My Introduction to Therapy

10 December 2012 · 37 comments

I had lunch with a friend today. Let’s call him Tom. Tom is a colleague. He makes his living from a website. In fact, his site is probably the most financially successful site I know. For years, it’s had an income of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

You might think that with his financial success, Tom would be ecstatic. And there’s no doubt he’s a happy man, grateful for his financial good fortune. All the same, his wealth hasn’t made him happy. In fact, it’s caused him a great deal of stress.

For one thing, he doesn’t feel like he deserves the money. What has he done that others haven’t that he should have such a high income? (Never mind that he gives away tons of money to friends and family — and strangers — every year. Never mind that he employs a small staff of folks when he doesn’t really have to.)

For another, he’s worried that the flow of money will cease. “I have plenty saved,” he told me. “My site has earned me five million dollars since I started it, and I’ve saved about twenty percent of that.” Still, he doesn’t feel like he’s saved enough. Plus, he’s worried about his lifestyle. Is he spending too much? What if the income from the site were to suddenly vanish?

There’s no doubt that Tom has First World problems. He’s the first to admit that it’s crazy to have so much money and still be stressed about his financial situation. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s stressed. (Actually, lots of folks in his position tend to get anxious.)

“It’s gotten so bad that I’m seeking professional help,” Tom told me. “After lunch, I’m going to see a shrink for the first time. Can you believe it?”

“Actually, I can,” I said. “I just came from my own shrink. I’ve been seeing a psychologist for three weeks now.”

Impetus

I have a degree in psychology. For a long time, I thought I was going to be a counselor. That’s what I trained for throughout college. In high school, I played amateur shrink for all of my friends (boys and girls alike), and I thought it made sense to take this “talent” and turn it into a career.

I never did become a psychologist. Instead, I ended up selling boxes for the family business. And, eventually, I became a financial writer (who specializes in the psychology of money). But even today I sometimes dream of returning to grad school and becoming a professional counselor.

Given this, you might think I would have seen a therapist long ago. After all, one of the first rules of therapy is that the therapist herself should also have a therapist.

But no.

Like many people, I’ve always had a stigma against seeing a therapist. I thought it would mean admitting something was wrong with me.

That view began to change about a year ago. When I asked Kris for the divorce, she urged me to see a therapist. I told my friend Michael about this (among other things, Michael is a family counselor), and told him I was reluctant to go.

“You’re looking at it all wrong, J.D.,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You’re healthy now, aren’t you?” he asked. “You’re physically fit.”

I nodded.

“Well then why do you still need to go to the gym? Why keep taking Spanish lessons if you know Spanish? Why ever use any sort of coach when you know what you’re supposed to be doing? Well, a therapist is the same thing. Yes, a therapist can help fix things that are broken, but a good one can also keep you functioning at the top of your game. A therapist is like a personal trainer for your mind.”

I heard what Michael was saying, but it wasn’t enough. I still wasn’t ready to talk to a counselor.

Catalyst

About a month ago, I was talking with another friend. Let’s call her Antonia. We were catching up on our lives over dinner when she mentioned that she’d recently started seeing a therapist.

“What for?” I asked, not one to mince words.

“No reason really,” Antonia told me. “I’ve been thinking about some heavy things lately, and I just wanted to bounce them off an objective third party. I tried to see one at my HMO, but they wouldn’t take me on. They said there was nothing wrong with me, and to go away. Fine. I asked a friend, and he recommended his own therapist. So, I’ve been seeing her for a few weeks. It’s interesting.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Well, I tell my therapist about the things that are on my mind, and then she gives me homework. It sounds goofy, I know, but it’s really helped me clarify some stuff. It’s helped me let go of some things that I didn’t even know were holding me back.”

As the conversation moved on, I thought about this exchange. At the end of the evening, I asked Antonia for her therapist’s contact information. I set up an appointment for myself. Two weeks ago, I saw the therapist for the first time. I’ve been back twice more.

Therapist

I was half an hour late to my first appointment because I had the wrong address. Plus, I hadn’t filled out any of the paperwork I was supposed to have ready. Every other psych major reading those two sentences sees the same thing I do: My subconscious was doing its best to avoid the appointment. Crazy but true.

During that short first meeting, I gave the therapist some background on my life. I explained that for the past month, I’d been tense. Anxious. Stressed. I told her how much I hated uncertainty.

“Well, J.D.,” she said, “it sounds like you had a life full of certainty and you consciously gave that up. You’ve chosen uncertainty. You like some of what uncertainty brings, but you don’t like other parts. But you know what? You have to be okay with the unknowing. It’s part of the process of change and growth.”

Duh, right? And yet I hadn’t been able to see that. She gave me some breathing exercises and sent me on my way.

I was on time for my second appointment, and I had the paperwork I was meant to bring to the first. Plus, I brought a list of topics to discuss. Once again, we spent some time talking about my past and my present. And once again, my counselor connected the dots for me.

“It sounds like you have a tendency to overcommit,” she told me. “You take on too much. But more than that, you go big fast instead of taking it slow and steady. This can cause problems. It led to debt and being overweight. It can also cause problems in relationships, so be careful.”

“You’re right,” I said. “My attitude has always sort of been that if a little is good then a lot must be better. And it’s been tough for me to defer gratification.”

“Right,” she said. “You need to learn what my grandmother would have called temperance. Moderation. You need to learn finesse. You need to learn the importance of choice, of being selective. And remember: You don’t need to say every single thing you think.”

Duh, right? And yet I hadn’t been able to see these things, and I especially hadn’t tied them all to relationships. She gave me some things to practice during the week and sent me on my way. I spent the next three days deep in internal reflection.

Today, I didn’t need to give any additional background. My counselor asked me about my weekend. I told her about the things Kim and I had done, about how much I’d enjoyed just relaxing with her, being domestic. I also talked about how when I’m with Kim, I’m intentionally technology free. I put away the cell phone and the iPad and the computers, and I’m off-grid for 72 hours. It helps me stay present in the moment.

This led to a fascinating discussion of my memory. Why is it I can remember dates and names and the title of nearly every episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” — yet I can’t remember to turn off the bathroom light or shut the shower curtain?

My therapist told me that from what I’ve said and what she’s seen, I might have a mild case of ADHD. (This is no news to me. It’s also no news to you if you’re a long-time reader.) We talked about the other things I do that seem ADHD, and she told me some things I can do to fight them. I’ve noted, for instance, that I get more work done when I work in coffee shops. She said that’s probably because the external stimuli distract the part of my brain that wants to jump all over the place.

Duh, right? And yet I hadn’t been able to see some of this. We talked about some things I might want to work on, and she sent me on my way.

Futurist

My therapy may be short lived and have no huge practical application in my life. Or maybe it will change who I am. I’m not sure yet. And it doesn’t really matter.

I went because something felt wrong, and I wanted to figure out what. I still don’t know exactly what was bothering me. I do know that after just two weeks and three sessions, I’m much more relaxed about everything in my life. I’ve been practicing breathing. I’ve been practicing finesse. Now I’m going to practice being more present in the moment, turning off the ADHD.

I find it interesting that whenever I mention I’ve been seeing a therapist, the person I’m talking with always says something like, “Oh! What’s it like? I’ve been wanting to do that but don’t know where to begin.” Is this one of those things that happens when we turn forty? Is this like needing glasses? I don’t know. But I’m curious to see what other things therapy will teach me about myself.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Morgan 10 December 2012 at 16:00

I think it’s fantastic you’ve decided to see a therapist. I recommend it for absolutely everyone, but I think it’s important to point out, especially for people who have never been in therapy, that it can take time to find a therapist who works for you (working off recommendations is a good place to start). Further, it can take time to determine which course of therapy is the most effective for you. I made more progress in one hour with a spiritual adviser who specializes in energy work than I had in fifteen years of sporadic, more traditional psychotherapy.

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2 Kevin 10 December 2012 at 16:38

I agree that therapy is a good thing. It helped me alot. But it can take a while to find a therapist who’s right for you. In my case, I’ve always suffered from social phobia. I had recently started a new job and I felt like I did not fit in at all. One thing the therapist said to me was something like “You will never be the life of the party type, but we need to get you to where you functioning at a high level **within your personality type**. It sounds obvious enough, but I never thought of it that way. It was always be a social butterfly or be a failure.

Anyway, the point of all that is sometimes one little discovery can make all the difference.

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3 Chasa 10 December 2012 at 19:13

Read ‘Quiet’ – I didn’t go to a therapist, but this book says essentially the same thing. A life changing realization.

JD I’m glad you’re going to therapy. Everyone can use help focusing and learning about themselves. You may have felt very prepared to divorce and start in on something new, but it’s still something new, and thus upsetting – like shaking a table upsets the tea cups on it. I hope you learn a lot.

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4 Georgette 10 December 2012 at 17:53

Congrats on going!!! I just started over a month ago and she also connects the dots for me and it has really forced me to face some hard truths about my employment situation and life in general. I can truly say she is worth every penny and I feel renewed every time that I go. Keep at it and see how far it takes you, it can be life changing and in only a short amount of time.

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5 LeRainDrop 10 December 2012 at 22:00

JD, I read this with a lot of interest. I actually laughed at your very last paragraph because that was EXACTLY what I was thinking as I read — ” I’ve been wanting to do that but don’t know where to begin.” Aside from asking friends (not sure I’m comfortable with that yet), do you have any recommendations on where to start? Ask your general medical practitioner maybe? Thank you!

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6 Travis Hill 11 December 2012 at 04:12

JD, great topic, I actually stumbled onto this post while browsing for something else. I thought about becoming a counselor as a teen also, and did it. Love my job! It’s nice to hear you had a good experience with your therapist, I am always troubled when I hear others have bad experiences. But like any profession, there are good therapists and bad ones, unfortunately. Your comment, “I still don’t know exactly what was bothering me” is interesting because sometimes there is NOTHING concrete to explain how we feel. It’s just a feeling, but our brain is awesome at coming up with reasons/explanations/excuses for it. We don’t like not having all of the information about something, so we will make stuff up and act like it is real. Or it could be something… only you can go on to discover. Just a thought.

I agree with the other commenters, it is best to find a therapist that you have a good “fit” with. We know from research that the single most important factor in someone getting better is the positive therapeutic relationship. Without that, forget it, the rest is irrelevant.

There are plenty of places to find a good therapist- ask a friend or physician, look online (psychologytoday.com has a good list), or do an internet search for your area. You may have to try a few to find the one you like. Please, PLEASE don’t keep going to a therapist you don’t like to avoid hurting their feelings. We have tough skin, we’ll be fine.

Lastly, counseling isn’t just about overcoming a mental disorder (this is where a lot of stigma about the profession comes from), it can be to keep you functioning at a higher level (which our profession does a bad job at making known).

Thanks for the post!

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7 Heather 11 December 2012 at 07:47

Sounds like a great experience – we can learn so much more about ourselves when we ask others to help us! Thanks for sharing!

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8 Tyler Karaszewski 11 December 2012 at 09:53

I may try this soon. My wife was recently diagnosed with metastasized colon cancer. She is 32 (I am 31) and we have a 15-month-old daughter. I have suddenly become both a single parent and a caregiver for a gravely ill spouse, and I am also a sole breadwinner. I don’t really know how to cope.

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9 Ivy 11 December 2012 at 13:14

What a terrible terrible situation. I can only imagine what you are going through
Do find a therapist – at least as an outlet for your emotions to help you stay strong for your family.

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10 Lisa W 12 December 2012 at 04:40

Tyler, I’ve been reading your comments over at GRS for years and I always enjoyed reading your perspective on whatever topic was being discussed. I am so sorry to hear the news of your wife. I hope you can find the support system you need to help you through this time.

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11 Double A 12 December 2012 at 07:44

Tyler,

Best of luck with the new challenges that you face in life… I’m sorry to hear that you need to go through this alone. I have been following your comments on GRS for a few years now, and I have always looked up to you. (I’m a 25 year old software developer).

I hope you make it through this okay.

Double A

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12 Adrienne 12 December 2012 at 08:46

Oh Tyler I’m so sorry to hear that. I’ve been reading your comments for years as well. You seem like such a great person. I hope you reach out to friends and family for help. Many people want to help but don’t know how. I find if you give them concrete requests like “will you watch my daughter for 2 hours ever Saturday” that it works best. Hoping for the best for you and your family.

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13 chacha1 12 December 2012 at 10:52

Oh Tyler, so sorry to hear this. Ask your wife’s oncologist for a support-group recommendation. And best wishes.

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14 Sandy E. 12 December 2012 at 11:20

I know how you feel Tyler. I’ve been in your shoes. You feel like you’ve been thrown out in the middle of the ocean in a rowboat, without the oars! All of a sudden, you’re future is unpredictable. My advice is to take it one day at a time. That’s all you have to do, and feel all of your emotions, every last one of them, because whatever they are, just know they are normal. Also, we are ALL a lot stronger than we think we are. You too. Best wishes.

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15 PawPrint 12 December 2012 at 11:30

I, too, am so incredibly sorry. Your wife’s oncology team should be able to set you up with a counselor. Use all the resources that are offered and now is the time to cash in on that social capital. Do not be afraid to ask for help. I’m speaking from experience.

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16 Tyler Karaszewski 12 December 2012 at 18:20

Thanks everyone for your kind wishes.

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17 JoDi 13 December 2012 at 13:51

I am so sorry to hear that your family is having to deal with this. I have also enjoyed your comments at GRS for years and wish you all the best as you work through this crisis. Please do not lose hope; the treatments for cancer are getting better all the time. I have a friend who had stage 4 CLL. It had metastasized to her brain, and as her doctor described it her “head was full of cancer” before she started treatments, and she is in remission now. I pray that your wife’s outcome will be as good and that you find support to cope as you both deal with this.

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18 Kingston 14 December 2012 at 06:42

I, too, have always appreciated your comments at GRS, and I send you my sincere wishes for a good outcome for you and your family.

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19 Babs 14 December 2012 at 07:05

I am sorry you are facing this tough situation. You will need all the resources you can muster – both internal and external. Best wishes for you and your family.

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20 Del 18 December 2012 at 07:49

Tyler, so sorry you’re going through this. You’ll be in our thoughts & prayers. I was just taking to a friend who is a social worker, she said that often times the focus is on the patient dealing with the illness (with good reason) but that often caring for the caregiver often gets overlooked. She recommends groups sessions with caregivers who are in a similar situations.

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21 Jennifer 23 December 2012 at 05:59

Healing thoughts and prayers for your wife and family. This must be an incredibly painful, scary time for you. Please do as others have suggested and try to get involved with a support group. Take friends and family up on their offers to help and make sure you take care of yourself. You will only be able to adequately care for your wife and daughter, if you ensure you are taken care of first. Hugs and well wishes for all of you.

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22 Paul 11 December 2012 at 10:07

JD,

Great article, as always. This portion caught my eye:

“This led to a fascinating discussion of my memory. Why is it I can remember dates and names and the title of nearly every episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” — yet I can’t remember to turn off the bathroom light or shut the shower curtain?

My therapist told me that from what I’ve said and what she’s seen, I might have a mild case of ADHD.”

I have a similar thing that drives my wife crazy, where I can recall arcane trivia about music or sports, but I forget very simple things. I’ve never gone for any tests to determine if I was ADHD, did you therapist give any details on why this kind of memory ability (or lack of ability) is related to ADHD? Thanks!

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23 Elle 11 December 2012 at 10:30

Therapists are great! (If you have a good one that is!) I’ve seen therapists during intense struggle or for tuneups during big life events like moving or getting married. If you have one that meshes well with your personality, it can be soooooo valuable and make you feel amazing!

It is true though that so many people won’t see one simply because of the “admitting something is wrong with me” thing. But it totally isn’t like that.

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24 Kathleen, Frugal Portland 11 December 2012 at 11:12

Loved this — how honest and open!

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25 CJ 11 December 2012 at 11:24

Word of caution, as you change, your relationships and world change and not everyone can make that journey with you.

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26 Edward 11 December 2012 at 13:29

This might sound ridiculous but it’s a very important question to me: What’s the problem with not closing the shower curtain? Am I missing something? To prevent mould maybe? …I mean, if I guests over and think of it I might close the curtain so they don’t have to look at my shampoo and soap while they’re doing their business, but otherwise I don’t care a single iota.

I should probably see a therapist just for contemplating that so much, but for now I’m quite comfortable in my neurotic roguh edges. My body’s all battered, scarred, and bruised from a lifetime of being a player not a spectator, so it probably makes sense my soul and brain and just as beaten up.

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27 Cheryl 11 December 2012 at 18:18

For those wondering how to find a counselor…if your company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) there is, most likely, a counseling component to it. My company’s EAP offers 4 free sessions of mental health counseling (per event or issue). They will set you up with someone who takes your health insurance–in case it continues beyond the initial free sessions. It is confidential–your employer does not get information on WHO uses the EAP, only HOW MANY people use it. p.s. I do benefits :-)

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28 SP 12 December 2012 at 10:20

I started seeing my counselor last year after I had been in depression (as dark as it gets) for a year (yeah, a year. Yeah, stupid me). Anyway, she has so helped me.

Worth every single dollar. I also have a psychiatrist because after discussing with my primary physician for a year and a half (I’d go in for other things and she would ask me how I was and I would start crying uncontrollably) she prescribed me something. I was very resistant. I thought ‘only crazies are on meds’. Well guess what? You can have chemical imbalances. After being on this medication, which they (primary and psychiatrist) prescribed for me, I feel like I am NOT going to cry at the drop of a hat anymore (for the record, it’s not an antidepressant. It’s a mood stabilizer).

Anyway, back to the value of having a counselor. Yes, I wholeheartedly recommend them.

If you feel you are fighting feeling good, don’t wait. If you can’t get to feeling better, don’t wait. As my primary physician said ‘this is not smart (resisting going on medication). If you had another ailment, you wouldn’t avoid treatment, so why are you avoiding treatment for this?’

She had a point. I hope to not have to be on this medication forever, but that’s ok for now, as I am just so relieved to be doing better and to have happy moments again.

I have bounced between my counselor and my physician, but my salient point is don’t put it off. You will wonder why you haven’t done it earlier, and, if the cost puts you off, look at it as an investment in improving your mental performance.

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29 Drew Anderson 12 December 2012 at 13:28

JD, I too toy with the idea of going back to grad school to become a counselor after being helped so much by therapy. Check out the book “Love’s Executioner” by Irvin D. Yalom. He tells the stories (identities concealed) of ten of his patients. From the prologue: “I have found that four givens are particularly relevant to psychotherapy: the inevitability of death for each of us and for those we love; the freedom to make our lives as we will; our ultimate aloneness; and finally, the absence of any obvious meaning or sense to life. However grim these givens may seem,they contain seeds of wisdom and redemption. I hope to demonstrate, in these ten tales of psychotherapy, that it is possible to confront the truths of existence and harness their power in the service of personal change and growth.”

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30 Crystal 12 December 2012 at 19:50

I’ve thought about seeing a therapist for years, so good for you! So far, I’ve gone with the slightly cheaper option of talking about everything with friends…and on really bad days, there’s wine. But seriously, sometimes I think that bouncing my feelings off someone else may help…I seem broken somedays for no reason.

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31 JoDi 13 December 2012 at 14:13

Couldn’t help but think of this quote as I was reading your intro:
“Sweet is the sleep of the one serving, regardless of whether it is little or much that he eats; but the plenty belonging to the rich one is not permitting him to sleep.” ~ Solomon

Human psychology hasn’t changed much (if at all) in the thousands of years since.

I can relate to your story. I was also my friends’ therapist in high school and considered it as a profession. I ended up in IT instead, which is good, because computers are easier to fix. ;-) Most people like to complain about their problems without doing anything real to fix them. Those like you, who are truly introspective and willing to do the work needed to change, seem to be few and far between. My husband deals with depression, and his time in therapy was very helpful. As others have stated, not all therapists are created equal, and getting a recommendation from a friend can be very helpful in finding a good one without too much trial and error.

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32 Evan 21 December 2012 at 09:27

I was mildly interested in this blog at first and checked it every day. But since you haven’t posted anything since 12-10 (11 days ago) I am no longer going to check it.

Seriously, if you want to build a following you need to write more often than this.

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33 jdroth 22 December 2012 at 09:19

Hey, Evan. When I started More Than Money, one of my resolutions for the site was to not tie myself to any sort of schedule. I’ve learned that one of the worst things about blogging is the relentless pressure to post NOW NOW NOW. I don’t like it. So, I’m going to post when I have something to share with the readers. That means sometimes I’ll post ten articles in a week. But sometimes I’ll only post once every ten days. Have no doubt, however, that I’m completely dedicated to this site.

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34 Karen 22 December 2012 at 17:43

Good for you, JD. I think everyone should go to therapy at least once.
In regards to A.D.D., I think many bloggers/writers feel that way because they are on the computer so much. Have a good holiday.
P.S.
Will the comment about overcommitting cancel out your “say yes” post? ;0)

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35 jim 10 January 2013 at 21:00

Thanks for posting.

I had my first therapy session last Weds. I felt like I drained out dirty water from a sink when I left that session. It’s great when you actually wanna be there.

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36 Aime Lopez 28 January 2013 at 21:42

Have you try Yoga Classes?? You should!! It will help your mind and body (2*1) :) good luck!!

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37 Cara Rogers 26 February 2013 at 11:58

I like this blog post a lot, it is a great way to explain things. It seems like it was a good thing for you. It an be a good thing for many people, now if only married couples got to therapy before they were ready to get divorced they would be successful as well. I think this is a great intro to therapy and a great read thanks!

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