Dear Brave One,
Before you come to your first appointment, I think it’s only fair that I share with you how stepping foot into my office could potentially impact you for the rest of your life. There will be some real consequences to borrowing the name of “client.” And I know you’re not thinking about that now. You just want to feel better. But it’s only right that I be transparent about what’s in store for you, Brave One, who decided to venture into my office to engage in therapy.
About a year from now, your future self will be sitting at your computer filling out an application for seminary. And because of our work together, you will likely have greater clarity of where you want to go and less fear of going. In fact, your work in therapy will likely help you to establish better social skills and boundaries, help you learn to be vulnerable, and develop coping strategies for when you feel overwhelmed. That shared time sitting on my blue couch, will contribute to a greater understanding of your history, your patterns of behaving and give you insight as to why you sometimes behave the way you do.
As you continue to fill out the application for your future seminary, you’ll notice there is a request for you to indicate if you are in therapy or on psychiatric medications. Your stomach will probably drop, and as you write in your SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor), dosage and my name with contact information, you’ll probably bite your lip and feel scared or apprehensive.
Which is understandable, of course. Being vulnerable and transparent with a seminary that you don’t have a relationship with, feels quite odd and invasive. You will probably have a moment of regret or terror, “Will therapy prevent me from getting in? This feels so violating!”
So let me fill you in on what might happen next: Someone from the seminary will call me and ask me about you. The questions of some seminaries might include, “Will she unravel; is she stable?” (Yes, like you, I will find these questions insulting and insensitive). And other seminaries might ask what sort of “symptoms” you experience, if you’ll need or want continued support while at seminary, and what progress you’ve made.
I’ll answer honestly.
I won’t share every detail of our vulnerable discussions together. I don’t think that’s necessary, ethical, or respectful to you.
I’ll be general and professional. I’ll talk about what’s relevant to your success at seminary.
I’ll discuss what brought you into therapy, what tools and strategies you’ve developed. I’ll talk about your challenges and triggers -so they can adequately provide support in your seminary environment. And then I’ll likely brag about you; about your future insight you’ve developed, your thoughtfulness and dedication to growth.
And then, while you wait for the seminary to give you an answer, we’ll discuss your feelings about this whole ordeal. About how invasive and icky it will feel to provide private information to a stranger. We’ll discuss how this future process feels unfair and triggers helplessness in you. You’ll explain to me how there are girls in your class who aren’t in therapy, or on medication, but need to be, and how they got to bypass these sorts of phone calls and personal discussions!
I’ll listen, I’ll validate, and I’ll provide some clarity as to why seminaries are likely requesting psychiatric information: Many seminaries have girls each year that are not emotionally ready to be in an environment that requires greater independence, insight, and interpersonal savvy. And some young women at these seminaries do indeed become destabilized and require psychological support and intervention that many seminaries cannot provide. There are girls that become depressed, lonely, highly anxious, and in some cases, self harming or suicidal. Seminaries are so afraid to unintentionally accept young women who end up having a volatile and destabilizing year.
And then you’ll look at me and say, “ But that’s not me.”
“Of course it’s not you, (I’ll be smiling at you because I’m beaming with pride at the confidence and skills your future self has developed). But seminaries don’t have a great system in place to identify the girls that will actually deteriorate in seminary. In fact, the girls that do decline emotionally, are sometimes the ones that didn’t get treatment at all, the ones that don’t know about terms like trauma (or do know, and aren’t allowed to get treatment). When seminaries make these calls, they are doing their due diligence, and yes, at times investigating young women that don’t necessarily need to be investigated.”
But is there an alternative for these seminaries? Is there a better way? A more effective way to locate the young women who will be triggered by the seminary experience and emotionally implode? I’ll sit with this quandary and settle on the idea that this is a complex, systemic issue. An issue about stigma, lack of transparency, and lack of knowledge. We continue to live in a community at large where some stigmatize mental health and treatment (so they avoid it out of shame), and where others know so little that they don’t know they need help (and still some that are actively trying to hide dysfunction). Our current seminary application process isn’t sophisticated enough to always accurately identify these girls and their families; I’m not sure any process is.
So you will endure this uncomfortable process. I’ll support you through it. But I want your future self to remember this: It is uncomfortable to be investigated (sometimes interrogated), but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t seek treatment! You will gain so much here because of your devotion to this process, your grit, and your willingness to be vulnerable. You’ll develop coping skills to manage stress and anxiety, social skills, frustration tolerance, executive function skills, self confidence, self awareness and self love. You’ll develop skills that will serve you at every stage of life. You’ll also leave this experience likely feeling more empowered (and I hope, supported).
And the girl that sat next to you in class, yes, the one that you always got an odd feeling at her house, you’re right, she didn’t have to get investigated prior to seminary, because she didn’t get the opportunity to go to therapy and learn new skills. Just know that while your future self is often walking around with a compassionate internal voice and confidence, she will still be haunted by the same fears and insecurities she always had. Hers won’t get to be processed, explored and potentially managed.
And full disclosure, this seminary experience is only our warm-up. In one and a half years, I’ll get calls about you again. But this time from shadchanim. And I’ll do the same thing I did before (with your permission of course).
Dear Brave One, I know you’ll take a seat here in this office because you value your growth and wellness more than anything. Because you don’t want to be in pain anymore. Because you’re willing to endure some uncomfortable moments for your greater good. And most importantly, because your future self knows with absolute confidence that being in therapy and on medication are not handicaps or negative attributes, but rather they are invaluable tools that allow you to access a more sophisticated and skillful self. I hope the rest of the world will catch up to this profoundly important insight. Hopefully, your incredible example will inspire some of your peers to seek the treatment they need also.
With immense admiration at your devotion to your wellness and your ability to change the Klal for the better,
Your Future Therapist
Dr. Danielle Dragon is a clinical psychologist and owner of a private practice in Lincolnwood, IL called The Couch Method, treating children, adolescents and adults. Dr. Dragon specializes in treating individuals with complex trauma, anxiety, and boundary related challenges and has a passion for helping people develop self esteem and self compassion. Dr. Dragon can be reached at email@example.com.