Depression Recovery: Time Travel Through Therapy

Merely Me Health Guide

    We have had a little time theme recently on My Depression Connection where I began with a post called, "How to Deal with Depression by Staying in the Present" where I talked about how my focus on the present helps me to survive many of my varied life challenges including having a chronic illness. Next, John wrote about his personal experiences in therapy and how he had to deal with his past in order to enjoy the life he has now in his post, "Getting Depression out of the Present"


    I realize that there are a lot of psychological buzz words, if you will, from self help books and gurus and sometimes the mere mention of them sends people into a tizzy.  Phrases such as "The Now" and "staying in the present" can cause people's eyes to glaze over until the reader is not actually reading what you are saying.  I do want you to know that when I write something of my personal aren't going to find it in some self help book...because...well... it is my life.  What I write about has personal meaning to me because I have lived it. 

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    What I always hope to give to you is my honesty and integrity as a writer and as a human being trying to deal with my depression the best way that I know how.  Am I an "expert"?  No...I am really not.  Sorry to disappoint.  I loathe that label and although some embrace it, I do not.  I am a mom.  I am a writer.  And I am a patient who suffers from depression.  I am a real flesh and blood human being who suffers just as you do.


    I wanted to expand my discussion about the time elements of past, present and future and how they relate to our growth and especially with relation to therapy.  I am going to give you my no holds barred opinions about these topics and I hope you do the same. 

    My first experience with therapy was when I was a young adult in my early twenties. Even at this young age I had two decades of traumatic life experiences to wade through. I feel very strongly that your twenties is a great time to undergo therapy as you enter your young adult years. I can tell you that I spent about five years dealing with all the stuff that happened to me in my childhood and teen years and it still didn't seem enough.


    But even though my therapist and I talked a lot about my past, we always merged those early experiences with my present. What good does all this talk about the past do if you don't use what you have learned for living right now?


    Here are some things I learned from this early therapeutic experience:


    •  I feel  that it is critical to talk about your past experiences in therapy as they are a part of you. There is no way to simply dismiss or ignore your past and think everything will be hunky dory. The main point I want to make is that you do not need to be a prisoner of your earlier experiences and memories. If your entire focus is on your past and how you are a victim in life then you won't make it very far in your personal growth.
    •  Dealing with your past is hard work. It isn't for the faint of heart. Therapy isn't some passive thing where you go in and the doctor "fixes" you. You are working your butt off to move beyond reciting what has happened to you and begin using those insights gained to function in the present.
    • You are not special because a bunch of bad stuff has happened to you. You don't get to wear a badge for that. You earn respect and self esteem for what you DO with those experiences and how you transform your life.
    • The best way to deal with the past is to be conscious of how it affects you right now.  Are you repeating maladaptive behaviors you have learned from others?  Are you still holding onto a victim role even though you are an adult with power and choices?  Are you trying to resurrect past relationships so you can "get it right"?  An example would be choosing a partner who is as abusive as your parent was and then attempting to change them.  Can you be not only aware of your past but also break those old behavioral patterns?
    • You are ultimately responsible for your life and happiness.  You may have had a rotten childhood.  You may have experienced trauma.  You may have a lot of rage about these things which you need to explore in therapy.  But these people from your past are not coming back to say they are sorry.  They are not coming back to make things right or to be responsible for you.  As bad as things may have been for you, you are still responsible for your life.  Getting stuck in the quagmire of blame and bitterness is not going to help you to move on with your life.

    The merging of the past with my present was extremely painful work.  I didn't want to do it as I thought it would crush me.  I felt that if I began to let all that emotion out that I would drown in it.  But I didn't.  I want you to know that you can survive the sometimes grueling process of therapy and emerge far stronger than you ever thought possible.


    I wanted to also share an experience I had in therapy decades later with a therapist who was unskilled and had the potential to not just waste my time but to cause harm.  Rule number one of the world of therapy is that not all therapists will not be a good match for you and some engage in questionable practices.  Sometimes it takes a long time to find a therapist right for you.  Always trust your gut about whether this is a good therapist or not.  More often than not, your gut will be right.


    A couple of years ago I decided to seek therapy again.  I had such a wonderful experience in my twenties.  And now I have new issues to deal with including the challenge of raising a child who has special needs and also coming to terms with having a chronic illness of Multiple Sclerosis.  So clearly there would be a lot to talk about with just these two major life issues.  Yet this therapist was very focused upon talking about my past.  I am very upfront with my life story and began to discuss my early years.  But when I touched upon early sexual abuse it was as though all time stopped. 

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    When this therapist discovered that I had been sexually abused as a child the lights and bells went off for him. It was as though he had won some sort of prize. And all of sudden everything revolved around this childhood trauma.  I explained that I had talked about this event in prior therapy and that I was not currently troubled or disabled by it.  But this therapist was on a mission to keep digging.  He asked me if I dissociate and seemed disappointed when he came to the conclusion that I do not.  Then he wanted me to fill out some trauma survey. It was as though he was part of the diagnosis of the month club and wanted me to eagerly sign up.


    Each session I tried to steer him to talk about my current issues but he was very hooked on my past.  He was so into it that he began to tell me in excruciating detail about his own sexual abuse as a child.  I began to wonder who was the therapist. My growing discomfort did not detour him and I finally had to quit going as I was getting absolutely nothing out of it and more so...I was greatly disturbed by his behavior and therapy was causing me distress.


    The moral of this story is...


    Talking about your past in therapy is important.  It can lead to insights which can elicit a change in behaviors and actions which can lead to greater peace of mind.  But it has to make sense.  Rehashing the past simply because it is dramatic or because this is what one expects in therapy is not a good reason.  It has to make sense in the context of your goals.  What will you do with it?  How can this reflection change your life right now?  A good therapist is always going to come back to the present and how you can better function when you leave their office.


    Clearly I have strong opinions on this topic.  I have been through therapy and I know firsthand how much it can help.  But when the therapy is imbalanced in the focus on any one time frame, I feel it can do more harm than good.  It is good to enter therapy with goals in mind of how you can better function in your day to day life. 


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    Now we want to hear from you.  What time period do you place the most focus upon in your therapy or even in your talk with friends and loved ones about your challenges?  When has talking about the past helped you to function better in the present?  Do you feel it is ever harmful to rehash the past?  Has insight into your past helped you to change your life for the better?


    Tell your story.  We want to hear it!



Published On: June 02, 2010