My therapist returned from her holiday recently and we greeted each other over the phone, wide smiles in our voices like the old friends we are not. It is a beautifully structured relationship. I know that it is peculiar to be so fond of a woman I do not know beyond a full name, hair colour, and dainty sense of style. Judging by the ring on the significant left hand finger she is married. And I could not tell you more. Except that when I entered her office sixth months ago I had a heart arched in pain and could not suffer her concern. That I hated the reasoned sympathy in her voice, and that in my first session she made me rehearse my hurts for fifty minutes before sending me home. It was not the relaxing experience I had seen on TV. I did not recline on a sofa although she did take notes. And relieved as I was that she is Asian – and would therefore comprehend the nuances of culture – and a woman, I had no faith in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). I told her that I did not want to change my mind, I wanted to change my circumstances. “Why should I think differently about the horrible things that are happening to me?” I asked. She spent the next six months answering.
It was not easy getting me to therapy. Culturally (working class and Jamaican) I was conditioned into stubborn suspicion of the therapeutic process. My friends spent years urging me to seek help, consoling me in my misery, praying me through my despair. It was as though I was born with hell at the bottom of my soul. I lived everyday with heat so stifling it choked my dreams and clouded my desires with black smoke. I could write a lament of a thousand words. Synonyms of sadness for each day of the week, but that would be no good to anybody. So the story goes that I quit my job after three months, went to bed and did not leave. When pentecostal prayers, olive oil and casting out demons did not summon me into joy, I saw my GP.
Dr Nyugen was an especially frank man. After assessing me he said ‘well the only thing left is for you to commit suicide’. Since the intonation is missing I should stress it was more a prediction than an instruction. He said I needed an intervention faster than therapy alone could provide and I started on antidepressants. As he had cautioned they made me sick for two weeks whilst my body adjusted, and then I began to awake in the mornings feeling…okay. Not happy. But an inexplicable freedom from the oppression I had known and thought was normal. I could not believe that others had been living like this – able to breathe.
I was told I could wait at least three months for an appointment with an NHS therapist but in reality it was two weeks: certainly evidence of divine graciousness and perhaps also an indication of the extent of my illness. We met weekly and actively tackled my depression: mind maps, depressive cycles, mood diaries, morning activities. Patterns, charts and challenges. I gained perspective and learnt boundaries. I wept over the wreckages that had injured my spirit. And then later I laughed, frequently, and joked about my successes in changing.
One afternoon my therapist brought in an extract from a book on perfectionism – an ideal I am learning to release. It was a simple sentence really: “I was reading this and I thought of you,” but it was one of her many expressions of concern. Out of it all, it was witnessing how she delighted in caring for me that brought me the most healing. My parents expended the best of themselves in my childhood and now we find that they are incapable of loving me in any meaningful way. When they quit and left me, one and then the other, I felt as though my value had expired. So I set about loving myself in compensation for the love I could not trust in others. But here was this complete stranger so openly invested in my well-being. I had not earned it (except through taxes). I did not have to present perfect grades, or church attendance, a spotless home, deference or endure any assortment of abuse. I had asked for help and she had given it.
I am attached to her it is true. Now that our time has come to an end I feel the mixed appropriateness of the loss. But I am not dependent: Whilst she was away and I’d been happy I had another collision with hell. It wrenched me out of hope and it was so ugly and fast that at first I did not feel. And then I erupted in cramps and tears and my body convulsed with diarrhoea for a week. With time I felt like a tomb, a brown house of death with eyes of despair for windows. Both the best friend and co-d remembered their stations of devotion and I mourned the life of laughter and the hope that met me in the morning, now exchanged for teal skies – cold and still. I missed my therapist on some of those days but I remembered her lessons. So I went out into the sun with some girlfriends. And when I cried at a bus stop and was wrapped in the arms of women who did not know me so well, I was not surprised at their love because I have learnt to trust the unknown depths of new hearts. I feel one hundred times the woman I was just months ago. And to my therapist who raised my head above dashed hopes, I am eternally grateful.
Anna (aged 50): “I felt better so quickly and I didn’t feel so dreadful and alone. I liked the dynamic of group therapy”
Martin (aged 37): “I found being in an actual group helpful as it allows us to support each other (both ways) and realise we are not alone”
Sarah (aged 24): “I liked the fact that people all looked normal and yet they felt like me, which meant I must look normal too.”
Matthew (group CBT)
I now realise that I have suffered from some kind of distorted perception for most of my life. This has led to the inevitable extreme highs, but more often long periods of anxiety, self-loathing, self-medication, low self-esteem …. I’m sure we could continue the list ad infinitum.
I have just completed ten sessions of group CBT and the whole experience has been fantastic, inspiring and life changing. It works; it really does!
I can honestly say that it may have been one of the best things I have ever done in my life.
I am inevitably a little anxious; and certainly sad, now the course has ended but I also feel enthused about the practices and the tools that I have learnt.
Six months ago I felt I was trapped in a black steel box with no hope; today I feel reborn.
Recovery Support Group
I always found the B more helpful than the C in CBT. I argue enough in my head and what I found most helpful is to create new experiences, new memories. Over the time that changes the picture of myself more than any further head talk. It also sets a new focus or agenda.
I get on by myself, but with the group as a support, I feel able to venture forth. To me, it’s a difference between like treading water (= not drowning) and swimming (= getting to new shores)
Kate, I would also like to say that the group has been a lifeline to me. My life was like a dark cloud engulfing me in which I was lost & distressed & I could not find my way out. You, Kate, Melissa & the group have been like a tiny ray of sunlight in the distance which I used to find my way, the light got stronger & stronger as I did & the light is very bright now & I feel that I have almost found the path I should be on. If it weren’t for the service you Kate & Melissa provide we in the group would never have met & I would never have found this light which helped me along so for that I am very grateful. We are extraordinarily lucky to have such expert, knowledgeable and professional services like this at hand & I can’t thank you, Kate & Melissa enough for being there & giving us this help.
I was on very shaky ground & you and the others in the group led me out safely so thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I want to say a BIG THANK YOU to you and ‘Talking Therapy for the wonderful services that you provide…… Having used the services twice it has helped me to regain back the part of my life that was in limbo……
The first time when I came to the services I didn’t really give it the benefit of the doubt and with drew thinking I didn’t need your services..which I was wrong…. Having to use the services a second time last year and having you to work with me again, I knew that it was the right thing for me and I was willing to go all the way……
The service provided for me consistency, continuity, warmth, understanding, non-judgementalness, space, peace, empathy, onus, trust, confidentiality, a place to escape and feel free to OFF LOAD (a sanctuary)…… I felt comfortable to talk about my issues without being probed or scrutinised…… The sessions focused on what we can both do to help me over the problems, issues, worries or demons that was obstructing me to live a healthy and fulfilled life……
Every session was productive, rewarding and educative helping you and I to identify the issues and how we can both work on them and the type of tools to use to help me deal with my problems…… The service has given me..ME back….. I have regained my confidence back..socialising…interacting with family and friends..participating in outside activities..supporting services by giving feedback at forums..being supportive to others..eating healthy and exercising….Peer Training and other courses with the Patient Expert Programme
I am more proactive, assertive and my self-esteem is back to the point where it used to be before I became depressed….. I do have some odd days where I may feel low but I refer back to the management tools that were used to push my level back up so I don’t stay in the low zone…. The service has benefited me and when other people talk to me about what they’re going through..I give them my TESTIMONY and how the SERVICE Has HELPED me to get back to the PLACE where I am now..which is a GOOD and POSITIVE PLACE……. And I would refer people to the service….
THANK YOU TALKING THERAPIES!!