When Therapy Doesn’t Work At First

By Laura JacobsenMay 29, 2018

It took me three years to admit to myself that I needed help, another year to ask for it, and then a few months for me to actually get it.

My first therapy appointment wasn’t great. I don’t know if the first session is ever good—it’s hard to be comfortable with the level of vulnerability therapy requires. I’d also changed my mind since my Moment of Truth: the moment when I finally admitted to my mom that I was unhappy and didn’t know why. The moment when I wordlessly nodded in assent when she asked me if I wanted to talk to someone, unable to actually verbalize anything through my crying. But that was then. A few weeks later, things were different. I was fine. It was a moment of weakness. I didn’t need to be in a small, dimly-lit office, sitting on the edge of the couch, feeling attacked. I was told I had depression and generalized anxiety disorder—but that wasn’t true. I didn’t need need this.

Of course, I did need it. But I also did feel like I was being attacked. I continued to feel like this for two and a half months. After the initial appointment I thought that this is what therapy was. Maybe I needed someone to give me grief, to tell me I was overreacting, to make me realize that I had been right all along: I was making it all up.

My mom kept asking me if the appointments were helping. I kept telling her yes—after all, this therapist was expensive. I knew how much it was costing my parents, fiscally and emotionally. It can’t be easy to have a struggling daughter you feel like you can’t help. I figured the least I could do was try.

And I did try. I took deep breaths every time I walked through the doors to the office building. In the waiting room, I sat on the edge of the chair fidgeting. I was mostly silent during each session. There were a lot of things I secretly wanted to talk about, things that had been troubling me for the past four years. But she never asked. So I never told. And it didn’t get better. Not yet.

I finally fessed up that I didn’t like my therapist when she made a comment about my high school friends. Many of my problems revolved around the fact that I felt stunted; I didn’t have a license because I was scared of driving, and had moved home after being lonely and depressed living in a dorm. But my high school friends were not part of my stuntedness. They’re real, true, and forever friends. I don’t hang out with them just because I have no one else, which is what my therapist implied.

I told my mom all of this when I got into her car after the session. “So maybe we find someone else.” And that was that. We found another therapist. Everything about that first session was different. Paula was nice. Her home office was bright and happy, and I liked her. It didn’t feel like a doctor’s appointment, where someone with a degree explained all the things that were wrong with me. It was like talking to a friend, one that really knew how to help me.

I texted my former therapist that I wouldn’t be back. Her reply: “Ok.” That “Ok” validated my decision. As did the second session with Paula (who is still my therapist) when she asked questions I secretly wanted to be asked, and I told her things I had never told anyone. And the next session when she had given me “homework” that I hadn’t done, and I was anxious to go in without it, but she immediately comforted me and told me that I should never feel nervous about seeing her.

I share this because if I’d stayed with my first therapist, I wouldn’t have gotten better. I think it’s important for people to know that therapy doesn’t always work immediately, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t work ever. Two years ago, I never thought I’d be this happy. I still have bad days—heck, I have bad weeks. After all, I have depression and anxiety. Those things don’t just go away. But I’m so much better. I’m forever thankful that my mom fought for me to find my place in therapy, that I found Paula.

Sometimes it takes time. Recovery isn’t immediate. It takes time. But it’s time well spent. So please don’t give up. Find the right person. Talk to them. Let them help. Work for yourself, for your happiness, your wellbeing, your life. It’s worth it, I promise.

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