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Recovery Month: The Importance of Building a Lasting Relationship with Your Therapist

Outstretched hands reaching for help

September is National Recovery Month, an annual event that spreads the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, that prevention works, treatment is effective and people can and do recover.

Scott Spicer is a public health professional, peer support specialist and consultant who works with high-risk young adults in community-based clinical mental health programs and services. He is also a member of the APA Committee for Assessment and Training on Recovery as a part of APA’s Recovery to Practice initiative. In the blog post below, he chronicles his own journey to mental health recovery by building a strong relationship with his therapist.

By Scott Spicer, MPH, CPSS

When I first moved to Michigan from California about 5 years ago, within a few months I realized I needed an outlet.  I was in search of a therapist and got a referral from a co-worker. I have seen this therapist consistently since then and I’m thankful to have established this ongoing relationship as my therapist has been right there with me through a number of difficult times. My therapist referred me to a support group which I also attend regularly and have made some great friends. As I continued to move along in my recovery journey and went through some significant struggles, my therapist was there to offer support, insight and guidance.

What recovery means to me

To me, recovery is about living a life you want for yourself on the other side of a mental health diagnosis. This means accepting your diagnosis, but not letting it define who you are. Therapy has been an important tool to get to that point, which also meant developing trust in my therapist and being willing to work through things along with him.  If I had not continued to work on this relationship, my therapist would not have the history to help me get through tough times today, reminding me of what I’ve been through and recognizing my ability to overcome. It was not easy to stick with it, both financially and personally, when there were times that I felt we didn’t see eye to eye, but I can say today that it was worth it.

Sticking with it

I might be preaching to the choir on this subject and my intention is to give personal testament to the benefit of finding the right therapist and sticking with it. I have had several other therapists – some I liked and some I didn’t. I hear of many others who see therapists and may stop for a while, or move on to someone else. I myself work in the mental health field as a Peer Support Specialist, something that has been a huge part of my recovery journey as well. My therapist tells me often how much he has learned about me and my journey and I feel that I’ve been able to teach him something about recovery.

Overcoming the barriers

In today’s healthcare system, there are so many barriers to accessing outpatient therapy, the primary one being cost. This has been a barrier for me and if it wasn’t so expensive I would see my therapist more often than I do. What I know too, is that we can often create barriers for ourselves when it comes to therapy. We can use cost as an excuse and we can also let things like denial or discomfort prevent us from following through. I often tell people that therapy is practice for developing relationships in the “real world.” There will be times of conflict and they will be there for you during life’s struggles, including job and relationship loss, family conflicts and many other stressors.

What therapy has taught me

From my experience, the biggest breakthroughs can often come after those tense moments when you may not see eye to eye, or coming out of a very stressful time when your therapist had to confront you about the choices you were making. Therapy has taught me to believe what I know is true about myself and continue working on my own personal growth. I’m not sure if this would have happened if I had went from one therapist to another, or stopped for a while and eventually came back. I hope that one day mental health parity will break down many of the barriers to receiving mental health services and ultimately we can start now by recognizing the inherent value that this brings to the recovery journey.

We want to hear from you. Tell us in the comments:

  1. What does recovery mean to you?

  2. How does wellness relate to recovery?

  3. What ingredients are necessary to the therapist-client relationship in order to ensure recovery?

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