I had an epic final session with my therapist of eight years earlier today. For the first half of that tenure, I saw her once weekly. I graduated to every ten days, then twice a month, then once monthly. When I moved to Corvallis, I continued to see her via telehealth monthly, and about two months ago I realized I didn’t need to do that anymore.
See, after years and years of work, I’ve finally turned a corner. For the first time in my life, I’m on top of my autism and mental health, not the other way around.
I began seeing Lisa in 2013, right after I applied for the PhD program at UNM. My life was spinning at that point: I was burnt out after only a couple of years as a therapist. I was chronically depressed and suicidal, actively having trauma flashbacks. Lisa supported me through leaving full-time employment and then starting the PhD.
She was instrumental in helping me organize my life when I left UNM suddenly in 2014. She helped me as I navigated residential treatment at Life Healing Center and helped me pick up the pieces when that facility fell short. Lisa supported me as I embarked on my life as a disabled musician, constantly helping me correct the distorted thinking that leads to shame in disabled populations.
And, most importantly, in 2017 she pivoted alongside myself and my wife as the three of us began an exploration of autism and neurodivergence.
When my wife and I brought up our concerns about the possible presence of autism in my life, Lisa did not discount them. She nodded in agreement as we presented the facts of the situation and joined us as we discussed it with my long-time psychiatrist (then in the same office). Not only that, but she referred us to the audiologist who then referred us to the neurologist who eventually handed down my official diagnosis. She was with us the entire time.
We immediately moved away from the trauma-informed sessions that had become the norm. My wife began joining the sessions with me, and from then on, she would be sitting next to me at each session, the three of us learning and collaborating together, as there was no expert to guide us.
Adults who become diagnosed with autism later in life know the trials of finding therapeutic options to help figure out how to cope with the neurotypical world. Simply put, there are very few options out there. Lisa, my wife, and myself spent the past five years in the process of trial and error, and as a result we figured it out for me.
Eight years is a long time to spend in therapy, but when you have complex trauma combined with a developmental disability heretofore unknown, it’s the kind of time you need to process through the muck and develop new strategies for living. It’s hard and noble work. It leaves a lot of blood on the tracks. Most people aren’t privileged enough to work with someone this long, someone who is as committed to the puzzle as they are, and as a result they never feel recovered or whole. Lisa stayed with me throughout the entire process and as a result we won.
That’s how I put it to her today: We won.
Today’s session is a testament to humanistic counseling and person-centered therapy. Only with the space of time could I find myself as healed today as I am. Confident. Happy. I know when I get depressed or suicidal it’s not a life sentence, its merely a weekend stay. I couldn’t have learned all of this in eight sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy, I needed the eight years of unadulterated Rogerian theory: The therapeutic relationship is the most important factor, given time everything else will fall into place.
Lisa and I demonstrated intense “congruence”, or the feeling like we were on the same team, working towards the same goals. There were times in our eight years where I felt we were out of step with one another, but it never took long to get back into focus. It was this congruence that led to The Pivot, and it was The Pivot that led me to where I am today.
While my sessions are ending, my journey continues. In fact, a new one starts today. I am not planning on attending any talk therapy sessions in the near future. I am interested in EMDR therapy for some pesky remnants of my childhood, and I’m also wildly interested in equine therapy for my autism. But these more experiential practices are more for polishing the trophy than earning it.
Because like I told Lisa earlier today: We won.