When I think about my psychologists and the important role that they have played in my recovery and my life, I feel very fortunate to have had them. My first interaction with a psychologist was at the age of 14, when I was struggling with anorexia nervosa. I don’t remember much about the experience, but I do remember that it was good to share my thoughts and feelings with someone who seemed to understand me. At the time, my dad was in jail and my parents had gotten a divorce — so clearly I was someone who could benefit from seeing a professional. But the truth is, the circumstances don’t have to be that extreme or warning signs don’t have to be that blatant for someone to benefit from talking to a psychologist they trust.
Before going to my psychologist, I thought that I was to blame for all my problems and for the problems my family was having. Not sure how I got to this conclusion, but I was like a lot of children and it seemed natural to blame myself. The one thing that I remember understanding from my first psychologist was that my problems at home had contributed to my eating disorder. My psychologist also scared me into understanding just how damaging my eating disorder was to my overall health and how it could affect me down the line. While I maintained my eating disorder for many more years, I had taken a very small step into understanding how my problems, family history, and anxiety were all interconnected. If you’re thinking about seeing a psychologist, I highly recommend it. Here are five important ways a psychologist helped me overcome the anxiety that plagued my life.
#1 My psychologist helped me understand that I am not to blame for my problems.
One of the first things that I was able to understand while working with a psychologist was that my problems were not my fault and that they were multifactorial. I didn’t fully understand this at such a young age, but I did know that the fact that I grew up in such a dysfunctional home without financial means helped perpetuate my eating disorder. I remember thinking that my parents sending me away to live on a kibbutz with a foster family was the result of me being a burden on my family and that I was too demanding. In reality, I was the kind of girl that would do whatever it took to please my parents and everyone else around me so that I wouldn’t be thought of as a burden.
Talking to a professional — someone outside of my family — opened my eyes to my reality. While I continued restricting my food intake for a few more months and would go on to deal with my eating disorder for many more years, I began to recognize my eating habits as problematic and took the first small steps in understanding how and why I felt the need for that control. Unfortunately, as I gained weight, I thought that I no longer needed therapy and was recovered from my anorexia. I know now that it was a big mistake to leave my psychologist and not continue with the journey that I had started, but I am grateful that I found my way back to therapy eventually. My next interaction with a psychologist was almost 13 years later, when I was in graduate school.
# 2 My psychologist helped me gain insight into my past & taught me to feel compassion toward myself.
We all have a past and different experiences that have helped shape who we are today. Some of us are able to live with our past and maintain a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle, while others have a more challenging time. Being able to process your past in a safe environment with a professional is extremely important.
When I was 20, I had a nervous breakdown after years of binging and purging. I actually started writing what I thought would be the memoir that people would read after I died. The first sentence was, “As I am writing these pages, I am dying from the horrible disease that has taken over my life and is now killing me…” I ended up writing over 100 pages of my feelings, allowing my thoughts to go as wild and free as I wanted. It was a very liberating experience that scared me and everyone around me, and while I wasn’t getting the psychological help that I desperately needed at the time, I did purge my thoughts onto the paper, which allowed me to have a lot of material to process with my psychologist almost 10 years later.
Sharing these intimate details of my life with my new psychologist in New York was a pivotal tu