Six different counselors have listened to me, and I don’t think there will be a seventh. At least not for a while.
Some terminology first: I use the word “counselor” over “therapist” because counselor to me suggests someone advising you versus someone “fixing” you. Therapy inevitably winds up alongside concepts like physical therapy, which you do for a set amount of time until your muscles have healed. Sometimes this is how counseling works—you do it until you no longer need it. But I haven’t ever felt “fixed” so much as I’ve learned some new coping strategies and some ways to recognize when I’m not coping well.
I’ve had counselors I’ve really clicked with, and others not so much. My latest taught me two things: 1. Sometimes the counselor is wrong for you, and 2. I have the tools I need to be my own best counselor.
I should clarify the first point—I don’t think my counselor was under-qualified or giving out bad advice, but it wasn’t advice that made sense for me. The best counselors for me listen and help bring me to my own conclusions, whereas this one told me on several occasions what I should do and, implicitly, how I should feel. She told me about the solace she has found in religion. I honestly wish I could say the same, but I don’t, and the tone she took made me feel inexplicably guilty.
At the time, I was feeling inadequate about starting a new job, managing one of the worst family conflicts I’ve ever dealt with (and that’s saying something), and feeling extremely isolated. According to the counselor I spoke with, the key to unlocking all of my problems was forgiveness (and, I swear, The Secret, but I will try to refrain from being overly snarky in this post). I do know that I hold onto grudges and don’t forgive easily, but telling me that I should be more forgiving does absolutely nothing to help me feel better about myself.
We weren’t even halfway through our 6 sessions, and I already knew this counselor didn’t understand where I was coming from. She told me I was adorable and angelic, both of which made me feel worse. I catch myself being fake nice all of the time and suppressing the shit out of my negative emotions, so being complimented on how sweet I am just makes me feel like complete garbage. She asked me if I love myself, and I don’t know how to fucking respond to that. I’m human. There are things I like about myself, and things that I don’t. I know that one of the people I’m most reluctant to forgive is myself.
The worst was when I told her my reasons for coming in, and she paraphrased, “So you’d say you’ve had a pretty easy life.” Would a single fucking person in the world say they’ve had an easy life? Life is damn hard, no matter who you are. I’ve certainly had privileges others haven’t, but I felt so obliterated when she said that, so completely invalidated. In retrospect, I should’ve said that it wasn’t working out and asked to see another counselor, but I am so goddamn stubborn and feel like I’ve failed if I quit something.
Even though I don’t think of the sessions with this counselor as successful, being unable to connect with her gave me room to connect better with myself. I realized I didn’t need these sessions at all—what I really needed was to give myself time alone to unravel my feelings, space to breathe, and compassion to be fair to myself even when I don’t like who I am.
I’m not particularly good at trusting or forgiving people or feeling like an authentic version of myself, whatever that actually means. Sometimes I dig myself a pit of self-despair and don’t know how to get back out. But that’s part of who I am, and I’ve gotten better at recognizing when I’m doing those things and trying to refocus my energy.
Believe me, I’m not saying you should ignore the advice your counselor gives you or skip out on counseling. I am most certainly not an expert on mental health issues. Besides, I really clicked with a couple of my counselors, one of whom I still imagine having conversations with when I’m feeling really low. He really understood me and pushed me to follow through to conclusions I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with. But even psychologists are only human. Like all human relationships, some work out better than others, and it’s not your fault if they don’t.