I’ve done therapy before, but this time it’s different. It’s been physical therapy for my knee injury.
On the one hand, though, the parallels are interesting, but on the other, the perceptions are totally different. It shouldn’t be that way.
First, the similarities:
Physical therapy takes time. You don’t go in and get “fixed”. In fact, you aren’t really there to “fix” the specific problem that landed you there in the first place. If you have an injury that can be “fixed” in that way, at least in the case of my knee, you would have surgery to do just that, and then you’d still go to therapy. The goal of therapy is to strengthen the area around the injury so that it can support itself without risk of further injury. Sometimes, especially when the therapist introduces a new exercise to the routine, it can be a struggle, and I can assure you, it doesn’t feel good. But it serves a purpose.
I’ve talked to many a survivor who has gone to therapy expecting to get fixed. A few sessions with a professional, and it’ll be like the abuse, or the depression, never happened. That’s not really how any of this works. Therapy is about strengthening you and improving your skill set to help deal with the issue. Sometimes, you’ll work on something and not really feel good, or even see the point of it, until later.
Physical therapy is only part of the solution. I go twice a week, but it is expected that I do some of the exercises on my own more often than that. There’s homework, there’s staying aware of how my leg feels and when it needs rest, or ice, and when it’s OK to exercise again. I have to take responsibility for my own growth.
The people I go see twice weekly are there to help me, and sometimes that means they make me do things I would rather not. That’s not a knock on them. In fact, the folks I’ve worked with have all been super friendly, nice, and supportive throughout, but they are there to make sure I put in the work. That’s their job. We don’t just meet up early in the morning for coffee and chit-chat, and I’m not getting up early to be there before work because I like them. (Not that I don’t like them!) We’re all there to do work and to get to a point where I don’t have to go anymore. It’s not always comfortable.
It can be hard to see results. Usually, after a morning workout at therapy, I go to the office. My legs are tired, and I might be dragging a little bit. Other times, I feel invigorated, for a while, and then get tired later. Going to therapy in the morning doesn’t provide a lot of immediate improvement. But, when I’m challenged like I was being on my feet and doing physical labor over this past weekend on campus, I can feel how much stronger my leg is getting. A few weeks ago, that would have been unimaginable, but it took that challenge to really see the progress. I don’t see the progress sitting at my desk at work. I need to stretch myself.
Once I reach the point where I am no longer going to therapy, I’m not “done”. I will still need to exercise and keep up with the leg work to maintain the strength that I’ve gained.
Of course, there is also one big difference. I can talk about physical therapy, and it’s no big deal. I can come into the office with a bit of a limp, and someone will ask if I’m OK, or if therapy was tough this morning, and we can have a short conversation about it. There’s nothing taboo about going or talking about it.
Can you imagine a world where you could do the same with mental health treatment? I can imagine it, but we’re a long way from it.