Tamie and Kylie talk therapy
A conversation between two FHE contributors about seeing and being a psychologist.
Tamie Davis was a reluctant psychology client who became a big fan of therapy.
Kylie Maddox Pidgeon is a psychologist.
Kylie: Tamie, what was it that made you reluctant to see a psychologist?
Tamie: I thought I should be able to cope on my own. I thought the trauma I’d experienced wasn’t significant enough to warrant going to therapy, and I didn’t want to admit that I was broken enough that I needed to. I was really driven to it by desperation. I started having PTSD episodes that inhibited my ability to work so it became clear that I did need help.
Kylie: Why did you think you should be able to cope on your own? (Did that sound too much like a therapy question already? Eh, can’t help it, I’m interested…)
Tamie: The trauma I’d experienced shook my confidence in others, and I came to the (wrong) conclusion that I was the only person I could rely on, and trusting or including others was a liability. It felt way too vulnerable to accept help and much safer to struggle through on my own.
Kylie: I can guess how well that worked out ;-) So did therapy help?
Tamie: This was the big surprise for me. Yes, it totally did! I remember calling my twin sister who was also a psychologist after one session and saying, “I didn’t know I could feel this strong!” She was like, “This is why I’ve been telling you to go to therapy!” And it was only like 6 sessions or something. I couldn’t believe I could get ‘fixed’ so easily. If I’d known that it would make me feel so good, and be so effective, I would have done it long before. For me, it was an experience of healing.
Kylie: My clients say that too! Someone said yesterday “Well if I had’ve known you could help so easily I would have come months ago!” Here’s a Public Service Announcement: Anxiety is treatable, PTSD is treatable, panic attacks are treatable (seriously, ending panic attacks takes about half an hour), trauma is treatable, depression is treatable. The complexity of the issue can mean it takes time, but there is always progress to be made.
Tamie: Who should go to therapy?
Kylie: Sadly, we have a social discourse that says therapy is only for mentally ill or struggling people. It doesn’t have to be. Therapy can also covers healthy relationships, life transitions, healthy work life balance, parenting, discovering purpose, and thriving.
I have some clients who come once a month while their kids are little, or while they’re studying, or when they’re in a high stress job, or if someone in their family has chronic illness. They just know it’s a stressful and demanding time of life, and they can use regular emotional and psychological support, and evidence-based strategies to help lighten the load.
I go to therapy myself (plus I have a clinical supervisor who oversees my work). I see therapy as a safe place just for me, alleviating pain when I need it, providing insight, gaining strategies, and helping to process and grow from the challenges of life. If I didn’t have a great working relationship with my psychologist, I’d be a lot less settled, and a lot more trauma-driven.
Tamie: Do you think of yourself as a healer?
Kylie: Huh. Good question…Umm… No… not really. Healing isn’t done directly… I create space for healing to happen though. The people I work with are the experts on their own lives. I sit at the feet of their expertise. While I’m working with someone in their session, my process might be something like: deep listening and empathy, acknowledge the hurts, honour the strength and courage, then offer evidence-rich psychological strategies that relate to that particular problem. Having said that, I do know how to treat stuff…
Tamie: Oh, see, this is interesting to me, because I often talk about my experiences of therapy as experiencing God’s healing. I mean, I guess God’s the ultimate healer, but I definitely felt that He used the therapist, so she was a partner with Him in that healing. But then, I get where you’re coming from too, how the therapist helped me to discover parts of myself that were me, but which I didn’t know.
Kylie: What did your therapist say or do that was helpful for you?
Tamie: She gave me language for what was going on so I could make sense of it. I felt like she helped me to be the expert on me rather than her ‘treating’ me. I didn’t feel reliant on her because she gave me tools that I could use in the future.
Kylie: How are you different as a result of going to therapy?
Tamie: One thing is that I am now a massive fan of therapy! Since that first time, I’ve gone back twice more, once again for a different trauma, and most recently for grief counselling. I keep going back because therapy makes me feel stronger, experience less shame, and be more comfortable with my emotions.
Kylie: What impact do those improvements have on your life? (I like asking questions. Can you tell?)
Tamie: Because I live with less fear or shame now, I think I’m more authentic. I spend less time thinking about how to protect myself and more time actually living life and interacting with others. But I also ask for help more often, and that deepens relationships. I have some skills which make me a calmer person to be around, less reactive and more empathetic, which makes me a better friend and co-worker.
Kylie: Sounds like a pretty good outcome.
Tamie: What are some other objections that people have to going to therapy, and what do you say in response?
Kylie: Just like you said, Tamie, a lot of people say they don’t need it. Or they see it as a last resort. Or they think other people’s problems are worse so who are they to complain.
If you were a beginner or an expert tennis player, you’d have a coach.
If you have an injury, or if you’re a high performance athlete, you’d have a physio.
If you need maintenance or repairs on your car, you’d have a mechanic.
Same goes for therapy. It helps in crisis, but it also keeps you functioning well in smoother times.
It’s remedial for adverse stuff, and proactive for living a healthy life.
Tamie: When do you know when you just need a friend to talk to, and why you need to see a professional? And what kind of professional? (counsellor, psychologist, psychiatrist, etc)
Kylie: Friends are great for the daily debriefing, being a listening ear, and offering a different point of view. Therapists are sharper at recognising patterns, getting to the heart of problems, and treating chronic and complex things.
I’d compare it to a medical issue. If it’s minor, your friend might be able to help, and be caring and supportive. But if its complex or needs more than a first-aid, go to the doctor. In terms of counselling, if it’s trauma-related, if there’s multiple issues (and there is almost always both of those things), or if its complex or chronic, go to a professional.
One of the reasons that professional psychological support is necessary is that there’s only two treatment types that work to resolve trauma, and supportive empathic listening isn’t one of them. No amount of just talking to a friend or a minister resolves trauma. And trauma underlies most mental illness.
As to the counsellor/psychologist/psychiatrist question. In Australia:
• Counselling can refer to a broad range of ‘talk therapy’ roles. The qualification of a counsellor can range from Diploma to Bachelor to Masters.
• Psychologists are Bachelor plus internship or Masters level qualified in human thought, behaviour, and relationships. Medicare offers a rebate when you see a psychologist with a referral from your GP. Psychologists do not prescribe medication, and so usually work closely with your GP, who can.
• Psychiatrists are doctors who specialise in mental illness. Seeing a psychiatrist is usually only necessary for complex and chronic cases, residential hospital stays, or acute psychotic episodes. Your psychologist or GP will let you know if its time to see a psychiatrist.
Find someone you feel safe with, who listens well, and who offers ideas and strategies that help.
Tamie: When I was not in a good place, I would do things we’d think of as sinful, or hurt people. I was acting out of my own hurt and brokenness, but I was used to thinking about it as sin. I just needed to come to the foot of the cross, repent, be more filled with the Holy Spirit, etc. But I found it really hard to change. Why are these kinds of approaches insufficient?
Kylie: When you’re injured, physically or psychologically, it’s pretty hard to treat/change/improve yourself. Imagine trying to cast your own leg when it’s broken. I think the same is true of spiritual/emotional/relational challenges. When you’ve just been relationally injured, you shouldn’t be expected to relate to others much until that relational wound has healed. When you’re already hurt and having trouble coping, it’s a pretty poor strategy to just try harder. It’s a subtle form of victim blaming too, if someone tells you that you’re responsible for doing better when you’re hurt. The discourse to ‘repent and pray more’ has a shame element to it, as though if you had repented and prayed earlier you wouldn’t be in this mess. It’s usually a reckless person that puts you into a mess, not lack of repentance and prayer.
If your car broke down you probably wouldn’t just pray over it. You’d take it to a mechanic, right? I think the same idea applies to when your thoughts, feelings, or relationships get broken. Take them to someone who has seen it before and knows what to do. Most Christians would say that God is the active participant in the change. It’s funny how often God brings change when a skilled helper is also involved ;-)
I think the saying “hurt people hurt people” has truth to it. If you’re acting out of your own trauma, bias and protective mechanisms, then you probably are more likely to hurt other people.
So, the personal responsibility in those moments is real; we’re responsible for how we treat others. But doing it alone sounds lonely and unnecessarily hard. Perhaps our personal responsibility is to call in the help we need.
Tamie: What kind of problems can therapists help with?
Kylie: Mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, stress, abuse and trauma, PTSD, grief, OCD, ADHD, and personality disorders.
Relationship and family issues: Domestic and family violence, break-ups and divorce, parenting skills, communication skills, healthy relationships, sexual connection, mediation and conflict resolution.
Life challenges: study-stress, family-stress, chronic illness or pain, or transitions like moving or getting married.
Work challenges: stress and burnout, strategic planning, self-care and sustainable practice, navigating professional relationships.
Christian counsellors might also work with: ministry supervision and support for lay and vocational leaders, mission preparation and debriefing, church change management and conflict resolution, and general counselling for Christians.
Tamie: Therapy can be expensive. What resources are there for people who may not be able to pay?
Kylie: Start with your GP. They’re your gateway to your overall health, including mental health. My female GP friends tell me that 1 in 5 of their appointments on any given day is mental health related, so never feel like you’re the only one struggling. With your GP referral you’ll be able to access a rebate of either $128.40 per session with a Clinical Psychologist, or $87.45 with a Registered Psychologist. (A Clinical Psychologist has a Masters, a Registered Psychologist might not.) Other options are Employee Assistance Programs, where workplaces offer free and confidential counselling through an external provider. Victims of Crime counselling is available for long term therapy if you have been a victim. Your church denomination may have a subsidised counselling service you can use. Or try your local Anglicare, Salvos or BaptistCare Counselling Service. Not-for-profits often have a sliding-scale according to your income. If its Domestic & Family Violence or Sexual Assault related, you could try https://www.1800respect.org.au
You have to be comfortable and feel safe with your therapist. As with all important relationships, safety is a prerequisite for healing and growth.
Family and domestic violence support services:
1800 Respect national helpline: 1800 737 732
Women's Crisis Line: 1800 811 811
Men's Referral Service: 1300 766 491
Lifeline (24 hour crisis line): 131 114
Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277
Please consider this as general information only. If you have a mental or other health concern, please consult your doctor or health care professional.