In the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, there’s a great exchange that goes something like this:
Mother’s Friend: “Speak, bebe.”
Siddi (Sandra Bullock): “I’m just adding up all the thousands of dollars I’ve spent on therapy trying to figure out what the hell I did wrong.”
Mother’s Friend: “Shep? Write her a check.”
So far the only one writing any checks for therapy is me, and I do actually find it helpful. And yes, by the way, I did just admit to being in therapy, and I have been going on and off for years. It’s high time we removed the stigma from this extremely beneficial and useful tool. It’s also time we got away from stereotypes that if you’re in therapy, there’s something wrong with you or your mental fortitude and your ability to hack it in life. For me, therapy has mostly been a preventative measure so that I don’t find myself at my breaking point. I’ve also found it to be extremely helpful as someone in a caring profession because compassion burnout is real.
The first time I went to see Sara in San Francisco was the winter before I left for grad school. She asked why I was there and I told her that I was getting ready to move across the country to start a new life and career path, that I’d be breaking up with my boyfriend when I went, and that basically I wanted to self-actualize in six months so that I could get through that transitional period with grace. Only the first thing in that sentence happened. What I did do with Sara is learn how to make space for my emotions and integrate them as parts of me, rather than rush to analyze and organize them, as is/was my tendency. She exposed me to some different constructs like archetypes, and made use of visualization as part of our sessions. We continued to do phone sessions while I was away at grad school and I would make a point of seeing her when I was back in the Bay on breaks.
Now I see a woman named Jen, whom I chose to see because she offered some more creative modalities for encouraging self-growth and healing. When Jen asked me why I was there, I told her I needed someone to hold me accountable for practicing self-care. Sara laid a good foundation, and through reading self-help and personal growth books, I have a lot of tools that I know how to use, but in the midst of a different kind of cross-country move, newly co-habitating with a kind of new partner, and starting a new job, I wasn’t really employing any of those strategies or tools. My sessions with Jen are often “self-led,” in the sense that I often come into her office asking to be guided through a strategy that I think would be helpful that day. Most of the time it’s just talking, because that’s my go-to, but we also do a lot of visualization and we’ve even done some art and writing. Since beginning my time with Jen, I have started journaling again; I read for pleasure; I have re-incorporated some elements of ritual and stillness back into my life. She never suggested that I do these things; these are just things that I used to like to do a lot and had forgotten about for a while. Some of you may say that it seems like an awful lot of money to spend just to have someone tell you to do stuff you could do on your own, but people spend all sorts of money on personal trainers and I view Jen as a personal trainer for my mind and spirit. For better or worse, money is a symbol for value and by assigning value to self-care and personal growth, I’m more inclined to make space for it.
One particularly helpful thing that Jen did suggest I do was make “Values Tiles.” She had me compile a list of my top 10 values – things without which, I wouldn’t be me. Then I visually represented these values by collaging them onto linoleum tile squares. I like dreamboarding and collaging anyway, so it was a good project for me. The point of the tiles is to help me visualize and externalize my values when I’m struggling with something or need help making a decision. I’m prone to overthinking things and jumping around a lot in my head and the tiles are tangible reminders to bring it back to center and identify which core values are at play, and perhaps which ones aren’t and need to be.