Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Fall Within - More About My Anxiety Story Part IV

(This painting is called "shrink" and can be found at the artist's web page by clicking on the title above)

When things deteriorated quickly, I knew that I needed help. This was about14 years ago and was a time of transition for myself, theologically. I was still an Evangelical. Being an Evangelical, I really thought that counseling must come from a declared Christian. I had the feeling back then, that a non-believing psychologist (with their “humanistic views” ) would lead me astray, maybe to satanic rituals and human sacrifices (this is tongue –n- cheek in case you don’t get it). So I did seek out help from the only Christian psychologist in town.

Counseling Experience 1:

The first psychologist was a lady in her fifties and I will call her Beth. She advertised as a faith-based Psychological service. I found her to be quite eccentric if not frankly odd. Her office was like a Christian bookstore with incense burning (she believed that it had a spiritual reason that burning frankincense keeping demonic influences away). She also had soft Christian music playing in the background, rather loudly, throughout the sessions, making it hard to hear each other. She even had a place, just like a Christian bookstore, where she would perch her CDs upright over a “Playing Now” sign.

She wore a mink coat, and often didn’t take it off during the sessions and she had a poodle sitting on her lap. The dog only left her lap when he came across to me (we sat on facing couches) to hump my ankle. Beth seemed to be oblivious to her dog’s extracurricular activities.

The positive thing I have to say about Beth was I really had the feeling that she did care . . . and cared a lot. She also listened well. Both traits would be missing from future counselors. She was also quickly to put the right label on what I was experiencing at the time, depression and anxiety. However, looking back, I think her downfall was the Dualistic-Evangelical approach. She believed that most mental illnesses were caused by demonic influences and cured by angelic help. We spent sessions praying and meditating and asking for deliverance from the demonic influences.

We moved and I didn’t continue with Beth for very long. I stayed with her as long as I did because she did listen, and I was desperate.

Counseling Experience 2:


My second attempt at counseling was with our new pastor, John. He was a good man, the senior pastor of a very large and growing church. He has some great gifts as being one of the best preachers I’ve ever heard and also a great organizer. His downfall, and his board of elders would be the first to admit, is that he does not have good people skills. I can never remember him returning a phone call or e-mail, even though I have sent him many over the years.

After one of our board meetings I approached him about me needing help. He scheduled me a few weeks away for his counseling “program.” He said he did a four-step program in pastoral counseling based on the book of some mega church pastor (can’t remember which one). I think the four steps were; 1) Session 1-identify the problem, 2) Session 2-discuss the solution and make assignments, 3) Session 3-grade the assignment and 4) Session 4 – wrap up and final evaluation.

I still think that John is a good man and I respect him very much. However, the counseling sessions were so sterile that I really think they were superficial. We met in his office, him behind this huge oak desk and me sitting in front on a folding chair (like a kid being called down to the principle’s office). He told me that the sessions would last one hour. He took his watch off and laid in on the desk in front of him . . . keeping the sessions to exactly one hour . . . even if I were in the middle of a sentence.

To make a long story short, we didn’t get very far. His assignment was memorized some passages and reading certain books of the Bible. I did the assignments, but we never even discussed the anxiety in the tightly scheduled sessions.

Counseling Experience 3:

During my “wrap up” session with Pastor John I voiced that I thought I needed more help (this was the time I was having terrible panic attacks, but I had even told John about them). He said that he was done, but if I needed more help to see a psychologist. He gave me the business card of a man who had the only Christian Psychological service in the city. He didn’t know much about the man, named Peter, except for one family in the church had seen him and liked him.

I hemmed and hawed for several weeks, because I had not gotten far with previous attempts. My wife Denise decided to see him first. I think the reason was, while I was going down the tubes emotionally, I was dragging her with me. She is not a depressed person but was becoming depressed for the first time in her life. She actually looked up this psychologist and met with him weekly for a month before I went. I had mixed feelings. I was hoping that I would just hit by a bus and solve the problem for Denise and myself once for all (in my mind’s eyes).

We met together with Peter for the first visit, then he wanted to continue meeting separately with Denise and myself.

This post is getting too long so I will have to continue. I will have to say, as a preview, that my meetings with Peter because very destructive on my end. However, there is a small rainbow, when I found a really good counselor in the end.

7 comments:

shallowfrozenwater said...

i've struggled with an anxiety disorder myself over a good deal of my adult life so i'm reading your story as you're laying it out.
i know that writing for me has allowed me a creative outlet to address some of these issues in my own life and i hope it does the same for you.

MJ said...

Yeah, and being one of those "you never talk" (you meaning many of us) I hope it gives others the feeling that they are not alone and that they can talk about it here.

No one in my world knows about it. I don't feel I would have the freedom to talk about it verbally.

Anonymous said...

The first psychologist was a lady in her fifties and I will call her Beth. She advertised as a faith-based Psychological service. I found her to be quite eccentric if not frankly odd. Her office was like a Christian bookstore with incense burning (she believed that it had a spiritual reason that burning frankincense keeping demonic influences away). She also had soft Christian music playing in the background, rather loudly, throughout the sessions, making it hard to hear each other. She even had a place, just like a Christian bookstore, where she would perch her CDs upright over a “Playing Now” sign.

She wore a mink coat, and often didn’t take it off during the sessions and she had a poodle sitting on her lap. The dog only left her lap when he came across to me (we sat on facing couches) to hump my ankle. Beth seemed to be oblivious to her dog’s extracurricular activities.
-- JMJ

This is hilarious (at least when you're not the one depending on her for counseling). "Beth" sounds like a real character -- except for the Christian label, something like a spacy Psychic/Spiritualist Medium straight out of a sitcom. The horny poodle and the incense burning "to keep the demons away" are what really makes it.

(I post this from California, a granola bowl of similarly-eccentric "spiritual advisors" of all "faith traditions" -- even those made up on the spot. "Angels" of various sorts figure heavily in these, another point of (Harmonic?) Convergence with "Beth".)

I'd still prefer "Beth" to "John", though. "Study the Bible" and "Five Fast Praise-the-LORDs" are a lot less colorful than "Beth"s oddities, and probably go along with much less of a sense of humor.

Headless Unicorn Guy

Anonymous said...

We met together with Peter for the first visit, then he wanted to continue meeting separately with Denise and myself.

This post is getting too long so I will have to continue. I will have to say, as a preview, that my meetings with Peter because very destructive on my end.
-- JMJ

From what you described, I get a Bad Feeling about "Peter" and my fiction-writer's sense of melodrama is cutting in with the following scenario:

If this were a melodrama, what you described (the "meeting separately") would be a setup and foreshadowing for "Peter" to use his authority and psych training to drive a wedge between you, break up your marriage, and either have his way with your wife or indulge his own control-freak neurosis.

Headless Unicorn Guy

MJ said...

HUG, you always amaze me with your head of knowledge and intuition. You are close in your fiction writer's crystal ball.

pennyyak said...

I have never been to a counselor (that I recall) that did not either have an intuitive sense of the "50 minute hour" or a clock nearby. However, most of them were at least a little adept in closing the session gracefully. My last counselor alternated exorcisms (prayers he handily had filed according to the issue involved) with very conventional counseling techniques. He was really a very good counselor, but a tad eccentric to my tastes.

Anonymous said...

JMJ, somebody told me once that the reason a lot of people become Psychologists or Psychiatrists is that they're neurotic/psychotic themselves and are trying to self-treat.

Headless Unicorn Guy