP and was diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder in the December.

I’m not saying talking therapies isn’t helpful for everyone. The problem was that I needed a trained psychologist and not someone who had only completed a course in CBT. I was suffering from a severe illness and I needed greater intervention. I didn’t need someone to talk to, I needed a diagnoses that would provide me with the answers I needed.

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