Acknowledging that one needs help is hard. Finding someone that is a right fit can be even harder. Especially when you feel like you can't handle too much more being hurled at you by life in general. Have you been there? I have. A number of times...
Perhaps in sharing my experiences, I hope it will be helpful to others in advocating for themselves as well.
I've been in and out of counseling and therapy for the last 15 or more years of my life. The most part of those were untrained and unliscenced. I don't remember much from many of them except for the harm that some of them have done that I'm still struggling to overcome.
In the beginning of 2021 I knew that I needed to get back into therapy. I had come out of a relationship with a very abusive Christian employer and his wife who had totally flipped on me. I had tried to put it behind me and move on with life but they had been the first people I had ever really trusted and their abuse had done horrible damage. Damage that I have not yet been able to face very much of to this day.
On top of that I had also been burnt out emotionally and financially from the church I had been going to 3 hours away and I had found a local church to go to.
Since I was barely able to make it financially I had to find something for free or next to nothing. I finally settled on a Christian healthcare ministry an hour away. The charge was $5 because they said that there are better results when people pay for something.
When I first met my counselor I was unnerved by her constant gaze. It made me feel seen like I couldn't hide but not uncomfortable in a bad way. I had never been to a professional counselor/therapist outside of the Mennonite culture so I didn't know what to expect. She was kind and compassionate. She listened. She said things back to me in her own words and it made me feel heard and understood.
After all the years of trying to get help and to heal, she was the first, when listening to the way I was treated as a child and hearing me blame myself for the way I was treated, she asked," Is that how a child should be treated?" I was forced to admit that it was not how a child should be treated. For the first time in my life I was able to let go of the blame I had carried my entire life. And it felt so good. I was finally able to call abuse and trauma what it really was. And I actually made a lot of progress. I was able to cry and start identifying my emotions. I started feeling anger that I had stuffed all my life. But in the middle of it, she had finished her education and was going to get a job as this ministry was a place for her to put in her required hours. I was so sad.
I decided to continue with the one who was taking her place. It was a disaster. She didn't listen. She tried to get me to do things the way she thought they should be done. And in short, I spent every drive home in tears. It took me a little time to put it in words what was happening but I think that by the third session I was done and I quit. I couldn't handle it. I felt like I lost all the progress I had made(even though I didn't).
In the meantime I had talked with a lady at church who told me of a free counseling place that was not far away, one that I had seen but not checked out because it was at a church with "Mennonite" in the name and I was afraid I'd just be getting back into a place with a "Mennonite " mindset and culture and I was done with that. The lady shared with me of another lady from church who was going there but that this lady only went till she felt better then stopped going for awhile and she encouraged me to just keep going even when things seem to be good again.
In knowing that this fellow church member was going there, I realized that it was not as much of a Mennonite church as I thought it was so I checked it out and chose the person I thought might be the best fit.
It was not an easy adjustment. It took me nearly half a year before I think I can say I finally felt comfortable. Sometimes it's hard talking all the time but I'm usually happy to just have someone to talk to and I don't think I've ever left feeling bad or like it wasn't helping anything. The first few times were really hard and it was hard to not quit. I stuck it out and am glad I did.
About a year and a half ago I felt like I just needed something more. I checked into different groups but nothing seemed the right fit. Instead what kept coming up was equine-assisted therapy where horses are part of the session and interact with the individual along with the therapist. My counselor encouraged me by saying that she had only heard good things about it and thought it worth a try.
I applied for assistance and someone had just donated a large amount of money that covered 10 sessions. My therapist was amazing. She didn't push me and she was very intuitive and was able to read my body language and it helped me feel safe with her. Because of the way my dad treated the animals and how the animals responded to him had so ingrained fear in me and one of the things I wanted to learn was to see the good side of horses. She ended up leaving the facility when I still had 2 or 3 sessions left and I was devastated. I felt like I had finally been able to get to the point of being able to trust her.
The therapist she recommended to take her place said she was booked up so I tried to find another one. There was one who had just started and she may have been the only other one available so I decided to try her. That was also a disaster. The first appointment I showed up there was no one around. I sat there so scared and upset for almost 15 minutes before I texted her and here she was way down in the back pasture with the horses. In my opinion, that is NOT a good way to start off with a new client! She had a different kind of energy and I think she reminded me somewhat of my mom. Always busy, always talking. Hardly stopping to listen to what I said which did not make me feel heard at all. She couldn't seem to read body language and took me straight into a herd of horses that I was not at all familiar with and I was so scared. Again everytime I drove home I was in tears. By the third time I said I can't do this anymore and I reached out to the owner and she agreed to take me on her caseload.
This was a bit better fit but it was still not the best. I tried to trust her but there seemed to always be an implied pressure from her to always be doing something. I was so tired and I just wanted to learn how to be myself. To rest in who I was. To figure out who I was and what worked best for me. One time she triggered me by asking "but what does the Bible say?" I don't remember if I had told her that I can't handle Scripture or Bible verses but after that it was a topic we didn't talk much about. If it came up I would have to disassociate in order to continue the conversation.
There was one horse I really liked. Her name was Flicka. She was a brown and white paint. She was quiet and didn't ask anything of me. I think what drew me to her was that she was secure in herself. We had many beautiful moments. The best was when she gave me a hug when I was dealing with my abusive pastor's email. I didn't know horses could give a hug. But she did that day. I loved her. We would look at things together. She would follow me around the obstacle course. She loved apples and I would always take her one. The best times were when Flicka and I could just do our own thing. And I hoped that one day I could ride her. I just was too scared to try it. And that day never came because in moving to another state I was unable to continue with the program. And...I REALLY miss her.
Back to my therapist...as time went one I realized I was not making the progress I wanted. My living situation was horrible and I just needed a safe place to just be myself without any pressure to talk or do anything. I tried to tell my therapist this but she just didn't get it. It seemed she was not okay with silence and kept implying that I needed to be doing some kind of activity with the horse. Finally, I knew I had to make some changes. I told her it's not working and I need to switch. She accepted that but when the last session rolled around and I had explained to her why I felt the need to switch she still had the audacity to ask if it wasn't just because of some reason of my own that I needed to work on. I said no, I've felt this from the beginning and I haven't been able to get past it and I tried to make it work but it isn't working so I need to change. She accepted that and commented that I was doing some great self advocacy by standing up for myself.
The next therapist I started with was the one that my very first therapist had recommended. It too was a bit rocky and things were different. It also seemed to change my relationship with Flicka a bit but she told me that she had never seen a client have a relationship with a horse to the depth that I did. I took that as a compliment. I was really learning that I could have a relationship with a horse. A safe relationship without judgement and criticism. Flicka accepted me like I was and I accepted her and we enjoyed each others company. Just writing about her makes me tear up because I miss her so. (I have checked into horse therapy in my new area but I can't afford any of it because I don't have the energy to work a job and I don't have the confidence and energy to volunteer anywhere. )
About a half year before I moved I connected with an IFS(Internal Family Systems) therapist who offered to help me with the tools that she had learned over the years. As I learned about how it works in healing trauma I discovered it is helping me a whole lot more than horse therapy. (Sorry,Flicka, it doesn't make me love you any less). To me it was a divinely inspired connection and it came at the right time because I realized I needed something more but how to find that something more I didn't know. And it came to my doorstep...
Perhaps you are wondering why I'm sharing this aspect of my healing journey? Because it may help someone. It may help someone take a closer look at their own interactions in their journey and to take a closer look to see what is helping and what isn't. It may help someone take the needed steps to advocate for themselves. It may help someone in a way I cannot imagine. It is always a good thing to step back periodically and take a look at our lives and the people we go to for advice and even just who we allow in our life and to consider what is helping and what isn't. So now I have some questions for you. They are for you to ask yourself and to help you determine what steps you might need to take in order to get to where you want to go in your journey.
If you have a therapist, how do they make you feel? Do you feel safe with them?
Are you comfortable with them, or do you feel like there's something keeping you from getting the help you need or want?
Think about why you go to therapy. Maybe write it down on paper or on your computer. Do you have any goals?
Are you moving towards your goals? Are you making progress? It's often hard to see the progress we make and if the therapist can't see it or encourage you by what progress they see you making, it's time to switch.
Do you have a voice with your therapist? Do they listen and understand what you try to say? This is very important.
Do they have faith in you? Do they believe in you? In your ability to make good choices and to take the necessary steps? Or do they just enable you to be in the state you are and don't believe things can get better?
You and only you can know what is the right thing for you to do. You and only you know yourself well enough to know what is best for you. Other people may have opinions (strong opinions) and ideas, but how can they know what is best for you or what you should do? Do they live in your body? Or wrestle with your struggles? Or feel the emotions you do? Or fight the triggers that overwhelm you? How...just how...can they(whoever they is for you) know what's best for you?
How do you feel when you leave your session with your therapist? Is it a negative feeling like something is wrong? Does the therapist respond to what you say in a way that causes you to take blame on yourself? Or to be hard on yourself? Or to feel angry at choices you made that may not have been the wisest? Do you feel like your hurting parts are treated with compassion or not? How do you feel when you leave? Relief that another session is over? Or encouraged and empowered?
Only you can know what is the best fit for you.
You have to want to heal.
Sometimes you have to try a few before you find a good fit. Sometimes you will be triggered. It is painful, scary place to be. It also takes a huge amount of courage and bravery to realize you need help and to take the steps to get the help you need. It takes even more bravery and courage to be vulnerable and face the heavy, painful parts so that they can heal as well. Some people can't or aren't brave enough. It is just too easy to drown the pain with work, empathy for others, food, alcohol, activities or any other thing that can be used to take away our own pain. It can also be from being overwhelmed with distractions or information. Sorting through our lives and cutting out distractions and things that drain us is hard work. It's like a person taking medication and they slowly cut back and the pain becomes more and more "feelable".
It is painful. It is hard. It takes effort. You have. To want. To heal. There is no other way.
If you choose to not feel and deal with the pains and sorrows that life has thrown at you, you will become like the people I've met so often in religious circles. They have never taken the effort to deal with their pain to the depth they need to to heal and instead have drowned it by serving others, busyness, mission work, jobs etc. and they are blind to the ways that their unhealed pain is triggered and spilled out on others causing more pain, wounds, and abuse.
Unhealed pain and trauma will only hinder us from fully becoming the person we were created to be with all our gifts and talents.
So wherever you may find yourself in life right now...perhaps you've found something helpful. I'm glad if you did. That's why I'm taking the time to write this.
And...the best part is that these questions don't just apply to a therapist or counselors. They can be applied to your friends or others in your life. You can use them for yourself and how you treat others. Or how others treat you. Maybe you know you need help but you don't know where to start. It is hard. You know why? Because you are entering uncharted territory. Even if you have been in therapy and are now realizing that it's not the best fit for you...same thing. It is hard...because it is uncharted territory with a new person. But...
Fight for yourself.
You are worth it.
You have worth and you have value. You may have been a doormat all your life. That's ok. Now that you are aware of it you have the power to take the steps of change. It may not seem so. It might not look that way.
Take a step.
Take the next step.
Slowly but surely you will make progress. Slowly but surely you will make a difference. Slowly but surely it will be worth the effort.
And...make a difference...because as you heal you will make a difference in the lives of those around you. Maybe you didn't know that? Now you do. Go forward. Be brave. There's better things for you if you're brave enough to make the effort and take the steps. And only you are the one that can do it!
Be brave! Take that step.
(And I think Flicka would say the same...)😉