I will never share the name of the one of the most important people in my life.
I’m talking about my therapist. He isn’t my friend. I pay him for his services. But we have a rapport that I haven’t experienced with many other paid professionals. I trust this man, not as if he’s a guru who has all of the answers. I believe that he is wise and has my best interests at heart.
From therapists, to massage therapists, to chiropractors, to nutrition consultants and beyond, I’ve had bad experiences over the years. There was the massage therapist who was inappropriate. (The story is part of THIS POST) The long-ago therapist who yelled “YOU’VE GOT TO STOP THINKING THAT A RELATIONSHIP WILL FIX YOUR LIFE” as he ran out the door, suitcase in hand, when I showed up for our appointment. (He’d decided to take a trip instead of seeing me and didn’t bother letting me know.) A chiropractor who caused me more pain than relief and thought the answer was to double my appointment schedule. I could go on. But one bad apple shouldn’t ruin a profession forever.
I’ll never forget the surgeon at University Hospital in London who said to me, ‘What do you call a med student who gets 50% on their final exam? You call them a doctor.'” He was explaining why I’d been misdiagnosed. Every line of work has its almost-failing professionals, even voice-over! So, when you find someone who’s a gem, you stick with them.
I recently finished Henry Winkler’s excellent memoir, Being Henry – the Fonz and Beyond. A bad experience with a therapist had turned him off seeking help for his terrible anxiety and self-loathing. That therapist had given Winkler his script to read, crossing many professional boundaries in the process. Eventually, Henry tried again. He found another therapist who didn’t take advantage of having a famous client. Now, Henry says his Monday morning appointment with her is one of the most important things in his life. I get it. When it clicks and you can be completely open and vulnerable in a judgment-free zone, there’s nothing like it.
Can you even imagine that the actor who played the Fonz on Happy Days to such perfection, and reinvented himself as a director and producer, and back to Emmy-winning actor, was suffering from a lack of self worth? Everybody has crap in their lives. Henry Winkler’s upbringing was cold and hard. Even the world’s love and appreciation isn’t enough to fill that inner void left by a terrible childhood.
It’s inconceivable to me that there’s still a stigma around getting mental health supports. If anyone judges me negatively for seeking therapy, I couldn’t possibly care less. And I don’t think Henry Winkler could, either. I wish everyone could afford to do it if they wanted to. It is hard work, but it’s rewarding. We all carry so much baggage and bullshit that is so pervasive, we don’t even know we have it. And a human being is like an onion (thanks, Shrek!) with endless layers to peel back. It’s up to the client to decide when they’ve gone deep enough.
What Therapy Is Not
Television is usually terrible at showing what therapy is like. The Sopranos got it better than most. In therapy, the ‘problem’ is always you. Even if someone in your life is behaving horribly and mistreating you, you’re the only person you can change. That’s a hill we humans climb over and over again. And that’s why an outside perspective really helps.
I always want to talk about things that other people might find embarrassing or feel they’ll get judged negatively on. Henry Winkler’s book is going to do that a million times more powerfully. It’s way past time to normalize looking after our mental health. Whether that’s therapy, medication – however that shows up in one’s life, if it helps and it doesn’t harm anyone, then it’s got to be acceptable. Because it’s not only acceptable, in some cases, it’s a matter of life and death.