There are a lot of non-medical therapies for anxiety: counselling, CBT, psychologists etc. They can be incredibly helpful but they can also prove to be useless… One of the first therapies I was sent to were sessions with a psychologist. I only have two experiences with psychologists in total, and they differ tremendously.
When I first got diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, my GP immediately referred me to a child psychologist. Although I was a teenager, I wasn’t yet in the adult age category. As I didn't have any history of anxiety, my GP seemed pretty concerned with how bad things have gotten and was quick to take action with finding help. The only problem was the waiting list. He must have written a powerful letter of recommendation though as I managed to skip the eight month wait and start in a matter of weeks.
In all honesty, I had never really heard of psychologists before, only psychotherapists, and I thought they were for people who had severe mental problems. I was a bit apprehensive to start, because I had no idea what to expect and I didn’t know if they would be able to help me. I was also super nervous because my anxiety made it really difficult to be around people and I would end up being in a confined space with a stranger.
So let’s get some definitions out of the way:
Psychologist - Focuses on psychotherapy and treating emotional and mental suffering with behavioural intervention.
Psychiatrist - Focuses on psychiatry, specialising in diagnosis, prevention, study and treatment of mental disorders with the ability to prescribe medication.
When I first met Dr. A (that’s what we will refer to the first psychologist as), they seemed incredibly kind and understanding. They would ask a number of questions in the first session just to get a feel of what I was going through.
After all of the formal procedures (like questionnaires), Dr. A explained all the fundamentals of anxiety. It finally started to resonate with me and sound similar to what I was experiencing. Before that, I was quite adamant it wasn't anxiety, I was almost certain that something was just wrong with me. Dr. A made the whole situation much clearer and also made me feel as though ‘d be able to get through it, there was a way to deal with anxiety.
I had a limited number of sessions with Dr. A because of my age, but every session was so valuable. Each one was tailored to me and ensured that I could move forward and enjoy the progress I was making. Any little challenges I faced, could be discussed in a session, to which we would find a solution to. Regularly we would make action plans that I would be able to implement even after the sessions ended.
The thing is, I believe that Dr. A genuinely cares about every single one of their patients. Anxiety disorders didn’t seem so scary to me anymore and I felt like my life could continue as normal eventually. I was aware that I would struggle at times, but I also felt that with the tools learnt in sessions, I would be able to get through and challenges.
Thankfully things started to move forward in my life and I decided to go to university. Sadly I wasn’t able to see my original psychologist, so I went back to my GP for another referral. There was once again a very long wait so me and my mum decided to try and see a private psychologist, so that I would feel more prepared for anxiety when it came to university. I didn't have a long time to prepare before September, but it should still be helpful enough. I felt confident that with a bit of extra help, I would be able to go to university without much trouble. However, this experience differed from the last.
The initial meeting was very professional and business-like, so basically without much warmth. Dr. B didn’t want to know much about my past, saying it was irrelevant. However, at a later stage, Dr. B said that it would be helpful to look into my past. I didn't find them very understanding of the issues I was having or the challenges I was facing.
I only had five sessions, but even that was too many. Every session was filled with empty promises but no substance. I wasn’t given any helpful tools that I could implement, or even things to practice outside of sessions. Dr. B didn’t give me any advice on coping with my anxiety. The irony is, I wanted help with one specific thing: overcoming anxiety in classrooms.
I definitely don't regret seeing the second psychologist as it gave me experience. I realised that not all professionals are able to help you, even if they say they can. Although they are there to help, it is up to us to judge whether they can or not. I'm thankful for my first experience though otherwise I wouldn't be willing to listen to other people's advice. I think that without a good experience of talking therapy, we who are struggling are then very quick to shut down. It almost becomes painful to let people in and then realise they don't understand you or try to make it seem that there isn't really a problem.
It just goes to show, that money won’t necessarily solve your problems and the people involved in your therapy make all the difference. If you don’t feel that something is working, change it. Don’t settle until you’ve found someone tat works well with you and don’t doubt yourself.