082: What I Talk about with My Therapist

This week I (Sandra) had an appointment with my therapist. It was the first appointment I’ve had since November, so we had a lot to talk about. I thought it would be helpful to share the kinds of things I talk to her about to help take a little of the mystery out of it if you’ve been thinking about whether visiting a therapist would be helpful for you.

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Partial Transcript:

Hi friends, this is episode 82 of Self Care and Soul Care for the Caregiver, and I’m one of your hosts, Sandra Peoples. 

This week I had an appointment with my therapist. It was the first appointment I’ve had since November, so we had a lot to talk about. I thought it would be helpful to share the kinds of things I talk to my therapists about to help take a little of the mystery out of it if you’ve been thinking about whether visiting a therapist would be helpful for you. 

Let me start with a little history about why I decided to find a therapist and the process to find her. Right before covid hit, I reached out to a psychiatrist friend and shared more honestly than I ever had about the anxiety I feel especially in social situations. We decided the best way to decrease that anxiety was to talk to a therapist. So I asked a local friend who I knew was familiar with therapists in the area who she would recommend. She recommended one who she had seen before. I called, made an appt (by that time all appts were virtual because of covid), and we started meeting twice a month. Sometimes it takes a couple appts to figure out if you’re a good fit together, but I liked this therapist right away. We’ve been together almost two years now, and I am still really thankful for her help. If you’re looking for a therapist, I recommend asking a friend or asking your pastoral staff who they would recommend. Our church has a list they share often with people who call and ask.

Now we’re down to one appt every month, so I want to use my time with her efficiently. I plan a few things I want to talk about. In the week leading up to the appt, I pay attention to what’s happening and how I feel. If I think, I wish I had someone to talk to about this, I remember that and put it on my mental list (or put in my notes app if I think I’ll forget it). I may also ask myself some questions. Am I struggling with a big decision? Was there something that happened in our family? Is there an area where I’m struggling to draw a boundary or stand up for myself? Is there a relationship that’s felt strained? Usually what feels the most important rises to the top. And I can even start digging into the issues before our appt so I can communicate the details clearly. This is especially true if I’m talking about something marriage or family related because Brenda (that’s not her real name, but I’ll use it in the podcast so I don’t have to keep saying “my therapist” over and over) only hears my side of the story so I want to represent the other people involved with fairness. 

Ok, I’m ready to share the list of things I wanted to talk about when I went into Brenda’s office this week. I’ll tell you if we actually talked about them and what we talked about that I wasn’t planning to mention. Of course, it all ties together in ways I didn’t see until she helped me navigate it all. And let me give the disclaimer that some of my family members listen to this podcast and some don’t. But I’m going to talk as if they all do to protect our stories. Plus, you don’t need to know the details to get an idea of what we talk about. It may be easier to relate without too many details. 

First we caught up a little since it had been two months. Last time we talked was before Thanksgiving, before my trip to CO for the Focus on the Family interview that will release next week, before I took the GRE for the PhD application process, and before Christmas break and all the family time we had as a result of the holidays and the trip to CO. Normally she starts with “how are you?” and lets me ease into whatever I want to talk about first. I usually tell her about something that happened and say something like, “which leads me to one of the things I want to talk about.” Then at the end of the story I ask a question about how she thinks I should have handled it or if she thinks I did well. We talk a whole lot about vulnerability and boundaries, and everything we talked about in this week’s appt came back to those topics. 

For example, we talked about how I thought the Focus on the Family interview went. Since social anxiety is my diagnosis, it was certainly an event when the anxiety might have been bad. But it wasn’t. I thought most parts of the day went great. I thought a couple parts went not-so-great, but I wasn’t holding on to any shame about those parts. We also talked about how our flight home got canceled and that I called my sister and we stayed at her house that night. This was important to talk through because there are things I believe about my relationship with my sister that sometimes hold me back. But I risked vulnerability and was thankful for how it went. Every time I’m nervous about a social situation, I’m holding on to a worst-case-scenario idea about how it will go. When I risk it anyway and it goes well, I’m rewriting the story I tell myself. That makes it easier the next time. 

All that led to the big thing I wanted to talk about this week. It’s the thing I thought about the most before the appt and wanted to hear what Brenda thought about how I responded and how I could do better in the future. My husband Lee and I had a discussion that hurt my feelings. I don’t normally deal with this very well. I’m critical of myself (I’m an enneagram 1 if that means anything to you), and I have a tough time hearing anything that’s close to criticism from anyone else because my shame runs so deep. So, Lee said something that in my mind reinforced a weakness in myself that I hoped no one knew about. And the hard part was, he wouldn’t really know about it except that I had told him. So to me, it felt like I risked vulnerability by telling him and then he used it against me. What I heard from him was, “You’re not good enough” at this certain thing. 

I told Brenda the details and how I reacted. She helped me see that he wasn’t exploiting a vulnerability—he was protecting me from a situation that he knew caused me anxiety. So instead of “you’re not good enough,” he was viewing it as “she hates to do this, so I’ll come up with another solution.” It was incredibly helpful to talk through it with her objectively so I can now go back to Lee and explain how I felt and why I shut down so quickly. (That’s my homework this week: follow up with Lee so we both understand why I reacted the way I did.)

After that, we talked some about the stress we had during Christmas break with James out of his routine, but that’s more about managing expectations and having good communication with Lee than anything else she can help with. There really aren’t any boundaries I can draw when it comes to James, except for some healthy detachment from things I can’t control. We did talk about my communication with James’s psychiatrist and his office staff because I felt misunderstood recently, but it turned out ok. Which is another example of me rewriting a story—something I had negative feelings about was replaced with a positive example. 

With our remaining time we talked through some stuff at church that’s causing me stress. It really comes down to boundaries and some I need to set because I’m a volunteer ministry leader and not a paid staff person. But it’s hard because we can’t control how others will respond to our boundaries. We just set them for the good of ourselves and our families and let others adjust. She was proud of a decision I made and how I communicated it to Lee (since he’s the pastor, my boundaries affect him and his staff).  

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