The first time I ever saw a therapist was in my mid 20s. I was newly married and had quit a meaningful job in Washington, D.C., to move to a small town in the rural South. The new digs seemed like an uneasy experiment in a new identity that I wasn’t sure I’d like.
Around that time I met “Java the Hut.” That’s a euphemism for a problem that I’d done nothing to deserve and had tried to fix without success, but which had only grown bigger and more insurmountable for my psyche as the days and weeks wore on.
When It Was Time to See a Therapist
By the time I decided to seek the help of a therapist, I was having trouble sleeping and my days were filled with anxious, obsessive worries about the future.
In that tiny Southern town, there were maybe two therapists tops within a 50-mile radius of where I lived. Funny thing is—it didn’t even occur to me that there were good therapists and not-so-good therapists. In my desperation, I didn’t even think to consider that an inexperienced or inept therapist might do more harm than good.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety and Depression, Etc.
My first therapist was a new disciple of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of psychotherapy that has proven highly effective at treating many mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. When administered by a therapist who is licensed and well-trained in best practices, CBT has improved quality of life for many people—and it’s worth considering for anyone with one or more of these psychological disorders, according to the Mayo Clinic.
In addition to being an enthusiastic disciple of CBT, the new therapist liked introspective worksheets that encouraged me to “talk back” to my unhealthy thoughts. That was innocuous enough—but the thing that really started making me feel like I’d flown over the cuckoo’s nest was her solution for the anxious ruminating: She told me to put a rubber band on my wrist and flick it every time I had an anxious thought.
By the end of Day 1 of this prescribed regimen, my wrist was red and I had convinced myself I was crazy. Needless to say, my well-meaning therapist had contributed more to my problem than helped.
A Good Therapist Will Address the Root Issues
Looking back, I can see the ludicrousness of the enterprise and that it was doomed to fail from the start. Instead of talking about the root problem (Java the Hut) and exploring mental, emotional, and relational options for addressing it, my first therapist somehow convinced me that the symptoms I was experiencing (in this case, the anxious thoughts) were the full extent of my problem. She then proceeded to make these anxious thoughts worse. And, she did this very effectively, by encouraging me to give these anxious thoughts—not the actual problem (Java the Hut)—my full focus and energy.
If You Can’t Find a Good Therapist—Keep Looking or Try Online Therapy
Needless to say, my first experience with therapy was a flop. Java the Hut would take more work. With another therapist in a distant city.
In my case, the effort to find a good therapist in rural America would end in failure—but at least not in an abiding distrust of therapists. Twenty years later, I can say that I’ve been helped more than hurt by the therapists I’ve consulted. The takeaway: If a therapist doesn’t help you on the first try, find another; and, if you live in rural America, you may have to try harder to find a good therapist near you—or, consider online therapy.