Monday, June 6, 2011

Therapy, or validation?

I often wish that I could find a good psychologist or counsellor to talk to on a regular basis. Recently I have begun asking myself what the purpose of this therapy would be – which problems do I want to work on? What would the goal of this therapy be? I have thought a lot about this, and so many times the word 'anger' comes into my head. But it is vague, and I probed deeper. Why am I angry? Do I just struggle with anger management? Have I not learned the appropriate skills to deal with frustration?

No. I don't think that is what it is. It is not just a skill I lack. Neither is it a disorder of some sort that has its origin in my head somewhere. I do not need someone to try and teach me skills and I do not want to discuss my problem with anger. What I need is VALIDATION. I need someone to really listen to what I have to say about my struggles and my fear and my anxieties and depression – and then to confirm what I know is true – that it is no wonder that I react this way to the world. That it is normal to be anxious when you live with so much fear and uncertainty in a world that is often very hard to understand. That it is normal to feel depressed when the loneliness and the feeling of never being really understood threatens to overwhelm you. That being who I am and what I am is OK, and that all these problems I have are normal reactions and not isolated disorders that have to be treated and cured.

I was 16 when I had to go for counselling the first time. I was diagnosed with depression, given anti-depressants and had to go for a few sessions with a psychologist. I found it an interesting experience on an intellectual level, but it made no difference in my life. I did not have the words, the insight at 16 to explain my feelings. I remember him asking me what has happened in my life to make me this sad. And how did it start? I did not have the words to tell him. But I can remember clearly the evening the so-called depression started. It was one of the first days of the new school year, I was sitting on the floor in my room covering school books when I was suddenly overwhelmed by fatigue. Overwhelmed by the thought 'I just cannot do this any more'. I believe it was simply the result of years and years of fear and loneliness and being misunderstood.

I lived with so much fear and anxiety for so many years, I think it was no wonder my brain finally decided it was enough. As a child, the sound of fear was the first bird calls very early in the morning. Waking up and hearing the birds signalling the start of yet another day was enough to make me feel nauseous. I felt like that every single school morning for years and years. The smell of fear was the peculiar smell of sandwiches and school bathrooms that filled the school halls. The release from fear was the sight of my mom's blue Volkswagen waiting to take me home.

So whatever you want to call it – depression, fatigue, a breakdown – I believe that was a very normal reaction. Not a chemical imbalance that had its origin in my brain because my brain was somehow flawed. But that was the way my depression and anxiety was seen by all the therapists I saw over the years. They saw a flawed individual that they needed to treat with medicine and teach to think and be more positive. And my reaction to this was anger. Anger at being misunderstood once again, anger at not being heard, anger at a flawed world who distrusts differences and turns it into diseases. Therapy was supposed to help me, but mostly it made me angry.

Only once, the opposite happened. I saw one therapist for just about two months, and those two months worked magic. I was 20 years old at the time, and could not yet make eye contact with anybody for more than a few seconds at a time. But I could look this man in the eyes while he listened to me, and it carried over to other people. Those months motivated me to work on eye contact. And there were no anger. Why? Because I felt validated. I felt that the therapist was interested in me, and liked listening to me, and most important – I did not feel like he was trying to fix anything, treat anything, identify problems, teach me anything.

And that is what I want. Now that I have the words to talk about my childhood experiences and my current struggles, I want validation, not treatment.


  1. Maybe it is something you need to do for yourself then. GO FOR IT.

  2. I will. One day. At the moment the task of sifting through therapists seems so costly and exhausting.

  3. Aahh, validation. That's a big topic for me too. I have no sugestions about counselling, it's never worked for me.

  4. I think this is exactly what is missing in life, and why we have so many unhappy people.

    we need to know, " I AM HERE> I COUNT. I am a person."

    Our society has quit listening to each other.

    Excellent post.

  5. It is sad that counselling doesn't work for everyone. I know we tried a few for my son before giving up.

    (((HUGS))) to you Cecile!

    Laura (March Mom)

  6. Validation is a BIG deal. People don't always need to be offered advice. Sometimes we just need to be listened to and understood, with our experiences appreciated. There can be a certain catharsis from telling your story, now that you finally have the words and the insight, even if there's nothing specific you want to "work on." Freeing oneself from a lack of validation seems like a pretty good therapy goal to me.

  7. Validation is absolutely what we're after. Often our families haven't acknowledged our issues and we're hiding and that causes shame. My daughter described it to me after she stopped going to the Cognitive Behaviour Therapist. She said, "I took all her advice about how to handle anxiety, and I'm practicing it. But she has nothing else for me, she thinks I'm fine." And that moment you describe of feeling as though you couldn't do it one more day, I had that same epiphany, but I designate that as the day I figured out that it wasn't my imagination and I knew I didn't have the words to describe why let alone the tools to change it.

  8. Hi there,

    I followed a comment from Bruce's blog (born 2b me) here and am so glad I did! I think you have definitely hit the mark with this post - validation is such a key thing. I have been questioning this with my therapist recently, although previously things were going quite well so I think I need to discuss it with him openly to see if I am reading the situation correctly.

    I am looking forward to reading more of your blog.

  9. I can very much relate to this post. I too have had experiences in therapy where, through ignorance of Asperger's (on my part and that of the therapist), the goal was to “fix” me.
    I no longer want to be “fixed” to conform to some therapist's expectations of acceptability.
    Now that I know the “why” of my different life, I just want to be accepted for who I am.
    I discovered the “why” in this Aspie/autie blogging community, and along with it a growing sense of validation. Knowing the “why,” and being accepted by my fellow bloggers, enables me to finally accept myself. And so I would have no patience with any therapist who wanted to fix me!

    I really appreciate what you said about anxiety and anger being a perfectly natural reaction for us, and not something that needs treatment in itself. I immediately said "of course!" but I don't think I had previously had the words to think it. Thanks for supplying the words.

  10. This is so spot on. I've never been validated, not by counsellors or anyone, not until i found others on the spectrum.
    I've had counsellors tell me, or at least hint, i was arrogant, not wanting to change or help myself, 'lazing around' on welfare (despite their being a recession on at the time, and no jobs available), and even that my illness (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) was 'imaginary', that all i needed was to 'go for a good run round the block'. This at a time when i couldn't have CRAWLED round it.
    These and so many others all tried to 'fix' me, they saw me as 'just needing to change my attitude', and 'be more positive' or confident. "Just relax and be yourself", i was told, but when i did, i got even more criticism!!
    Thank you for putting it so clearly. Validation is truly what i seek - because it means others respect you, they see you as an equal with a viewpoint worth listening to. Which is the first step to being understood, something else i also crave.

  11. This was really interesting to read and is making me think that I too experience a lot of what you mention. I have never really felt 'normal' either and have a tendency to withdraw and retreat into myself because it's so much easier than facing the world sometimes.