This may turn out to be more of an incoherent rant than a cohesive thought, as it was written furiously during an agitated state during group therapy. Speaking of…
Suppose you were recovering from a bad car accident, a shattered spine, or some other grievous injury and you had to do physical therapy as part of your recovery. How much time would you spend doing the actual therapy and how much time would you spend talking about random nothings? Probably, much more time would be spent on the former, yes? It’s your time and your health, not to mention, your money, encompassed in every session.
I enjoy group therapy and the opportunity to process thoughts and events with similarly-minded people with different perspectives. However, one of my huge pet peeves is the tendency towards tangents that have absolutely nothing to do with mental health, recovery, and coping skills. This is not to say that there is something wrong with building some level of camaraderie with your fellow group members. It can be quite gratifying. But, that doesn’t mean that I want to spend twenty or thirty minutes talking about the intimate details of one of the staff’s Halloween costumes, someone’s infatuation with books and numbers, or the latest video game console features. The time should be used to discuss personal goals, the aspects of our lives that have brought us to this point. I’m in therapy to be educated and healed and in these tangential moments, I feel that the needs of the group are not being taken seriously. In a larger vein, whether it’s true or not, I start to feel that mental health therapy is (still) not being taken seriously.
I walked into one of my psychiatric appointments already annoyed because, as usual, he was running forty-five minutes to an hour behind and I would be late returning to work. This particular appointment was during the tumultuous, divisive 2016 election season that we’re all trying to forget. Instead of asking me questions to gauge my well-being, he asked me who I was voting for and proceeded to delve into a one-sided discussion regarding his favored candidate.
I did not care.
The appointment ended up consisting of what, unfortunately, has become the norm in many places. Quick hellos and pleasantries. Oh, you’re still not quite feeling up to par? Let’s up your meds and check in a few weeks. Ok! Bye!
On another occasion, in this same office, one of the secretaries ranted to another for a full twenty minutes (quite loudly, mind you) about another employee who she felt to be performing well below average and the stress it was causing her. By no means am I saying she had no right to vent. But, in the waiting room are several people, myself included, dealing with issues that could include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the like. I wondered if this secretary, who had poor customer service skills anyway, considered that part of her job should have been to provide a safe, tranquil, healing environment for the patients. It would seem she did not and I would hazard a guess that she did not care. Of course, the doctor was behind schedule again, and by the time I left office, I felt far more agitated than when I arrived. I wanted to go to the bar instead of back to work.
This begs an interesting, and somewhat ironic, question. Do therapists and psychiatrists consider how their actions contribute to the personal triggers of their patients, and therefore, the severity of their mental health? More than likely, those attending therapy, be it residential, group, individual, or otherwise, or in some state of instability. We are irritable. We are easily triggered. We are anxious and frustrated. All one has to do is poke the bear, and all hell may break loose. If I come into your office and I do not feel safe, do not feel cared for, do not feel like I’m being listened to, but instead being rushed out with a new prescription of happy pills, how will I feel, mentally, when I leave? Probably worse than I was when I came in. What might I do after that experience?
These moments make me wonder if we have progressed as far forward in mental health as we might think and whether it is a cause that people truly care about. If I walked into a doctor’s office with a broken leg, would he/she just give me medication for the pain or would they not also set the bone, the root cause of the problem. Are we addressing the roots of mental illnesses or just farming out happy pills?