I’ve had a number of therapists over the years—counsellors, social workers, psychologists, family doctors, and psychiatrists. Some were good, some were not so good. What makes a good therapist? The answer to that question is probably different for everyone. I think the ideal therapist is someone who takes the time to know you. To understand you. They are someone you can trust and open up to with your inner-most thoughts and feelings. For me, a good therapist also has to have knowledge of bipolar disorder and what that means for me.
When I judge a therapist I expect certain things in return. It’s not all about me. I don’t want to sit in a room with a person and just talk. I expect more. I expect the therapist to reiterate to me their understanding of what I have said. This is for my benefit. So I know they get it. But then I also expect something back. Some insight. Some advice. Some where-do-we-go-from-here talk. It’s all fine and well to go to your assigned therapy session and talk, but after a while, without the helpful feedback, you run out of things to talk about. At least I do.
And therapy isn’t always cheap. Depending on the credentials of the person you are seeing, you could be paying big bucks. That is if you don’t have insurance, or if the type of therapy you are receiving is not covered by your insurance. My current therapist is covered under our provincial medical plan because she is a doctor as well, so I pay nothing. I like her quite well. She’s a nice woman. Older than me—which I like because it gives me the façade that she knows more than I do. And unfortunately, in this case, I think it is a façade. I go to her as designated by my psychiatrist. My therapist is a psychologist as well as a doctor. I attend my monthly appointments and watch the clock tick until the professional hour is finished (fifty minutes).
As much as I like the woman, I can say it is a rare appointment when I actually get anything substantial out of it. I talk and I talk and she listens and listens. That’s pretty much the way it goes. When I’ve run out of things to say we sit in awkward silence. And we sit. And we sit some more. Then she’ll ask me if there’s anything else and proceeds to offer a statement or two in summary. If I’m lucky I’ll get a little nugget to take away with me. I then reluctantly book another appointment.
Why don’t I do something about this situation? Why don’t I tell my therapist I’m not happy? Why don’t I tell my psychiatrist? Why do I even continue to book future appointments? I avoid confrontation. And I tend to shy away from creating awkward situations. I also don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I know that probably sounds ridiculous, but it’s just the way it is. I’m not likely to change therapists. So there I sit in each appointment, month after month, spilling my guts to get nothing in return.
I get more out of talking to my mom than I do my therapist. My mom listens just as well—even better because she will interject with helpful comments, but she offers so much more. Mom knows all the players in my life—some more than others. She knows everything that has happened to me in my past, what I live with in my present, and what I hope for in my future. She knows the problems I face in my life. She knows what matters to me most. And my mom has a good understanding of bipolar disorder, certainly as well as my therapist, if not better. And she definitely knows how it affects me personally.
My mom and I spend a lot of time together, so we have plenty of time to talk. We talk over breakfast, over tea after Sunday dinner, we talk in the car while running errands, and we talk while shopping. That’s a lot of time to get in a lot of talk. But the best part is I get feedback—helpful, informed feedback. Over the years, my mom has become a sounding board to me. She’s always there to hear my problems. Day or night. She gives me valuable advice based on years of insight. I can’t imagine a therapist being as good. Certainly not my current one. My mom is better than my therapist.
Cynthia Forget was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2005 and has since been through a myriad of experiences, doctors and treatments. Ten years later, she is now relatively stable—as stable as one can be with Bipolar Disorder. She is lucky enough to have a psychiatrist who actually listens to her. She uses writing as therapy and through Facebook, Twitter, and her own on-line blog http://cynthiaforget.weebly.com/, she is a strong advocate for those with Bipolar Disorder.