The Benefits of Therapy

  • "When one door closes, another opens but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us." - Alexander Graham Bell


    As I brainstormed what to write about, the benefits of therapy emerged as a clear winner. As many of you know, I was a disc jockey on the FM radio in the 1980s. My career was cut short by the schizophrenia. I looked so long and so regretfully upon that closed door that I couldn't see how the SZ opened on to a better future.

    In the 1990s, I took jobs in business to pay the rent so I could kiss life in the mental health system goodbye. One summer I returned to the radio station. It wasn't the same, and that era had passed me by before I left it. What helped in the early years? Therapy-the traditional, one-on-one in chairs kind, and other forms.

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    Having my own apartment was therapy: "a place to call my own, have a conversation on the telephone," to quote New Order, a band I loved. In those years-when the advent of another Friday night signaled existential distress-I stayed up late on the weekend listening to FM 106.3, "modern rock at the Jersey shore," an alternative music station. For about six years, I saw a therapist-from the time I was released from the hospital until three years after my relapse.

    In 2005, I returned to classic therapy sessions with a therapist in my neighborhood. Every Monday night I walk five blocks to his office in a brownstone. It's not a sign of weakness or a character flaw to talk with someone trained in counseling. Indeed, through therapy you "get the root"-as the Buddhist technique espouses-to resolve your problem. What matters most is that you find an empathetic person you relate to and can be honest with. I tried out two therapists, and quickly chose the guy I see now. I recommend that you interview two or three people before choosing someone you'll devote a fair amount of time to.

    The woman I nixed was located in the City. She came into the reception area clutching her pocketbook-not a good sign if she didn't trust that her pocketbook would remain in her office if she left it there briefly. The room was the size of a closet, and there was barely a 25-watt bulb in the lamp. It was dark and dreary, and as I talked, the woman kept smiling at me non-stop in a saccharine-pink smile. Though I made a second appointment, I canceled it three days later.

    Max-the one I also interviewed-I knew at the first session I would see again. For one reason, I had an uneasy feeling after we talked. A friend, V., suggested it was because Max brought out feelings in me that I needed to get in touch with. I've been seeing him going on four years. That's the beauty of therapy: you can cope better with the SZ and how it affects you. Sometimes, therapy isn't right for some people and doesn't help, yet I believe it could benefit most of us. Cognitive therapy has been shown to aid greatly people with SZ. I haven't tried that, yet I can vouch for it because I hear it helps people cope with their symptoms.

  • In Max's room, I sit on a couch and he sits in a chair, and we talk about what's going on. Finally something clicked-about self-acceptance, which I've written in here about before [see Celebrating Ourselves in Recovery. He'd always suggested that writers were by nature reflective, and could tend to get depressed. On more than one occasion, he said this, and on Monday night it became clear: it wasn't a platitude, it was true. I accepted, as Max said, that I'd been given gifts-the writing talent and the SZ-that were a blessing and a curse. He called it a "dual-edged sword: it cuts both ways."

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    I understood it then. A door had opened, and I could move into the next era in my life without getting stuck on the door that closed. It could be no simpler and plainer than this: I am a writer. I have schizophrenia. As a result, I need to reflect on what happens and document my thoughts and feelings. If I couldn't do my writing, I would be miserable. I needed to put into words what was happening like I needed air to breathe.

    Since 1985, I have benefited from another kind of therapy: writing in incarnations of a journal. Journaling has been a practice-like yoga-that calms my mind and centers me. Ironically, by keeping my blog, Joyful Music, I can focus on life outside of the SZ, and yet, my passions have also been therapy.

    Music remains the throughline of my life. I listen to iTunes on my computer: KMHD jazz, or Zeilsteen radio, which is modern rock. It's a way to go outside the pain. Fashion, as loyal followers of my other blog know, has been a way to feel good. Though it can be hard, the effort you make to dress well will elevate your mood. "Looking good, feeling good" isn't a cliche, it really works.

    The music, fashion, my work as a public service librarian and expert blogger, all have been ways to express myself and forge an identity apart from the illness. That's why I urge you to "live your joy" and consider modes of therapy that work for you in creating mental health. One thing that instantly cheered me: I bought fresh blowers the other day. Ten shoots of pink Gerbera daisies for $5.99 at Trader Joe's. I placed them in a clear vase on my bedroom dresser. You wouldn't believe the tremendous boost I get from looking at those flowers, a simple beauty to treasure.

    Another therapeutic outlet I want to pursue is drawing and painting, something I did in high school and college and stopped after I got sick. My Christmas present to myself will be a table top easel from Pearl Paint. I have the wooden box of oil paints in my Art Students League tote on the floor of my dining room. I'll buy some quality brushes, and be on my way. The point is, I'm not Picasso and never will be, yet I can free my mind of worry by focusing on the strokes and details of creating a painting.

    In the end, recovery isn't merely popping a pill. It's about having a life. Therapy-in its myriad forms-can open that door.


Published On: October 23, 2008