Walk-In Therapy Session That Bombed

I’ve had a bad day. Mondays seem to trigger me every single week and down the rabbit hole I fall.

As always, when I’m extremely distressed, I head over to CAPS. Maybe I’m being hopeless in my coping skills. Maybe I’m being needy. But every time I fall down the rabbit hole, I force myself to march to CAPS to talk to someone.

As I’ve done dozens of times this semester, I walked to CAPS again today. And for the first time ever, I was there for a walk-in session that barely lasted 30 minutes. And for the first time, I actually felt like I wasn’t heard at all. The therapist I saw asked me what brought me in to CAPS and I had said that I was triggered this afternoon by an email from the financial aid department regarding my accrued debt so far.

I started to panic because I didn’t realize before this that I had a maximum limit of how much aid I can actually receive. Thoughts of not being able to make it through Calculus and having to retake it (meaning I’ll eat into the funds) ran through my mind and I panicked inside. Thoughts of being a failure and not being able to finish school ran through my mind.

I wanted to add that my Space Planning project has also been a huge source of panic for me lately because of how much we’re expected to do in the project (9 pages of drawings and thoughtful consideration of BOTH a residential and retail space). I’ve been trying to keep up with it because I know that I have less time than my classmates (I actually clocked in 60 hours of work last week WHILE being in school so I have no time for anything). So today, when my Professor told me of all the things that I didn’t address and how my design had many problems, I felt so discouraged and demotivated. For half an hour after she gave me the feedback, I stared at my work – my mind blank and I felt lifeless. I couldn’t force myself to pick up the pencil to work; to brush off the negative comments and plug along. I couldn’t.

I wanted to tell the therapist that I was unable to function after that – being twice triggered in the space of 10 minutes. I got the email and then I got the negative feedback. Thoughts like, “What’s the point? What’s the point of working so hard only to get a job only to pay bills? I can’t see the point in going on. There is no point to anything. No point to life. I might as well die!” were strong in my mind. I wanted to tell her all this but before I could, she cut me off. Right after I told her what had triggered me (the email about my financial aid), she told me that education is a worthy investment, that I should consider it like I’m buying a car. That everyone has to go through the same issue – not everyone’s fortunate enough to have their education paid for.

Essentially, I felt like she was minimizing my feelings and thoughts at that point. I didn’t know how to feel because on one hand, I feel a great loyalty to CAPS because I’ve never had a single bad experience there but on the other hand, I felt a red flag go off. I didn’t say anything. I decided to see where this was heading. She continued to tell me that college is difficult and that’s why people are often so proud of their degrees – because Professors make it hard on purpose.

She then asked me if I was hungry or tired. I told her that I was tired. I tried to explain that I had just finished a 60 hour work-week (46 hours in 4 days at the restaurant I work at, 12 hours at the Math Assistance Center (MAC), and 2 hours of private tutoring) and had only had 32 hours of sleep in the week (I’m at a 22 hour deficit). She then cut me off again and told me that we’re physical creatures – that often, the first reason someone’s down and negative and can’t get out of a rut is because they’re hungry or tired. So she gave me tips on carrying snacks with me everyday and to have a meal after I finish the session. She also told me to take a 15-minute nap to recover. She said that by doing so, I’ll usually immediately feel better.

At this point, I was annoyed because she didn’t take the time to find out what I’m actually dealing with. She treated me like any other student who’s just stressed with finals week looming – I guess I can’t blame her. A lot of students do reportedly go in to CAPS during these 2-3 weeks because of how stressful exams are (S told me that it gets crazy during this time at CAPS) but I’m someone who is dealing with so much more than just school. However, despite my annoyance, I tried to play along with her. I couldn’t muster up the courage to speak up about how I really felt at that moment. She didn’t ask me how I felt anyway.

She then asked me what I do when I’m upset to relieve that feeling. I told her that I don’t really know. I don’t really have a coping mechanism that worked – not even self harm works for me. I told her that I had a history of cutting. “So that’s how you cope huh? That becomes a bad habit and you don’t want to continue to do that… When you’re upset, you need to do something else to cope. What do you do to cope with being upset?” – I didn’t know what else to say. I really didn’t know how to cope. I shrugged and finally forced out, “I guess I listen to music” – which is not entirely the truth because the notion of using music to help me cope was something that I had invented just this afternoon after being triggered. I tried to use some EDM trance music to relieve my panic.

“Good! Listening to music is good. Except, you shouldn’t be listening to heavy metal or anything. You should listen to some Beethoven or something relaxing…” She had said. I didn’t bother to tell her that I like trance/EDM/dance music. At this point, I felt like nothing I said mattered. I was upset and I didn’t understand where the teenager was in all this. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t angry or that I can’t get angry at strangers or friends. I only get angry and violent with myself, Hubster and my parents. I can’t seem to get angry enough to defend myself or stand up for myself. I often shrink away in fear when I’m confronted and I never do any confronting myself.

She then told me to practice some grounding exercises – “Surely S has taught you some grounding exercises… You need to do those…”

“Yeah… It’s so easy to forget that you know…?” I said weakly, forcing myself to act like I was on board with all of her suggestions. I didn’t know why I felt like I had to play along. I don’t know why I do this every time. Someone would bother me and instead of telling them that and standing up for myself, I pretend like they’re right and I play along.

“Yes… And that’s why you are always here, aren’t you?” she said. This time, her words pierced me through the heart. I know that she would have known that I’m at CAPS a lot – not only because whenever I am waiting for S, I sit at the bench across from her office, but also from my visitation records. I immediately felt like I was asking for too much – that I didn’t deserve to be there. That I was just overreacting and that I should’ve just stayed away from CAPS today. I felt ashamed for making the decision to go to CAPS. “It’s your fault you’re too weak to know how to cope by yourself!” – the mother voice suddenly interjected. I hadn’t heard from her in a couple of days… The therapist then said, “But… I’m glad you came in anyway…”

At this point, I wanted our interaction to end. I was starting to get distressed again.

“Is this helping at all?” She asked.

I knew that this was my chance to say that she wasn’t helpful at all but I didn’t say it. Instead, I played along. “Yeah. You’ve given me some ideas that I’ve never considered… Who would have thought that being hungry could cause someone to be so distressed that they’d consider suicide!” I had responded. I hated myself at that point because I was just playing along. I wanted us to finish.

“Are you from around here?” she asked abruptly.

“Um… No. I’m from Malaysia…”

“Oh! Where’s that on the globe?” she asked, as she grabbed the globe from her desk and asked me to show her. I pointed at the tiny appendix looking country in South East Asia. “Oh wow! Okay… Well… When you’re listening to some relaxing music, I want you to visualize some nature scenes – maybe from your country, Malaysia…”

I wanted to say to her, “But I hate Malaysia… Why would I want to visualize something from there?” – I didn’t have very good memories of my time there. I didn’t want to think about Malaysia if I can help it. If she had taken the time to get to know me a little bit, she wouldn’t have suggested that. But I didn’t say any of that.

“So don’t you have anyone else to talk to? You can’t talk to your husband?” She asked.

I then told her of the difficulties that my husband and I have in communication because of his autism and my ADHD. There are plenty more of other things that I won’t divulge here in public but suffice to say, I need to talk to S and the psychologists at CAPS more than anyone else.

“Have you tried marriage counseling?” She asked. I had to explain to her that Husbter is autistic and so going to CAPS with its bright fluorescent lights, claustrophobia inducing narrow walls and deafening noise makers are overwhelming to his senses. That and a myriad of other issues have prevented us from doing some of the things that would be beneficial to us. “Oh I’m sorry to hear that. But self harming and suicide really aren’t the best ways to cope…”

After a couple more suggestions of what I should do, she jotted them all down on a Post-It note and handed it to me, “I live with someone with ADHD so I know how you all are. You need your visual reminders… Here’s a list of the things we talked about and what you should do… Now what are you going to do after you leave here?”

Mentally, I thought to myself, ‘Jump off the parking garage’, but I didn’t say it. “I’m going to go have a meal…” I said, “I didn’t realize what time it is and you’re right. Being hungry does affect my emotional state…” I wanted to leave so I just said everything I knew she wanted to hear.

So we wrapped up then. She asked me if I was in any danger and I said no. She asked me when I’d see S next and I said Wednesday. She asked me if I could last two days without seeing him and I said that I should be fine since I have group tomorrow. Then I gathered my things, got up, thanked her and left.

As I walked out of her office, I mentally berated myself for coming to CAPS today. I came because I wanted to talk to someone – talk to them so I could ease my troubled mind. Instead, I left feeling like I was needy and just desperate for attention.

I decided to send a message to an acquaintance I had met over at The Mighty’s site – a fellow mental health advocate who also suffers from suicidal tendencies from time to time. I told him what had happened and he responded with: “But she didn’t help you cope. She just pointed out more perceived failures”. Yeah she did. I felt judged and like I wasn’t adult enough to cope.

It also reinforced the idea that I have trouble relating to female psychologists. I had that initial impression when I met JS, the female psychologist who had administered my ADHD test and I’d had a pre and post test interview with. I liked her enough to get along with her but I didn’t feel the level of warmth and care that I would with a male psychologist. Seeing this therapist today reinforced the idea that I must have some trouble with older female authority figures – unsurprising since I have this huge issue with the female authority figures in my life.

I noticed that I am less trusting of female psychologists; less willing to open up and feel more judged. I am able to get along just fine with the two female psychologists that run my group therapy sessions but that’s only after getting to know them after 2 months of interaction. Besides, being in a group setting, I am able to detach a little more from how I feel about them and focus instead on the group members. Also, B, the lead psychologist in the group therapy, had shown me compassion when we talked a couple of weeks ago. She showed me evidence that she cared and that she was trustworthy. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d be as easily accepting of her.

So, that was part of my day. I know I’ve left some details out but those of you who have read up to this point, can you tell me if I’m overreacting? Am I wrong to feel annoyed at this therapist? I felt unheard and uncared for. I felt like I was just a bother – she did act like she just wanted to give me a list of coping skills to do and that was that. Her mannerisms suggested that I was eating into her time and that she was merely doing this because she needed to. I didn’t feel welcome.

When I told Hubster all this, he was really angry. He was so angry at the therapist, saying that she didn’t listen to me at all. He was also angry that I couldn’t be angry – that I never stand up for myself or defend myself. He asked, “Where was the teen in all this? Why didn’t she say something? Why didn’t she get angry and scream at this therapist?”

I wish I had the answer.

Anyway… Like I said, I’ve never had a single bad experience at CAPS but this looks like it might be my first. Something I never thought would ever happen.

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8 thoughts on “Walk-In Therapy Session That Bombed

  1. Yuck! What a terrible job that therapist did! She made all kinds of assumptions about you without really asking anything. And then to imply that maybe you go there too much (which is not actually what she said but I totally get how you would read it that way)… it just seems like really sloppy therapy work. Thank heavens S is your regular therapist and not this woman!

    Of course it would have been ideal, when she asked, “Is this helping at all?” if you had been able to say, “No, it’s missing the point.” But of course if things were ideal, if you were able to speak up about your feelings and needs to people, you wouldn’t be doing all the deep work you are doing in therapy. It’s not reasonable to ask people to speak up for themselves in therapy when that is one of their struggles. You have only been able to do that more recently with S, after working with him for quite a while and building trust. So please don’t beat yourself up for not being able to tell her that she was totally off base.

    I’m so sorry you had this bad experience at CAPS, because that’s always been a safe space for you. Do you think you will be able to talk to S about this, maybe set it up that you don’t end up with her again if you go as a drop-in?

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    1. Thanks, Q! I’m so glad to hear that I wasn’t overreacting or that it wasn’t just me who had red flags. I just felt uncomfortable through it all. The stories that people say about bad therapists, they’re definitely true…

      I was so glad too when I left that she had assigned me to S and not to herself. I did genuinely thank her for that. (She’s the person who’s in charge of assigning new students to their respective counselor/therapist/psychologist. At CAPS, it seems like those with PhDs or PsyDs are called psychologists (which is why I always refer to S as “my psychologist”) but some with Master’s are called counsellors. But I think all of them do answer to therapists as well. But anyway, that was a tangent.

      When I thanked her, she did say, “Oh yes. S is a great therapist. He’s very calm, he never panics and is very knowledgeable…” which wasn’t what I was expecting. I was just expecting a “Oh thank you for telling me that and that you’re a good match. I’m glad…” so it made me think that maybe she just doesn’t listen ever…

      Yeah, I see what you mean about the bit about it being ideal… And I guess, I’ve forgotten that it’s taken me a year to get to a point where I’m comfortable enough to ask S point blank questions. Thank you for that reminder!

      Yeah. CAPS has alway been a safe space… And now, I feel a little concerned about doing anymore walk-ins. I was reminded by the encounter again today when I went in for my group therapy session. And yeah, I plan to bring this up with S if he doesn’t bring it up first tomorrow. They often check in with each other whenever walk-ins are done so I am curious what this lady has told S about me. It sure would be interesting… The thing is though, I don’t want what I say to get back to her. I mean, I feel bad… I mean, I always reason that people must mean well, right?

      In a way, I see therapists as a person’s advocate and protector. That a good therapist will protect their client. So I wonder if S will feel indignant on my behalf if I tell him what had happened. Maybe I’m expecting something unrealistic. I don’t know…

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    2. So I spoke to S about the therapist I had on Monday. He said, “Yeah… I was actually surprised at how quickly the session ended…” which implies that they all log their session time. He turned it into part of the therapy’s focus today – of what I would have said had I been given the chance to. He asked me, “So you’ve just had your first negative experience here…. What was that like for you?”. So in a way, it turned out that it was a good thing that had happened. It made me realize some important things – the most important today being that I realize that I’ve been yearning for connection from people so desperately because the parts of me are desperate to reconnect! He smiled so widely when I said that. He was probably waiting for me to get to that realization. So who would have thought that I’d get a positive thing from this?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I guess it’s not a surprise that S would turn it into something positive for you. He’s clearly very skilled at his job and invested in your healing.

        Of course he won’t say anything to the other therapist about what you said. Everything you say to him is confidential, unless it’s literally a matter of life and death.

        But if what you have realized is that you can have a bad experience at CAPS, survive it, and still have it be a safe place for you, that seems like a fantastic life lesson. Maybe that could mean you could get a bad grade on a test but survive it and move on with confidence that the future will be better, for example. It seems like you are often afraid that something really horrible will happen if you don’t manage everything just right, which puts so much pressure on you. But if you can go through a bad experience, name it as a bad experience, and then keep on going, that makes you stronger right? Or maybe I’m way off base here–if so, please don’t be mad. Hugs, Q.

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      2. Q, yeah. That’s true. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that that happened. And I would hope he doesn’t say anything to her. I mean, as bad as she had been, I think she meant well…. I liked how S didn’t try to defend his colleague but also didn’t make any disparaging comments. He did say that perhaps my non-response at that time might have been a good thing because it gave me time to think things through. And he told me that we don’t always have to respond immediately either…

        I loved the last part about how if I can survive this bad experience at CAPS, that I can survive anything else. The thing is, I just bombed my calculus final class exam and was feeling low when I’d read this comment. It was almost like you knew I needed it or something. Very cool. And I’m not mad at all. I think it was very wise and made sense! And you’re right, I do feel the need to control things all the time. I think that’s why lately things have been so bad for me – because I can’t control anything.

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