Rejected by a therapist? Me too.
In fact, my therapist handballed me to someone else—then they rejected me as well.
Good afternoon. My name is Rebecca and I am officially a mental health reject.
It is true. This happens quite a bit and yet I rarely hear it discussed.
Maybe you’ve been through the whole “I have bared my soul to another human” trauma at your normal medical care provider. And you’ve endured the usual “Why do you think you have PTSD/depression/anxiety” questions that have you questioning yourself or wanting to walk out.
But you stayed, you survived, and you have the name of a potential mental health saviour firmly clutched in your fist.
This piece of paper becomes the holy grail in your mind. Here is your relief. Here is your future. Here is your safety.
You make that first appointment after hanging up on the receptionist a few times. Then you cancel or postpone a few times.
You stalk the therapist on the internet.
You overanalyse their social media.
You wonder if perhaps you are overreacting and this is something you can fix yourself.
Dr. Google is on speed type.
You might even wait a few months and try some serious meditation, clean eating, juicing, walking, and anything else that you see online has helped someone else. Running naked in the woods to reclaim the healthy mind that is your birthright. Lighting a truckload of sage. Burning photos. Eating full heads of garlic. Juicing anything you can fit down that juicer spout. Bathing in rose petals. Bathing in charcoal. Not bathing. We’ve all done it.
But, no. Nada. Nothing.
You find yourself outside the therapist’s room—or waiting for them on Skype—running through the speech that you have practised in your head a million times. The speech that runs a little like, “I don’t know—I am probably overreacting. Maybe it’s me. It could be normal. It’s not that bad.”
And, at the end of your session, feeling totally empty, drained, and hanging out in the wind, you finally lift your head to see a look on the therapist’s face that tells you that they too are feeling totally empty, drained, and at a loss as to how to pull you out of the wind.
Or there are the therapists who are trying extremely hard to maintain a veneer of professionalism, in which case they will lean backward and nod quietly, with the nod gradually turning into a random head movement that begins to look like they are definitely saying, “Hell no.”
Not the response you were going for.
This person was supposed to say, “This is not a problem. We can deal with this and I have your back.”
Instead, you hear “Wow.” (I kid you not.) And this is usually followed by another lean back in their chair. Then…
“You certainly have had an interesting time. Right now, I don’t feel that I am the best-equipped person to help you. Let me ask around and get back to you with some names.”
Again—not the response you were going for.
I am going to be the devil’s advocate a little bit here. I have been a patient for the better part of my life and studying or working as a therapist for 30 years. The one thing I will say is that finding a therapist who you gel with is a b*tch.
I have huge respect for any therapist who has enough integrity to admit that they feel like they have the wrong skill set to deal with a particular person. I would much rather be told that than to be someone’s experiment. But it is a hell of a thing to be on the receiving end of the “dismissal.” And it’s that situation that I really want to talk about today.
At a time when you are already at breaking point.
At a time when you already feel like damaged goods.
At a time when you feel like you might have finally found a safe place and that your loved ones will not have to deal with the “burden” that you currently are.
At a time when you feel so damaged and so different and so rejected, everything you have ever thought about yourself is confirmed by your potential therapist’s words.
You are too much. You are not worth saving. Your problems are more than anyone can handle. You should never have spoken up. Mostly, you are struck with the overwhelming thought that your damage is so bad that it is unfixable.
That this will be your life.
You turn. You stuff your tissues in your pocket. You pull yourself into the “I’m fine” stance and pay the bill. (I mention this because I find it to be a huge indignity to have to pay for this experience). Your shaky hand opens the door and you see the eager face of the person who has driven you to the clinic.
If there is anything that you want to tell your friends and family that is worse than the stuff you have already told them, it is that you have just been told that it is all too much for a therapist too. Boom.
There are some things I would like you to remember and keep with you if this has been your experience:
This is not unusual. And although you might not want to hear it now, it is infinitely better than having six months’ worth of therapy with a therapist before realising they are not a good fit or do not have the skills to deal with your issues. This happens too, and then also involves not only the loss of your hope and dignity but a substantial amount of money.
This has happened to me at least 30 times that I can think of. See, I have forgotten some. Yay! And here I still stand.
There is no damage that is too much. You are not too damaged to be helped or loved or to deserve everything that anyone else does. And don’t shake your head at me like I don’t understand just how damaged you are. I do.
If you were my client, my thoughts here would be:
“If you say that you are too damaged to deserve the best therapist for you, a life of love, a feeling of safety, that what you have been through has made you less of a person—if you honestly believe that—then I defy you to look at a photo of yourself as a child and tell that child that they do not deserve love and safety and the best help possible.”
You are not damaged. Your essence is not damaged. Look at you; you were amazing enough to google this stuff and wonder if perhaps there is another person who might be able to help you.
Look at you; you went to that first appointment. You got those words out of your mouth—to a stranger. You are an amazing person. You did something you were so scared of. You let someone in. Hell, you are a bloody stormtrooper. You opened up, and it will never be as hard as that first time. Trust me.
There is a therapist out there for you. There really is. And I truly wish that there was a little more education given about this being a process when you are given that first referral. Even though you feel like you are at the end of your rope, taking the time to find the right fit is so incredibly important.
Let’s just call your current emotional state a storm. The storm comes in. Rips your house roof off. Makes your house unstable. Spins you around. Spits you out. Your general practitioner (GP) is the State Emergency Services (SES). They come in, put up some tarps, make sure nothing else is in immediate danger, and tell you to go find some help to really fix the structural issues. They offer a name, maybe some nails in the form of medication, and you have to return to the mess that was your life. Expecting the SES to rebuild your house is like expecting your GP or initial therapists to adequately meet your emotional and psychological needs. You’d be incredibly lucky if this happens.
You would expect to hear from a few tradesmen that they were too busy. If they told you that it was not their area of expertise, you would be grateful that an electrician had not tried to fix your roof. You would ask around for good people and you would, if you’re not irresponsible or panicking too much, get several quotes.
What feels like rejection is a natural part of finding someone who is going to be the right fit and is in no way whatsoever a reflection on you. A psychologist is not a psychologist is not a psychologist. We are all really different in our approaches, availability, capability, and training.
Most good therapists I know are available to email or call for a quick consultation prior to a visit. Get a friend to do it if you are not able, but write down a really quick summary of what you are wanting to treat and get a standard email going. You don’t have to bear your soul, but get some quick facts down and make sure you are honest about the severity of your issues. That is where you might need a friend to make sure you are not minimising your problems or distress.
I find this method great because the phone or email approach allows me to maintain some anonymity while still reaching out. When I get the “I am very sorry but” response, I take it a little less personally delivered this way. It is a mind trick—but it works. I also find that sending an email can help you get a feeling on a clinic or practitioner. The way that you will be treated often comes across quickly in manner, tone, and availability. You can also get a friend to send and open the emails and completely shield you if you need it on a certain day.
If it feels like too much, pull out that photo of yourself as a child I mentioned before and I promise you, you will regain your resolve to get help for that kid. We all know that most people who have been damaged find it easier to help others than help themselves. So, do it for that younger version of yourself.
And finally, full disclosure here: I write this post having just heard the “I’m sorry but…” speech myself five times in the past five days. I think I may even have an email sitting in my inbox with another rejection. So—big breath—I will be taking my own advice, trying to bring my intellect to the issue and treat finding help as more of a problem to be solved than another opportunity for me to be damaged. Let’s hang while I keep reaching out for help, and see where it takes us and who it takes us to.
I am sure that if you sat down with me right now, you would not be talking trash to me and telling me how damaged I am and that my life will never change. So make sure that you are not doing this to yourself.
Finding the right help is enormously important and worth every moment of disappointment that it might take.
Hang in there.
You will find your person.