WEGO Award

The Hell and Hope of Psychotherapy


Shirley J. Davis

There are huge misunderstandings in both the public and professional worlds about the costs and benefits of seeing a Psychotherapist. While this article isn’t comprehensive in its scope about these issues, it is an attempt to reach out to both professionals and nonprofessionals alike to tell my perspective on this enigmatic subject.

I have been in psychotherapy for almost three decades to overcome the effects of severe, and repeated child abuse I endured which began extremely young and continued until I was age fifteen. I tried to move on with my life and forget the abuse ever happened, but the horrendous depression, lack of self-worth and lasting fear the trauma left me in would not allow me to do so. I found myself having flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia and struggling to stay alive due to continuous feelings of self-loathing which expressed itself through suicidal ideation. Finally, at the urging of my brother, I sought help and entered therapy.

The next three decades would be filled with tremendous heartache with frequent glimpses of tremendous joy.

The work done in psychotherapy is hard and not for the faint of heart. Looking at your past and who you truly are in the present, with all your flaws exposed to yourself and another human being, is arduous and frightening. I found myself facing life head-on and not hiding any longer from the facts of what had happened to me in childhood.

I am very fortunate that I found a wonderful Psychologist who was empathetic and, most importantly, believed that I would recover. She never lost faith in my ability to become whomever I wished to be, even when I couldn’t believe in myself. She didn’t give advice, rather she helped me to carefully navigate the painful maze of emotions and specters that had been erected for me by my abusers. Slowly, I began to build in self-respect as she helped me to see that I am a not only a survivor, but someone who is intelligent, loving and important to the world. She taught me that it was okay to be human with flaws and other negative traits, so long as I compensate these negative tendencies with goodness and love.

In the first few years of therapy, I lived, ate and breathed abuse and trauma. Through my Therapist’s careful guidance, I gained a sense of hope that helped me continue to work on my issues. Hope was the spice that kept me from throwing in the towel and giving up during these hard years of self-discovery. All through the hell, I could see glimpses of what it would like to not be living in trauma and drama. In fact, I believe it was hope mixed with a healthy dose of curiosity about where I would be at the end of treatment, that helped me to learn the skills I needed to life a happy life. My Therapist would ask me thought provoking questions about who I was, where I wanted to be, and how did I see myself living after therapy. Through her inquiries, I began to see myself as I am now, self-confident, self-aware, and highly motivated to help others. I believe I have, through Psychotherapy, achieved a type of awakening to self-awareness that many people will never achieve.

Would I recommend the process of psychotherapy to others?

Yes and no.

Yes, if you find yourself overwhelmed by life changes (or like myself, your past) then it is important if you wish to have a peaceful existence.

No, if you are not willing to work hard, and see yourself in the bright light shed on you by the therapeutic process.

A note to any therapists who may be reading this piece:

The people who come to you in need of your help are your equals. No, they do not have your training, and they do not have college degrees. However, they are fellow human beings in need of help and understanding. If you truly wish to accomplish something in your profession, then try to be human with them. Don’t set yourself up as a demigod who know all and expect your clients to recover because of your divine wisdom. If you don’t know something say the magic three letter words, “I don’t know”. This doesn’t mean you are not intelligent or that you are weak, it only shows your clients that you are human. I will add this as well, the most helpful and healing trait I found in my therapist was that she gave me a wonderful sense of validation. Not once, in all the years I knew her, did she doubt my story of what happened to me or try to denigrate me for my mistakes. I always felt a sense of acceptance in her office. If I had a false belief, she would carefully lead me to understand it was so with respect and patience.

The therapist I grew to know and love for three decades retired in September of 2016. I miss her horribly and wish her well. I still see the therapist who took her place, but I do not intend to continue treatment for much longer. This therapist’s main job is to help me sort out my feelings over losing her predecessor. My first therapist had become very much a mother-figure in my mind. She taught me so much about living and life that I could never repay her. In fact, the best way to repay her kindness and her professionalism is to pay it forward and to live well.

Psychotherapy can be an extremely powerful tool to gain a healthy life and a new perspective of one’s self. In my case, enduring the hell was well worth it because the hope overcame it all. I, like a lovely butterfly, have emerged from the hard work and the good care of a marvelous to add my beauty to the world.

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