When I reached out for help in 2015 with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), my treatment plan involved a series of mood-stabilizing medications and regular psychotherapy sessions.
It initially felt intimidating having to reveal my thoughts and feelings to a stranger. I was afraid of being judged and shamed, and whether the things I mention during these sessions would be told to my family. I also struggled with suicidal thoughts and self-harm tendencies, thus confidentiality was a big concern for me.
On top of that, I was apprehensive about the cost of doctor visits and therapy sessions.
Is seeing a therapist expensive?
Excluding the visits with my psychiatrist that ranged between 6 weeks (during the initial period) to 6 months to review my treatment plan, my psychotherapy sessions are currently scheduled on a fortnightly basis.
Thanks to the Chronic Disease Management Programme (CDMP), I am able to manage the costs of my visits at Changi General Hospital (CGH), as I am able to pay for them partially with Medisave on top of the existing government subsidy.
Other mental conditions eligible for this programme include schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar.
Will my therapist tell my family members about what i say during these sessions?
While my family was aware that I was seeking treatment for my mental illness, I was not comfortable in them knowing about the details. I did not want them to feel hurt or guilty in knowing that their behaviours have contributed to my anxiety and panic attacks.
Fortunately, my confidentiality has been well-protected.
Whenever I had to discuss about situations that made me feel sad or angry, I wondered if I would be judged for having these “bad” feelings.
However, I also learned that our sessions would only be fruitful if I learned to trust my therapist. Our partnership was a key ingredient to my recovery, as my willingness to be honest would in turn help my therapist to understand my struggles better, and suggest suitable coping strategies.
Research has shown that therapy is more effective in the long-term than medication, although they have been working well together for me.
My medications were aimed to stabilize my moods, calming my headspace so that I could assess a triggering situation better. Consequently, I would be able to practice the coping techniques I learned during therapy, such as being mindful, breathing exercises, or re-evaluating my thought process before I responded.
I cried in front of my therapist
It took about 2-3 sessions before I was willing to open myself up and dive deeper into the reasons behind my emotional reactions. We were then able to identify patterns of thought and behaviour.
It was painful to confront repressed memories. I felt ashamed even when I felt like crying, although I eventually accepted that I was in a safe space to express myself however I wanted. Sometimes, I became angry because I felt like I was being provoked, and I questioned if I was able to continue to trust my therapist.
I gradually learned that this was a necessary evil, especially since I no longer wanted to feel weighed down by my emotions and panic attacks.
The hardest part was learning to accept that my past was now a part of me, even if they were unpleasant.
Recovery has not been straightforward, and even with the good rapport I build with my therapist over many sessions, there were instances of regression. My self-harming behaviour and suicidal thoughts would become more intense and frequent, and this made me feel discouraged.
There were also sessions that did not feel fruitful, with issues discussed that remained unresolved. I also found myself unable to practice the coping techniques when I was caught in a similar triggering situation, which made me feel dismayed and sometimes even made me feel worse than before.
Besides learning to trust my therapist, I also had to trust myself and be patient with myself during the process. I needed to learn to forgive myself in moments when I faltered and continue to attend my therapy sessions. Celebrating my milestones and small achievements also helped to keep me going.
I am still attending regular psychotherapy sessions, and am in the process of tapering off the medications that I was once largely dependent on to function. I know that more work needs to be done, but I have also come a long way in my mental health journey.
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