As survivors ourselves we speak from experience at HAVOCA and we always recommend that a survivor seeks professional help. So, why should you seek that professional help? Hopefully this section will help you understand that instruction and empower you to make an informed decision about potential treatment. We use the terms therapy/therapist and counselling/counsellor interchangeably throughout.
Psychotherapists use a combination of scientifically confirmable data, philosophical observations about human nature and very real and painstakingly acquired therapeutic skills to understand their clients. They are not primarily interested in changing specific behaviours and not at all interested in moulding their clients to some preconceived idea of ‘normal’. Rather, practicing psychotherapy can be likened, as the British psychoanalyst Paul Williams put it, to restoring a painting:
Client and therapist attempt together to lift the grime and wear of the years without damaging the original underneath. Where damage appears, repair is carefully undertaken in accordance with, as far as possible, the intentions of the creator, the self of the patient. The process is a science and an art. Such a process is about discovering, experiencing and assimilating what is authentic and emotionally true in the patient’s self.
Sometimes people are nervous about going to see a therapist or counsellor because they feel they will betray aspects of themselves that feel deeply private. They feel that therapists, like witch doctors perhaps, will look into their souls or make impertinent trespassing sorties into their private thoughts or desires. And yes, it is sometimes frightening to get to know yourself, to confront your demons. But the relationship allows this to take place in an atmosphere of developing trust, an atmosphere in which difficult, painful experiences can be safely explored and understood. It is in such situations of closeness and dependency that people have a chance to grow.
One familiar argument against going to talk to a psychoanalyst is that it would be ‘self indulgent’: ‘How could I spend so much time talking about myself?’ But in fact it could be argued that nothing is more self indulgent than allowing one’s uncontrollable patterns of behaviour to make life difficult for one’s family and friends. The perennially dissatisfied wife; The workaholic husband; The boyfriend who is an incipient alcoholic; all place intolerable burdens on people who care about them. In such circumstances, to take responsibility for one’s own life, for one’s own problems, however difficult and even painful it might be, is a grown-up, unselfish thing to do.
My daughter asked me: “Why did I go into therapy?”
Ms A, therapy patient, writes:
“I explained slowly and carefully, not wanting to scare her. I was feeling very sad and horrible. I had had short depressions throughout my life but they never scared me that much. I had just taken them to be part of my personality. When I was around 22 they became longer lasting of up to 2 weeks. I was greatly helped by a homeopath and by developing an exercise programme. Then at 32, one year after my daughter was born, I had a frightening depression that lasted a year and a half. I was in a thick fog of negativity, emotional pain and self-loathing. But I knew all these thoughts of failure and death could not be true. I moved to a new town to start over and to get some therapy. There was a constant, unbearable pressure in my chest and throat threatening to explode out of me with hysterical screaming.
“In the therapy I learned about the history of my depressions, the pattern, what triggers them and what generally stops them. I started to develop a more realistic view of my life and expectations of myself. I really needed to have one person who could devote one hour to just my problems, and for me to be allowed to moan until 1 was sick of it and ready to look at solutions. I learned that my depression would continue to be a part of my life but I can detect the warning signs quicker and get treatment, if I need it, before the feelings become devastating.”