Sometimes Therapy Isn’t Just a One-Time Thing (and That’s Actually Normal)

The first time I sat in my therapist’s office, we looked at each other with polite, comfortable smiles, one waiting for the other to speak. “I’m glad you’re here,” she told me. Even her voice was calming, a soothing balm for my obvious awkwardness. She asked me why I’d pursued therapy. I rattled off maybe 10 reasons. I had money stresses. I had accumulated a rack of broken hearts. My kid had mental health challenges that were making me crazy. I wanted to learn more about me. And I wasn’t altogether sure that I didn’t have daddy issues.

“Girl, I’m going to keep you busy,” I said, and we laughed. I kept my promise. Every Friday at 1 pm, I unpacked my baggage in one-hour increments.

The last time I sat in my therapist’s office was more than three years later. I had vented all of my secrets, dissected bad memories and bad decisions, evaluated my choices and identified my emotional triggers. Turned out some stuff I thought I had been over, I still hadn’t fully healed from and some other stuff I thought I needed to examine wasn’t really that deep after all. I’d learned more than I expected about myself and I didn’t feel like as much of a remedial student of life as I did when I first walked in.

When Dr. Bennett initially asked me if I felt like I still needed to come to my appointments, I had a surge of anxiety at the suggestion. I was honored that she thought I’d hit all of my milestones and checked off my goals for therapy, but life can be wearying. Her office was a safe space to sort through all of my thoughts and feelings without anyone telling me what I should think and feel. I wasn’t ready to be done and I told her so. “That’s fine,” she reassured me. “I just like to check in.”

The question sat in my spirit for the week between our next session. Was I done? Had I gotten everything I needed to get out of therapy?

Two weeks later, I told Dr. Bennett I thought I was ready to graduate. There was just nothing left for either one of us to say that hadn’t already been said. She agreed. She just wanted me to be the one to say it.

There have been times that my fingers have hovered over the phone keypad and I’ve populated her email address into a blank message. Therapy is the study session and life is the test. The coping skills that are so rehearsed sitting across from a licensed professional can be hard to recall in the chaos of a devastating experience or a dismally bad day. I’ve often had to dig deep. What did Dr. Bennett suggest I do when this happens? What am I supposed to say to myself when I feel like this?

Once, after a particularly turbulent month, I joked to a friend that I might be in need of a therapy touch-up. She seemed surprised. “You mean you’re going back?” she almost gasped, clutching her invisible pearls. All I could do was laugh. “Yeah, you do know that’s allowed?”

As much as going to therapy is not a failure, going back to therapy isn’t either. Life comes at you—sometimes fast, sometimes stealthily—but it’s coming and you may need to slide back in front of your therapist again after you thought you were done. There’s no deadline on achieving your optimal emotional health or your best personal self. Exposure to new challenges can make you confront old wounds. So if it takes multiple rounds of therapy to dismantle a belief, a fear, a reaction, be proud of the courage you’ve demonstrated to address it in the first place. There’s no prescribed timeline for resolution. Sometimes you just need a reboot.

I told myself if I ever need to go back, I most certainly will. Don’t worry about being done. Worry about being better.

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