Finding a Therapist, I Mean Counselor

I was apprehensive about meeting with a therapist. All my adult life I felt like I needed therapy, but I felt ashamed and afraid of what she might tell me, of what I might find out about myself. Worse, what if people found out I was seeing a therapist, what would they say? I felt if people knew my daughter (whom they knew as my son) was seeing a therapist, they would think I was a weak parent, that I couldn’t handle my own child. So much of my life has been structured around what other people would think about me, not what I wanted or needed for myself.

I reminded myself that today I was here for my daughter, that I couldn’t help her by myself, that she needed a diagnosis of gender dysphoria to receive the puberty blockers and hormones requisite for her well-being.

I hate the word diagnosis when applied to her because the typical meaning people think of is the identification of a disease; although, diagnosis can mean the “investigation or analysis of the cause or nature (inherent characteristics of a person) of a condition (state of being) or situation (combination of circumstances at a certain moment).”

I like to think of her seeing a therapist as an investigation into the nature of her state of being and her circumstances surrounding this moment in her life. Isn’t that applicable to every person?

In fact, I realize that I chose the word therapist and therapy. I am more comfortable with the word counselor meaning professional guidance. I also like the words mentor and advocate. However, I believe there is no shame in needing help with problems. Rose has problems derived from the discrepancy of her body vs. her mental awareness. I have problems relating to worry, stress, anxiety and at times, depression mainly related to thinking prior to action. Once I am in action, stress and anxiety lessen.

My apprehension mostly went away as soon as I opened the door to her practice situated in an old Southern home. Funny how that in itself can be relaxing vs a harsh office environment. I took a seat in a chair that could have been in my own home as waterfall and Zen music reached my ears. Mostly natural light illuminated the cozy entry way.

The creaky floorboards got my attention and shortly I heard a joyful voice.

“Hello!” We introduced ourselves and she settled me in her snug office.

It had been hard to pick a therapist. I was adamant that the person I chose would be an open minded individual without religious bias. I wanted Rose to feel completely free to discuss anything on her mind – absolutely anything – free of judgement.

I Googled each name Rose’s pediatrician had given us. I knew she would prefer a woman, someone open-minded and non-judgmental. I preferred someone not Christian since I didn’t think a Christian therapist would have the right view. I wanted Rose to feel accepted and encouraged, not shamed or condemned. I had not raised Rose in church for those reasons and did not want scripture or prayer to come into the picture.

Spirituality on the other hand, e.g., meditation, the mind/body connection, life energy, choosing kindness and offering acceptance for those of all different cultures, life-styles and religions was of interest to me and Rose.

One person kept standing out for me. She listed in her profile that she had a unique approach to psychotherapy, “aiming to helping others overcome suffering by connecting with their authentic selves and creating meaning in their lives.” Connecting with their authentic selves, yes, that is what we needed. She also proffered a space of respect, thoughtfulness, safety, comfort and empowerment.

“Wonderful,” I thought. Her profile also indicated she worked with family issues involving anxiety and gender identity.

“Perfect! This is the one,” I hoped.

She listed an email address, so I sent her a message describing our situation. She was in touch immediately and I made an appointment to speak alone with her.

Now, sitting in her Zen filled space, I knew I made the right choice. The non-distracting white, blue and grey room filled me with calmness as I connected with her right away. I think it is so important to connect with care givers. We were on the same wave length and I enjoyed speaking with her immensely.

She actively listened to me for the entire hour. I never felt as if her attention wandered. She asked me thought provoking questions and I felt a genuine desire from her to help my family and me.

She confided to me that my family and I were not alone in our small town. She had worked with many families regarding gender and sexual identity. I wished that I had searched for her years ago. Of course, I knew others were going through similar circumstances, but often their stories seemed afar or abstract. Hearing first hand from one human being to the other placed validation in my mind assuring me that I was indeed, not alone.

I’ve learned many things about myself and the choices I have made in life. Since being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder in 2009, I’ve had to learn self-care, a big buzz word at the time of this writing. But, self-care is so essential to my well-being. I can no longer afford to worry about what others think. Frankly, I have too much else on my shoulders to take care of. Plus, I finally care about myself, not just others. I am worth spending time on!

Many times, before in my life, I did things for my children I would not do for myself. For example, earlier in life, I knew I was drinking too much, but I only stopped when I knew I was pregnant with my first child because I didn’t want to hurt the life growing inside me. Another example resides within these words. I knew I needed therapy, but I only went when my child was in danger. No more. I will take care of myself.

I no longer care what others think of me, my lifestyle, my choices in clothes, the color of my nails, my choice in music, my hair color, my tattoo, whether or not I am going to church, or other forms of expression. My therapist and my daughter have helped me to see that it is more important that I live an authentic life, that I am true to myself.

I’ve learned too that if a person searches long enough she will come across persons she connects with. I’ve found those special people in my life far and between, but they do exist. I would rather have a few real friends that I deeply connect with than a whole stadium of Facebook followers.

I understand what being true to myself means more than in any other point in my life. I understand myself. It is so freeing to not want to please, to let that go. I so often felt I had to be “nice and sweet.” I heard Meghan McCain say on The View that she would rather be “strong than nice.” I agree! I would add, “I’d rather be kind than nice.” Kind means to me being—charitable, gracious, humane, considerate, cordial and courteous to name a few synonyms. But, strong is also important. I will also always defend myself and be my own advocate.

I no longer need people to like me. Some will, most won’t and that is okay! I’m rare and different. Sometimes even family members don’t like you. You may wake up one day and find that you do not like them—it may be your husband!

Letting go of needing to be liked and thereby letting go of the need to please frees me! For the first time in so long I feel like myself, like I can become my best self and have the life that I have always wanted.

If you are reading this and feel alone, you don’t have to be. Reach out. It will be so worth it! Therapy has a stigma that is unnecessary. If the word coach has a better connection or feeling for you, call your therapist your coach. Don’t wait; I wish I wouldn’t have.

But, be careful, do your research to find the best therapist for you, one that you feel you can connect to. If you don’t feel a connection in the first meeting, try again with someone else.

I was excited to tell Rose about the counselor I had seen, I knew she would like her.

Rose dressed in a cute outfit and we were off to our first visit. We both sat in the session. Experiences came flying out and our counselor was so supportive. Her energy was positive, laid back and she actively listened to us. She asked meaningful and observant questions.

For example, she asked Rose, “How long have you worn your nails long?”

Great observation! Most people would not have noticed.

I could tell she had a genuine interest in Rose and her well-being. She explained to me that what Rose needed most from me was my support. Teens with support are less likely to show signs of depression or to attempt suicide.

It was agreed that she and Rose would meet once a month. Over the course of a year, we are at a much better place now, a place filled with joy and hope that partly came from seeing our counselor.

Through our counselor’s contact with another patient, we were able to find a wonderful, knowledgeable and personally cool pediatric endocrinologist. Armed with a new support person and a name for a pediatric endocrinologist, our team of care for Rose was expanding.

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