on finding the right therapist: take your time, you'll know when it's right.

sometimes people will ask me how i knew when i found the right therapist or how to go about finding the right therapist. what follows is an attempt to shed some light on this issue:

The first time I ever saw a therapist I was nineteen years old and midway through my first year of college. I remember sitting down in an armchair in what was so obviously meant to be a music practice room.

I was just beginning to deal with food and body issues. Feeling tremendously uncomfortable in my own skin and aware that that feeling was one to be weary of, I sought out free counseling as offered by school.

Sitting down I told the woman, I think maybe I'm fat. Why do you say that? she asked. Well, because every time I look in the mirror I feel like I see something else. I can't get a grasp on the image in front of me. 
Are you fat? she pressed. Ummm...I stuttered, before she continued, Well, I didn't get a good look at you when you walked in, so I can't tell. 

I was clearly not fat. Even sitting down, I was clearly not fat. That much she could tell. And what I described when asked was obviously body dysmorphia. It was not an issue of fat versus not fat.

I don't remember what was said for the rest of the forty-five minutes, but she was not my gal. And if that was therapy, therapy was not my thing.

I can now say, all these many years later because time is a valuable teacher, she was horrendous at her job. (And for what it's worth, she was fired the next year for a particular incident having nothing to do with me in which she handled another delicate issue even more poorly).

When someone asks me how to deal with an eating disorder my first response is always, therapy. But I then say, find the right therapist. And what does that mean, find the right therapist?

Well, I'm not sure. I can only speak to my own experience, but I'll say this.

I saw that horrendous woman my first year. And then I tried two other therapists through school and while both were fine, I never left feeling aided in any way. It should be noted that through all of this no one was able to correctly diagnose my eating disorder as such. They called it anxiety or depression and claimed that if we could deal with those things the eating would right itself. I saw a life coach and two different nutritionists (one who photocopied an article out of Self Magazine for a seven day jump start diet {another person who should not have been practicing}). It was at the start of my fourth year I saw a therapist outside of school who was able to diagnose me and when during our second session she repeated something back to me that I had said, I thought, oh, this woman heard me--she really listened. And for me, feeling like I'd been heard was a really big thing. I saw her for several months, until I met Tom.

I would also like to say that during this time period I went to an eating disorder support group (led by a licensed therapist) where the girls went around and talked about dealing with bulimia and when it was my turn I said, I'm struggling with binge eating, and the therapist looked me up and down and said, but you're not obese. 

For what it's worth, I once went to a general practitioner here in New York (who was at the time  the head of all female physicians). She attempted to undiagnose my eating disorder when I gave her my medical history. And I wasn't even asking for her help in dealing with that particular thing.

This is what I know, there are a shocking number of individuals and trained medical professionals who should be able to help and not only do not, but cannot. There are a shocking number of medical professionals who do not listen well. When it comes to our health, we have to be our own best advocates. Even as everything was falling apart, I knew--in my gut, I knew--what the problem was and so I sought out people to help me deal with that.

It was at the end of my fourth year that I met Tom. My mother, bless her, had done some research and read about him and called up his office and passed his number on to me and so on a day in May I met him for the first time. And he had a long list of questions and when all was said and done I just knew. This was the guy.

And it's worth noting, the guy specializes in eating and weight disorders.

I have never once, in all the time I've spend with Tom wondered if I should look for another therapist. I think finding the right therapist is a bit like landing yourself in a really good relationship. You just know. It can be challenging and hard and still feel absolutely right. He has never passed judgment but constantly calls me on my bullshit.

I once told Tom that I want him to dance at my wedding. I don't imagine he always gets to see people come out the other side of it. And I have. And I owe hime that. And so I'm gonna want him to see where he got me. When I told him this he said, in typical Tom fashion,  that no, i'd have gotten myself there, he was just along for the ride.

How do you know when a therapist is right. You just know. And in my experience, if you're not sure, then keep looking. Don't be afraid to date around, you know? I saw four different therapists, one life coach, one psychiatrist, and two different nutritionists before I met Tom. That's how long it took. For some it won't take so long, for others it might take longer.

I also want to say, on a somewhat similar but still divergent note, it's taken time to know what friends I can talk to about what things. I have one girlfriend who I can discuss my eating history with wholly and completely because I know that she gets it. With others I'll talk a little bit about it and they're wonderful, but when the going gets rough, I know who to call. And then I have two girlfriends with whom I can speak about a particular boy. These two have gone through a similar situation and so they listen with full understanding and no judgment. I can attempt to talk to my other girls about it and they love me and they want the best for me but there is always a gap between that desire to listen and to help and their full understanding. And that' okay. It's okay to have particular people to talk to about particular things. It's possible to have best friends who don't fall into the categories of getting it in the way someone else does. Learn your audience and be choosy about it. That is okay.

When all is said and done it comes down to a gut thing. Listen to it. To that small and sacred part of you that believes in your well being even when every other part of you is thrashing about in the great big blue.