Through the Looking Glass: How Therapy Has Made Me a Better Therapist

Rear view of person with long hair looking out at rainChildhood: Early Signs of Anxiety

When I was a child, I think my parents saw me as quirky, needy, and overly dramatic. Looking back, I now see that I was anxious. I was traumatized at an early age, but in those days most families didn’t get therapy for kids. The unresolved trauma created a lot of anxiety and depression for me later in life. I didn’t understand this then. All I knew was that some things made me uncomfortable. If they weren’t addressed, I cried, got mad, and refused to go to school. I got stomachaches and headaches. I couldn’t tolerate scratchy or stiff clothing. I needed my shoes tied so tight that the blood wouldn’t circulate properly. These were all expressions of my anxiety.

Adolescence: A First Therapeutic Encounter

As I matured, my anxiety showed up in different ways, although I didn’t recognize it as such. I would make excuses for my irritability: “I hate crowds!” “I’m an introvert and I’d rather stay home!” “I’m stressed!”

Due to my trauma history, I felt disconnected from others. I thought I was somehow different. I wasn’t sure where I fit in. I felt that if people got to know the “real” me, they wouldn’t like me. These worries made me anxious around new people and new situations and often left me feeling lonely and unseen.

When I was anxious, I became hyper-aware of the clothes on my body. I’d change multiple times until I was comfortable. I also got anxiety attacks at night, so it was hard to fall asleep. As high school progressed, I became more depressed and eventually reached out for help. Fortunately, my mom found me a wonderful therapist. I don’t remember a lot about those years or the sessions, but I know my therapist provided me with a space to be myself and to share my experiences. She supported me through that difficult time.

I remember that she encouraged me, validated my feelings, and praised my ability to look at who I was and the experiences that brought me there. Being in therapy changed my outlook, lifted the depression, and helped me understand myself in new ways. It was my first glimpse into the beauty of the therapeutic relationship.

College: A Supportive Presence

I had been managing my anxiety pretty well until I went off to college. During my freshman year, I got involved with a guy who was verbally abusive. His criticisms made me doubt myself and turn inward. I was isolated and had few people to turn to.

Fortunately, I found a kind and supportive therapist to help me work through my struggles. It took a while for me to end the bad relationship. Her support, which she offered without judgment, was important during that time. She allowed me to see myself as someone who deserved to be treated with love and kindness.

Looking back, I can see how the college counseling experience has helped me understand the importance of being with the people who come to me for therapy through uncomfortable, painful life experiences with an open-minded, nonjudgmental, supportive presence.

Postpartum: Finding the Right Fit

After my third child was born, I was down, frustrated, and feeling like a less-than-perfect mother. I recognized I’d felt this way before—after the birth of my other two kids. I wondered if I had postpartum depression and anxiety, so I sought counseling. Unfortunately, the therapist I worked with wasn’t a good fit for me, but she was able to help me identify that I had postpartum depression and that I’d probably experienced it before.

From this experience, I realized that not all therapists work well with all people. You have to find the therapist who fits your emotional and practical needs. I know I can’t be a perfect fit for everyone who calls me. I’m okay with that. I’d rather refer someone to the right person than take them on and have them wind up feeling unsatisfied.

Today: Managing Anxiety and Depression

Therapy has helped by giving me a safe space to share with someone who is there to listen to my stories, offer some insight and feedback about the effects of the trauma, and, most important, support me when I’m struggling.

My depression has come and gone over the years, usually entering my life when I feel stuck or disconnected from others. I’m happy to say that although I still have days when I feel low, I no longer feel immobilized by depression.

Anxiety, on the other hand, remains a constant companion. Since I began the journey of going back to school and opening my therapy business, I’ve continued to seek therapy as needed. I’ve come to understand that my anxiety is associated with unresolved trauma and is harder to manage when I have major life changes.

Therapy has helped by giving me a safe space to share with someone who is there to listen to my stories, offer some insight and feedback about the effects of the trauma, and, most important, support me when I’m struggling.

How Therapy Helps Me Be a Better Therapist

My individual therapy has helped me understand what it’s like for the people I work with who are struggling—the difficulty of reaching out, the vulnerability of asking for help, the strength it takes to make that first call, the difficulty in opening up and being honest. It’s helped me to understand that a large part of my job is to be there as a nonjudgmental, open-minded, supportive presence.

Because of my own therapy, I know the value that individual counseling can bring, and I’m grateful for each therapist who has entered my life and walked with me on my path toward healing. Standing with people in therapy as they acknowledge their fears and creating a space where healing can happen is the most fulfilling part of my job. I am honored to be able to walk with others in their unique journeys through pain to emotional healing.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, therapist in Annapolis, Maryland

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Nicole U

    Nicole U

    March 7th, 2018 at 2:32 PM

    Dear Elizabeth,
    This is a wonderful article and took a lot of courage to write.
    In the old days, when psychoanalysis reigned supreme, no one was even allowed to practice until they had experienced a full analysis.
    In an ideal world, everyone would have a trusted counselor.
    We therapists benefit a ton from therapy; especially, as the risk of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma hover over us.
    Thank you for so honestly and eloquently sharing your experiences.
    Nicole

  • Elizabeth Cush, LCPC

    Elizabeth Cush, LCPC

    March 7th, 2018 at 4:07 PM

    Thanks for your comment Nicole! I think we all need to de-stigmatize therapy and seeking help from a mental health clinician!

  • Sandy

    Sandy

    July 31st, 2019 at 2:05 PM

    Hi Elizabeth,
    This article was a true gift to me today. I am a therapist in therapy and often ask myself how I can be so effective with my clients, and so lost in my own issues at times. I’m harder on myself than I need to be, and one of the things I do to myself is tell myself that I shouldn’t be anxious, I should be beyond it after years (OK decades off and on) of therapy. So thank you for this validation, with respect and honor for the courage it takes to be vulnerable.

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