If you have a history of mental illness like me, chances are you’ve had several therapists over the years. Maybe you’ve had dozens. I’ve told my troubles, at various times, to psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and others whose professional qualifications I can’t even remember.
People say it’s hard to find a good therapist, and I think that’s true. On balance, most of the therapists I’ve seen have not been particularly good, at least for me. I find some of them don’t listen well, some talk too much, and other offer advice that I don’t find useful.
However, in looking back I can see that even the therapists whom I thought were useless usually said at least one thing that was helpful, one thing that I remember now years later. What they said didn’t make a big impression on me at the time, but now I recognize it as wisdom, that rare thing. So here goes:
The worst thing about depression is that it makes you believe things that aren’t true
The psychiatrist who told me this wasn’t a good therapist. Our sessions were very short, less than fifteen minutes, and usually consisted of him asking me how I felt and adjusting or not adjusting my medication. He worked in a hospital office, and usually seemed like he would rather be somewhere else. I think his medical degree was from somewhere in the Caribbean, which seems like a nice place to go to med school but I’ve heard is for students whose grades weren’t good enough to get into regular schools.
I was very depressed when I started seeing this doc, and I would tell him how I felt worthless, lazy, and ashamed of myself. How I felt like a bad person who had made stupid mistakes and hurt people, and was not being punished because I deserved it. How my life was not going to get better, and all I could look forward to was more pain. He would listen to me, seemingly without much sympathy (or without as much as I wanted), and then say, “You know, the worst thing about depression is that it makes you believe things that aren’t true.”
This didn’t give me much comfort. What are you talking about, I thought, of course these things are true. Otherwise I wouldn’t be depressed! I’m worthless and lazy and a bad person, and that’s why I’m depressed.
He didn’tseem to care much about my treatment, and I stopped caring as well and went off my meds, and got depressed again, and went back on meds again, this time with a different shrink. Once I finally started to feel good again, I found myself telling my friends and family members who were experiencing depression the same thing my doc had said, although sometimes in slightly different words: “it’s the depression talking”, or “just because you think it doesn’t make it true”.
The symptoms of depression – unbearable sadness, lethargy, emotional pain, loss of hope – are bad enough, but the erroneous beliefs that we are to BLAME for our depression make it intolerable. Depression is not a character flaw and it doesn’t mean you’re “broken” or “weak” or “hopeless”, all words I’ve heard friends use to describe themselves when depressed. It’s a disease that strikes all kinds of people – young, old, middle-aged, black, white, male, female, highly intelligent, less intelligent, active, couch potatoes, nice people and jerks. Depression doesn’t care who you are – it wants to hurt you, and make you believe you deserve the pain.
So don’t believe what depression tells you. I know a therapist who calls these self-destructive whispering, nagging thoughts “demons”, because it’s almost like they are these foreign entities who are trying to hurt us. It’s so hard to love ourselves when we’re depressed, but we have to try. And we have to allow others to love us, so they can help bring us out.
If you don’t “click” with your therapist, and you don’t think he or she is helping you very much, then ideally you’ll look for another one. It’s taken me a long time, but I have a therapistnow whom I love. But sometimes even the bad therapists can help, even though you may not realize it until much later.