I’ve been in therapy for more than a decade and sometimes it’s hard to figure out how it fits into my life. Therapists are the modern day courtesans: educated, gentle and charismatic individuals, who provide a valuable service within the confines of a neutral space that is free of judgment. Taking time out on their comfortable-yet-not-too-comfortable couches and sipping green teas while gazing into their receptive eyes has offered me some of the most rewarding and expensive insights and experiences of my life.
Before therapy, I didn’t know how to identify or clearly and calmly express what I thought, or felt. I knew what to say in order to keep the peace, and to be polite, and amicable. Yet I didn’t know what I truly wanted to say, or the best way to say it. There was no curriculum for how to do this offered at school, at university, or in the workplace.
So I’ve come to know myself better through spending time with therapists and being taken into their warm, well-trained embraces. I’ve been encouraged to reveal parts of myself that both I, and others, up until then, may have known nothing about. I’ve become clearer on my values and beliefs, which has assisted me through times of struggle. Life is never going to be a linear process, no matter how much therapy we invest in: it’s circular, backwards, forwards and roundabouts. Yet I’m kinder to myself about this and I have more tools at my disposal to navigate the ups and downs when they occur.
I didn’t know what I truly wanted to say, or the best way to say it. There was no curriculum for how to do this offered at school, at university, or in the workplace.
However, occasionally, being in therapy has created a kind of alienation that I didn’t expect. During difficult exchanges with others, I’ve been asked not to use ‘psycho babble’ when speaking to them, and I haven’t meant to do this. Somehow, therapy has worked its way in, and it has changed me. Yet when I’ve racked my brains for what language I must have gleaned from it, I haven’t found anything. My therapists have rarely ever said much; I have done most of the talking and I like it that way. So it became apparent that people must be very unaccustomed to others trying to clearly and calmly express themselves.
Another time I was instructed to ‘go talk to my therapist’ in the midst of a communication breakdown, and it felt like a betrayal. The implication was that my thoughts and feelings were unwelcome outside of a stranger’s office, and that the problems that had arisen weren’t co-created: they were in my head.
Author Madeleine Ryan has found dealing with others after therapy can be difficult (Hector Mackenzie)
As the one in therapy working through problems, I therefore have problems. I am an out and proud person with problems, unlike those who may prefer to keep them closeted, or who jump on the problems of others as a way of not taking responsibility for their own: “well, you’re autistic, so you wouldn’t get it,” and “you just analyse too much,” and “you’re being paranoid.”
The official ‘psycho babble’ term for this kind of behaviour is gaslighting: when one person causes another to question their sanity. However, regardless of the terms that could be applied, it has led me to wondering about where my thoughts and feelings truly belong.
It became apparent that people must be very unaccustomed to others trying to clearly and calmly express themselves.
Therapy has given me very high expectations. Experiencing a dialogue with someone that is free of defensiveness, criticism and fear is intoxicating. I’ve yearned for the same degree of emotional and psychological detachment from others - and I’ve tried to offer it to them myself - because I know how good it feels. It can be tiresome navigating the neuroses of those who don’t prioritise their mental, emotional and psychological wellbeing, which is, like, everyone.
People don’t always want to hear others’ thoughts and feelings, no matter how calmly and clearly they are stated. So the question then becomes: if a therapist sees a patient and everyone around that patient would prefer that they didn’t make a sound… Is the therapy still of value?
The official ‘psycho babble’ term for this kind of behaviour is gaslighting: when one person causes another to question their sanity.
Yes. If the biggest issue with it is other people’s relationships to it – as distinct from the therapy itself – then it’s a pretty worthwhile investment. However, learning about who to tell what, when, is just as important as learning about what to say. In the rarely spoken words of a therapist dear to my heart, ‘you can say just about anything to anyone if you know how to frame it.’
It can be tiresome navigating the neuroses of those who don’t prioritise their mental, emotional and psychological wellbeing, which is, like, everyone.
Therapy offers a different way to see ourselves, and our circumstances. It’s not designed to make everything easier, or to ensure that our problems go away. It’s designed to help us face them. We’re always going to have problems, whether we choose to take responsibility for them or not. And, in my experience, the benefits of doing so far outweigh the damage that can be done for choosing not to.
Madeleine Ryan is freelance writer.
If this story raises issues for you, contact Lifeline on 131 114 or beyondblue on 1300 22 46 36.
Two-part documentary series How ‘Mad’ Are You? airs over two weeks, starting Thursday 11 October at 8.30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand.