Back in the Therapist’s Chair (well, kind of)

Foreign Service Life
October 1, 2019

If you have been reading for awhile, you know that I like to keep it real. Mostly because keeping up a perfect facade is EXHAUSTING and I thankfully learned that lesson early in life (hello, depression at 25!). I’ve found that by sharing all the facets of me – both the good and messy – I create a more authentic picture that includes my vulnerabilities. And by being willing to share my vulnerabilities, others begin to do the same in return. When that occurs the most magical thing happens – we go from these surface level connections to something much deeper. And honestly, those are really the only kind of relationships I want to have as I’m approaching 40.

My History with Therapy

I probably should have been a therapist. My sister Jenna did and I’m so proud of her for going that route (and slightly jealous too). But I did do coaching for a decade and that had a lot of similarities.

I digress . . . My point is that I’ve always found personal psychology fascinating but I really fell in love with therapy during my mid-20’s when I found myself unfilled and smack dab in the middle of a massive depression. I felt very alone at that time because I perceived that none of my peers were going through anything similar. I found it so comforting to be able to show up each week at my therapist’s office and dive deep into the mess of emotions I was feeling. As is commonly the case, what I showed up with as my presenting “issue” was not actually what the issue was at all. That was just the top layer and as we peeled down the onion (so to speak), I made so many fascinating realizations about myself that changed the course of my life.

How I Manage My Mental Health

I have been on medicine for over a decade and have found that it’s worked very well for me. I am also quick to identify mental health resources whenever I get to a new place, as the crazy nature of the lifestyle we’ve chosen has the tendency to add lots of stress and anxiety. Honestly, since that period in my mid-20’s when I had regular therapy, I’ve only had a sporadic session here and there in the last decade. I’ve generally felt quite stable between my meds and the lifestyle choices I’ve made that help mitigate my anxiety (yoga, journaling, 8 hours sleep a night, massage, healthy food).

Why I’m Back in Therapy Now

As I mentioned in my last post, my job responsibilities have gotten bigger and bigger these last few months. I’ve found that that has slowly ratcheted up my anxiety level. I’m also in a customer service business, which inevitably leads to lots of conflicts. And I am NOT a fan of conflict.

In fact, my aversion to conflict goes back decades. Mostly I blame Minnesota. The cultural tendency there is to sweep everything under the rug and pretend it isn’t an issue or to deal with it in some passive-aggressive way. Dealing with conflict head-on is TERRIFYING for me because I make up that it will destroy the relationship (and nothing is more important to me then relationships). So for years and years I’ve done everything in my power to avoid conflict. But that’s just not possible anymore given my current job. And it feels like it’s finally time to deal with it, because it’s causing me an inordinate amount of stress each day.

So, in summary, I’m back in therapy to figure out why my aversion to conflict runs so deep and how I can shift my thinking so that it doesn’t take such a massive toll on me. Sounds interesting, no? But who knows what will really come out of this exploration, because as I mentioned before, usually the presenting issue is just the tip of the iceberg!

The Problem with Therapy for Expats

One of the most frustrating things about trying to do therapy as an expat is the fact that it takes awhile to build up a trusting relationship with a therapist. Usually, just about the time you start to gel it’s time to move to a new country and start the process over again. This has often deterred me from wanting to pursue therapy overseas. But not anymore, because I’ve found a cool new alternative.

It’s called the Truman Group and wouldn’t you know it, it’s based out of my favorite place, good old Minnesota! The practice was started by Sean Truman, an expat kid who grew up in Nairobi. He eventually started a traditional brick & mortar practice in St. Paul but has expanded it to include a team of practitioners that provide therapy via a Hippa-certified, confidential, online platform. Many of these practitioners live overseas themselves and all have extensive experience working with expats and understand challenges that commonly arise when living outside your home country.

I’ve just started, so I’ve only had my intake and 1st session, but I’m really pleased with the secure Skype-like platform they use and the practitioner I’ve been paired with (who happens to live in Brazil). My two favorite things about this are:

  1. The fact that I could stay with this therapist even if I move to another post. That kind of continuity goes a long way when everything else in your life is brand new.
  2. The fact that my insurance company (the Foreign Service Benefit Plan) covers the sessions at 70%. Previously online therapy wasn’t covered, but with the HIPAA-certified platform it now is!

Curious to Learn More about Therapy?

If you’ve never experienced therapy before and are curious about what it’s like, then I highly recommend Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed. The book follows the lives of 5 people in therapy – 4 of the author’s clients and herself. What’s unique about the book is that it’s both a captivating storyline and a fascinating look into how and why therapy works. As NY Times writer Judith Newman wrote,

“Gottlieb’s book is perhaps the first I’ve read that explains the therapeutic process in no-nonsense terms while simultaneously giving hope to therapy skeptics like me who think real change through talk is elusive.”

I am almost finished reading it and have enjoyed it immensely. It has reminded me of all the things I love about therapy. Do check it out!

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